Exploring the Ancient Stone Circles of Mainland Island, Scotland

There is something humbling about standing amidst an ancient monument like the Stone Circles of Mainland Island in the Orkneys, Scotland. As old as 2500 B.C., such mysterious destinations remind you that human beings like yourself walked this earth millennia ago and made what contributions they could in their short lifespans — and your fate essentially no different from theirs.

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There are two main sites on Mainland Island – the Neolithic Orkney (sort of a caveman tourism HQ) and a protected UNESCO Heritage Site. The Ring of Brodgar is larger and includes more stones, while The Standing Stones of Stenness nearby includes larger individual monuments.

For both venues, archeologists and historians are unclear as to what purpose the stone circles served. They might’ve been ancient observatories or places of worship. Or, they could’ve served simply as well-marked meeting places for social gatherings and festivals. The main theory says it was probably some mix or all of the above.


More than 100 yards across, the Ring of Brodgar (top) is the larger of the circles. It once included as many as 6o stones, but weather and time brought the current total down to 27. The Standing Stones of Stenness (below) holds no more than 12 monoliths in total, but it is made up of larger pieces — some as high as 15 feet.


Both stone circles are free to visit and allow travelers the chance to walk amongst them and touch them — unlike the more famous Stonehenge to the south that were often marked up or otherwise molested by overeager, disrespectful tourists. In addition to providing an ancient mystery, both circles serve to remind the visitor that are time here is short and lost in the eons of history. So, we better out up a few monuments of our own in this life.

All photos by John Scott Lewinski