Although the Stones of Callanish are considered ancient in terms of human time, the gneiss rock from which they are constructed is vastly older. Dating back some two billion years or more, the rocks of Lewis were once part of an ancient continent that was composed of North America, Greenland, Scotland and western Scandinavia. This block of rock was subsequently broken apart by the formation of the Atlantic Ocean only 100 million years ago. We see then that the rocks, like the people who built the monument, have traveled a long way to participate in the site.
In map view, the Stones of Callanish form a cross, with a circle of stones surrounding the intersection of the four arms. The central ring of stones comprises the first stage of construction, beginning around 5000 years ago. Approximately 500 years later, the ring was expanded to become a chambered cairn that served as a communal burial tomb in which pottery and the cremated remains of humans were placed. The arms of the cross were put in place sometime between 5000 and 3500 years ago. As the centuries passed by, the site was despoiled on numerous occasions and many of the original artifacts were lost. By the time the site was initially dug out in 1857, nearly five feet of peat, or turf, in the local lingo, covered the site. Today, the Stones of Callanish stand as a mysterious reminder of Neolithic life. Many questions arise in one's mind when seeing the site, most notably why they were built, but this evening many of us were content to simply admire the work of a culture long gone.