Comet Stone, Stenness
Standing around 140 metres to the south-east of the Ring o' Brodgar is the monolith
now known as the Comet Stone.
Standing 1.75 metres high (5ft 9in),
the Comet Stone is on a low, oval platform around 14
metres (45ft) in diameter.
The monolith appears to have once
been part of a group, the only surviving evidence of which are the
stumps of two broken stones.
Whether these stumps represent the remains
standing stones or actually formed a structure of some
sort is unclear. It has been suggested that the Comet Stone was
once part of a table-like "dolmen" construction, similar to the one once
thought to stand in the centre of the Standing Stones o' Stenness.
The stone's position in relation
to the Ring o' Brodgar's south-eastern entrance hints that it had a part to play in a hypothetical ceremonial procession way between the Brodgar ring
and the Standing Stones o'
It is also marks a superb vantage
point for viewing the entire Brodgar ring and the expanse of landscape
and sky surrounding it. (Click
here for a selection of panoramic photographs.)
This position may be significant and has been suggested that viewing the Ring o' Brodgar from from the Comet Stone appears
to mark specific alignments - in particular the observation that
the setting sun at the spring and autumn equinoxes touch the most
westerly stones of the ring.
Poetic title or corruption?
rather poetic name - Comet Stone - is fairly modern,
presumably coined in the late 19th or early 20th century by antiquarians who saw the outlying
standing stone as "orbiting" the Ring o' Brodgar, or the
Temple of the Sun, as they called it.
more on these names, click here.
The Ulie Stane
Whether the stone was known by any name, at least in the late 1800s, is open to debate.
Writing in the 1890s, local man George Marwick stated that he had heard “old men” refer to the monolith as the “Ulie Stane” – a dialect term literally meaning “oil stone”.
Marwick, however, makes no mention of any name by which he knew the monolith.
He wrote: “The road passes the stone standing by itself to the eastwards of the large circle [Ring of Brodgar] called by the old people the Ulie Stane . . .”
He added: “ . . . old men about 50 years ago took off their hats or bonnets on passing this stone.”
If Marwick’s account can be trusted (unfortunately his paper on the area includes some outlandish placename claims and theories) , this would indicate that the Comet Stone was held in some regard up until the 1840s – at least by the older generation.
The use of the word “oil” in connection with the stone hints a traditions found elsewhere. We know, for example, that despite edicts against the anointing of standing stones with oil — a tradition that remained elsewhere in Europe until the early 20th century, where stones were smeared with wax, oil and honey.
In Sweden, for example, certain stones, known as elf-stenar, were believed to possess curative powers. The locals said prayers and made vows at them, as well as anointing the stones with fat or butter.
There, it was believe that the elves inhabited the stones, or the ground beneath them. If their quiet was disturbed, or their dwelling-place desecrated, or if due respect was not paid to them, they would seek revenge by afflicting the perpetrators with diseases or other misfortunes.
This has interesting parallels with the Comet Stone, which, it should be remembered, was once believed to be the remains of a petrified giant fiddler. Was the doffing of the cap part of the respect due to these otherworldly beings? And were offerings of butter and fish oil left to placate them?