The Temple Wood and Nether Largie complex stands in the Kilmartin Glen, Argyll, Scotland (Grid Ref. NR 82 97; Lat. 56° 7' Long. 5° 29'; Figure 1). The Temple Wood site (Figure 2) consists of two adjacent stone circles thought to have been built in the fourth millennium BC (RCAHMS 1988, 1999; Scott 1989: 53). However, there is some doubt about this date, (Butter 1999). Radiocarbon dates for the southern circle show that it was used for burial from the middle to late Bronze Age (Scott 1989: 115-7; Sheridan 2008). It is thought that the southern circle was erected after the northern circle (Scott 1989) and it is possible that they were built in the early Bronze Age. The line connecting the centre of the circles forms an axis running NE-SW, and coincides with the alignment of the southern circle's three burial cists. Three of the stones of the Temple Wood southern circle have symbols carved on their outer sides: stone 8 is cupmarked and stone 10 has a double spiral (Figure 3), while stone 12 has faint concentric circles.
The Nether Largie standing stones are situated some 300m to the south-east of the Temple Wood stone circles and are probably broadly contemporary with them. They stand in a rectangular or X-shaped setting which is formed by two pairs of standing stones, placed about 35m to the north-east and south-west of a central stone. With the exception of S4, and S7, all the Nether Largie stones are cupmarked, and S1, on its south-west side, has a large number of these, some of which are surrounded by rings and are connected to other cupmarks by grooves (Figure 4). S7 no longer exists and its position was located from Hawkins 1983 and information from Dr Aubrey Burl.
With a view to determining their possible astronomical use some 4000 years ago, the Temple Wood stone circles and the Nether Largie stones have been examined by a number of scholars who have proposed alignments of various significance, mainly deducted from partial surveys (Thom 1967, 1971; Patrick 1979; Thom et al. 1980; Hawkins 1983; Ruggles 1984; Scott 1989). The author surveyed all the sightlines in 1992 and used direct observations on site during the 2006-2007 major standstill. Summarised here are those solar and lunar events that now appear to be significant (Figure 5, Tables 1-4).
From the northern circle, the midwinter sun would have set in line with the southern circle (Figure 6). The concentric circles on stone 12 and the double spirals on stone 10 could be symbolising this event. From the southern circle, the winter solstice sun would have risen in line with alignment S4-S5, and although the Nether Largie stones are more concerned with lunar events (below), it is possible to see the midwinter sun rise from S4-S5 about 10 minutes after it had risen from the Temple Wood circle (Figure 7). From S1, the sun will set in line with S7 on the days of the spring and autumn equinoxes.
The north-east direction of the Temple Wood circles orientates to the rising major standstill midwinter full moon, while the long axis of the southern circle is towards Nether Largie stone S7 and the setting southern major standstill moon. The false portals of the burial cairns in the southern circle are orientated towards moonrise near the southern major standstill. From the centre point Q of Nether Largie, the southern major standstill moon would have set between S5-S4 (Figure 8). Nether Largie stones S6 to S2-S3 generally indicate where the midsummer moon will rise a few days before it reaches its southern major standstill. After rising in line with S2-S3 (Figure 9), over the next three nights , the moon would have set in line with and between S4-S5 (Figure 10) and this could have been watched from between S2-S3, or from S1 (Figure 11 ). The parallel sightlines between S2-S4 and S3-S5 indicate where the extreme southern major standstill first quarter moon could have set in September.
There are good correlations at Kilmartin between stone alignments and the rising and setting of the midwinter sun and the major standstill moon. Ruggles found a number of alignments, mainly in Mull and Argyll, that indicated to within a degree the rising or setting of the southern major standstill moon (Ruggles 1984: 282, 1999: 183-6, 190, 192). The present author has also identified a large number of solar and lunar events of similar accuracy at other sites (Scott 1990, 1991, 2003; cf Bradley 2000: 181). It seems unlikely that these alignments were haphazard or that they commemorated a single chance observation. While it is not known for how long the stones were in use, research using the astronomy program Redshift, has shown that, weather permitting, it would have been possible to see the southern major standstill moon in its different phases rising and setting in line with these stones about 18 times from March to September. The moon would also have risen and set in line with these stones for about a year on either side of a major standstill giving 54 opportunities to see this occur. Over the 1000 years that the Temple Wood stone circles and the Nether Largie stones were possibly in existence together, there would have been 50 major standstills, each tracked by 54 observations, making at least 2700 potential occasions of use.
The complexity revealed by the Kilmartin observations, where solar and lunar events were used in combination, suggests an equally complex context of commemoration or prediction. At Nether Largie, stones were used to mark not only the rising winter solstice sun but also where the southern moon, generally rising in line with the northern stones S6-S2-S3 and S2-S3, could have given warning that it would be setting between S5-S4 in a few days time. As standing stones are sometimes found in association with burials and cremations, so the symbols carved on them and their alignment to the sun or moon could have reflected some connection with ancestors and the spirit world.
From S1, the sun will set in line with S7 at the spring and autumn equinoxes, at which time the major standstill moon is at its furthest south. There is a possibility that the stones could have been used at this time to anticipate lunar eclipses within three weeks of the last and first quarter moon rising in line with S2-S3 or setting between S5- S4. Whether or not such speculations are accorded any validity, the Temple Wood and the Nether Largie stones demonstrate alignments of astronomical significance that are among the most sophisticated of any so far claimed in Scotland.
|Azi.||Alt.||Decl.||Possible Astronomical Target|
|Table 1: The orientations from the southern circle|
|S. circle to N. circle||41° 19'||4° 00'||+ 28° 14'||N. major. Standstill moonrise|
|S. circle to S6||116° 50'||7° 10'||- 08° 36'||Not obvious.|
|S. circle to S2*S3||129°00'||4° 30'||-16° 48'||Winter cross quarters sunrise|
|S. circle to S1||135° 50'||3°50'||-20° 18'||Minor. Standstill moonrise|
|S. circle to S4-S5||140° 30'||1° 58'||-24° 10'||Midwinter sunrise|
|Circle's long axis to S7||204° 30'||1°00'||-29° 55'||Major standstill moonset|
|False portal of NE cairn||150° 00'||1° 54'||-27° 21'||Moonrise during S. major standstill|
|False portal of central cairn||149° 30'||1° 53'||-27° 13'||Moonrise during S. major standstill|
|Table 2: The orientations from the northern circle|
|Southern circle||221° 19'||1° 40'||-23° 32'||Midwinter sunset|
|S6||127° 00'||5° 00'||-15° 11'||Winter cross quarters sunrise|
|S2*S3||135° 00'||3° 00'||-20° 30'||Minor standstill moonrise|
|S1||141° 30'||2° 30'||-23° 34'||Midwinter sunrise|
|S4*S5||148° 00'||1° 00'||-27°17'||Moonrise during S. major standstill|
|Table 3: The orientations from the Nether Largie stones|
|1. S6 to S. circle||296° 50'||4° 20'||+18° 07'||N. minor standstill moonset|
|2. S6-S2-S3||149° 20'||2° 08'||-26° 56'||Moonrise during S. major standstill|
|3. S6 to S1||161° 30'||1° 00'||-31° 20'||Out of sun-moon range|
|4. S6 to S4*S5||170° 00'||1° 15'||-32° 27'||Out of sun-moon range|
|5. S6 to S7||242° 00'||4° 00'||-11° 53'||Not obvious|
|6. S2 to S3||153° 00'||1° 40'||-28° 35'||S. major standstill moonrise|
|7. S2 to S4||203° 17'||1° 10'||-30° 05'||S. major standstill moonset|
|8. S2 to S1||201° 00'||1° 10'||-30° 41'||Out of sun-moon range|
|9. S2 to S7||261° 20'||4° 10'||-01° 34'||Sunset near equinox|
|10. S3 to S2||333° 00'||5°15'||+34° 51'||Out of sun-moon range|
|11. S3 to S2 to S6||329° 30'||5° 40'||+33° 55'||Out of sun-moon range|
|12. S3 to S5||203° 19'||1° 10'||-30° 08'||S. major standstill moonset|
|13. S3 to S1||206° 30'||0° 40'||-29° 18'||S. major standstill moonset|
|14. S3 to S7||261° 30'||4° 10'||-01° 28'||Sunset near equinox|
|15. S2 * S3 to S5||202° 20'||1° 10'||-30° 23'||S. major standstill moonset|
|16. S2 * S3 to S4||205° 00'||0° 50'||-29° 57'||S. major standstill moonset|
|17. S2 * S3 to S1||203° 45'||1° 10'||-29° 57'||S. major standstill moonset|
|18. S2 * S3 to S. circle||309° 15'||4° 24'||+ 24°26'||Summer solstice sunset|
|19. S1 to S. circle||315° 50'||4° 52'||+27° 52'||N. major standstill moonset|
|20. S1 to south-east||135° 50' trees||4° 40'||-19° 30'||S. minor standstill moonrise|
|21. S1 to S7||264° 00'||4° 30'||+00° 24'||Equinox sunset|
|22. S1 to S5||200° 30'||1° 10'||-30° 45'||Out of sun-moon range|
|23. S1 to S4||205° 30'||1° 10'||-29° 29'||S. Major standstill moonset|
|24. S1 to S6||341° 30' trees||5° 12'||+36° 51'||Out of Sun-Moon Range|
|25. S4 to S5||142° 00'||2° 40'||-23° 51'||Winter solstice sunrise|
|26. S4-S5 to S6||350° 00'||5° 20'||+38° 27'||Out of sun-moon range|
|27. S4-S5 to S7||272° 30'||4° 30'||+04° 53'||Equinox moonset|
|28. S4 to S1 to S3||26° 30'||3° 00'||+32° 35'||Out of sun-moon range|
|29. S4 to S2||23° 17'||horizon hidden by trees||Out of sun-moon range|
|30. S5 * S4 to S. circle||320° 30'||4° 52'||+29° 47'||Out of sun-moon range|
|31. S5 to S1 to S2||21° 00'||2° 00'||+33° 02'||Out of sun-moon range|
|32. S5 to S3||23° 19'||horizon hidden by trees||Out of sun-moon range|
|33. S7 to S1||84° 25'||7° 30'||+09° 17'||Approx equinox sun or moon|
|34. S7 to S4*S5||92° 30'||7° 00'||+04° 25'||Approx equinox sun or moon|
|35. S7 to S2*S3||81° 20'||7° 00'||+10° 38'||Approx equinox sun or moon|
|36. S7 to S6||62° 00'||5° 10'||+19° 28'||Out of sun-moon range|
|37. S7 to S. Circle||26° 30'||1° 10' trees||+31° 40'||Out of sun-moon range|
|Table 4: The orientations of Q.|
|Centre to S5||201° 00'||1° 10'||-30° 18'||S. major standstill moonset|
|Centre to S5 * S4||204° 30'||0° 50'||-29° 37'||S. major standstill moonset|
|Centre to S4||208° 00'||1° 00'||-28° 32'||S. major standstill moonset|
|D - A||316° 00'||4° 51'||+27° 52'||N. major standstill moonset|
|A - D||136° 00'||4° 30'||-19° 42'||S. minor standstill moonrise|
|C - B||34° 00'||4° 00'||+31° 05'||Out of sun-moon range|
|B - C||214° 00'||1° 20'||-26° 36'||S. moonset near major standstill|
The author would like to thank Dr Andrew Turnbull, Prof. Martin Carver and Dr Aubrey Burl for their assistance in the compilation of this paper.