The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Orkney’s Standing Stones

Our ancestors believed that spirits inhabited rivers, streams, wells, trees and stones. Standing stones can be seen all over Orkney. Some are very well known, such as the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, but there are a great many other standing stones dotted over the landscape, which often go unnoticed.

Some are very large and stand in prominent positions, whilst others are small and easily overlooked. Some are grouped together as at Brodgar, whilst others stand alone. Many of the islands have these ancient Neolithic monuments and there have been various suggestions as to why they were built.

A popular belief is that they were astronomical observations, calendars or territorial markers. Whatever our thoughts today, the Vikings knew exactly what they were when they first arrived on Orkney shores. They were giants that had been turned to stone by the warmth of the morning sun.

The `fiddler' in the foreground with the petrified giants in the distance. The fiddler played his music while the giants danced in a circle. Unfortunately they were having so much fun, they did not notice the rising sun and when the suns rays hit them, they were turned to stone.

The Norse called them Jotunna-Stein, which literally means Giant Stone. The Yetnasteen in Rousay is perhaps the closest stone we have with the Norse name. As the stones have stood for over 3,000 years, it is not surprising that there are many legends and tales associated with them. They would have been one of the first things that incomers would have seen when arriving in Orkney.

The Odin Stone that once stood in Stenness was of particular importance. The stone had a large hole through it and it was believed to have magical properties.

It was here that people would come to seal agreements. They would clasp their hands through the hole and swear the 'Odin Oath' (now forgotten). This made a contract legal and binding. Babies were passed through the hole as it was said that they would never shake with the palsy in old age and marriages could also be sealed there. The stone was removed in 1814 by an ignorant farmer. The local people were so angry that threats were made against him and attempts were made to burn down his farm.