Saturday, February 19, 2022

The Lost Altar

This double-view postcard of scenes from Orkney was issued by J. M. Stevenson, a longtime stationer in Kirkwall and Stromness. It also bears the initials of V. & S. Ltd., that is, Valentine & Sons of Dundee, the actual printer. There's no writing on the back of the card, but I'm guessing that it dates from around 1910. "The Holms" are two small islets just across the water from Stromness.

The central "altar" or "dolmen" shown in the view of the neolithic Standing Stones of Stennis (or Stenness) was a "reconstruction" from 1907, possibly inspired by Sir Walter Scott's interpretation of the site. It was dismantled under murky circumstances in 1972 and only the uprights were put back in place. A century earlier a landowner had vandalized the site extensively, resulting in the loss of much of the surrounding circle of stones.

There's more information on the circle and the supposed "altar" at, and even more on the website of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.

Despite its barren northern location, Orkney has some of the most extraordinary neolithic monuments in Britain. I haven't been there (my wife and daughter have), but perhaps someday I will.

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