After I had checkpointed a 10 Tors team last Sunday at Great Mis Tor I had a bit of time on my hands before meeting them again so I went and had a look at the Merrivale Stone Rows. This is an impressive Mesolithic / Early Bronze Age structure consisting to two parallel double stone rows.
Much has been written about the purpose and function of the stone rows on Dartmoor and elsewhere. There are many more questions than answers and it is likely that many of the answers we seek will remain a mystery. They are part of a ceremonial / ritual landscape.
Jack Walker is a scientist and an engineer from Tavistock who has studied various stone rows and circles (including Stonehenge) – in his book he shows how the Merrivale stone can be used to determine the Solstices and the Equinoxes.
Spring Equinox (21st March) – line up the southern blocking stone with the western end of the northern row – that is where the sun will set (marked 1 on the diagram)
Summer Solstice (21st June) – the sun will set over the a line from the southern blocking stone and the northern blocking stone (marked 2)
Autumn Equinox (23 September) – as per the spring equinox (marked 3)
Winter Solstice (21st December) the blocking stone on the northern row line up with a burial cist to show the position of the setting sun (marked 5)
The alignments marked 4 and 6 show where the sun will set on the 19th October and the 25th February – significance unknown
(At the equinoxes day and night are the same length, at the winter solstice the night is the longest of the year and at the summer solstice the day is longest)
Walker speculates that the neolithic farmers who built this structure would have needed it as a calendar to help them plan their farming activities. Maybe, but a structure to determine these dates only needs 4/5 stones not a huge structure consisting of two double stone rows, burial cists and a stone circle. It is most probable that it had a complex ritual significance and function and presumably specific ‘events’ happened at the Equinoxes, the Solstices and on the 19th October and the 25th February. You can speculate to your heart’s content as many have done before.
The Legendary Dartmoor website has produced a detailed page on the Merrivale Stone Rows which provides some of the theories and legends- see here for more detail.