Megalithic Argyll

In the summer of ’74 I joined an Earthwatch expedition to “Megalithic Britain.” The group, under the direction of archaeo-astronomer and “Stonehenge Decoded” author Gerald Hawkins, paid a brief visit to Stonehenge itself (this was when you could still walk inside), then flew north to set up camp for the next two weeks on a low hill in the Kilmartin Valley of west-central Scotland. We hiked around to the sites of numerous single- and multiple standing stones (menhirs), measuring the angles of lines of sight between the stones and various peaks and notches on the hilly horizons.  Subsequent analysis (hours of tedious work at night on fabulously expensive programmable calculators) was to determine if the stones might have been set up to mark seasonally significant astronomical events (like the midsummer sunrise) back in megalithic times, 30 or more centuries ago.

I was handed the job of photographing the sites we surveyed, using a 4×5 Speed Graphic (similar to one I already owned) with a Polaroid back.  We used Polaroid’s Type 55 P/N film, which provided both a positive paper print and a 4×5 negative.  The prints had to be coated with a sticky pink preservative and kept separate from other prints, bits of grass, and rain until dry. The negatives had to be dunked and carried around in a special white plastic bucket filled with 18% sodium sulfite.  Measurements taken with a (pre-digital) theodolite were transcribed in a rain-proof notebook and the horizon points to which angles were measured were marked on the barely dry Polaroid prints.

This was actually great fun, rambling around the Scottish countryside, often in a light to moderate rain, toting the 4×5 paraphernalia and my own Nikkormat FTN, taking lots of pictures of hills, plants, historic ruins, and these ancient, mysterious standing stones.  At the end of the trip, I kept some of the duplicate, underexposed, or slightly mis-focused negatives, along with a couple of scenics (let’s call them “test shots”) I just happened to take.  Now, 36 years later, I’ve scanned some of those 4×5 negatives, cleaned them up digitally, and posted them below.

What fun it would be to revisit some of these sites!

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A’Bhienn

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Torran

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Torbhlaren

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Poltalloch from the Linear Cemetery Stone

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Copyright © 2010 Tim Messick. All rights reserved.

About Tim Messick

Photographer, cartographer, and botanist/naturalist. Home is in Davis, California. Home-away-from-home is the eastern Sierra Nevada. Compiling a flora of the Bodie Hills.
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