The monument comprises the world-famous standing stones at Calanais (also known as Callanish) and associated features, sited on the summit of a low rise, on the W coast of Lewis in the Western Isles. The monument was scheduled in 1882, but an inadequate area was included to protect all of the archaeological remains: the present rescheduling rectifies this. The monument is also a Property in the Care of the Scottish Ministers.
The arrangement of the Calanais Standing Stones is unique. In essence, it comprises an approximate circle of standing stones from which long lines of stones, including an 'avenue', radiate in four directions. Within the stone circle are also the remains of a small chambered cairn, robbed in antiquity. In the SW part of the site are the foundations of an early modern house and corn-drying kiln.
Excavations in 1980 and 1981 demonstrated that the stone circle was set up between 2900 and 2600 BC, that is, earlier than the erection of the main circle at Stonehenge in England and about the same time as the occupation of the village at Skara Brae in Orkney. Farmers were already cultivating the land around Calanais when the stone circle was erected, although no contemporary settlement sites have yet been recognised. Only a short time passed between the erection of the circle and the insertion of a small chambered cairn for the burial of generations of the dead. The cairn was desecrated at some time during the Bronze Age (probably in the second millennium BC), but Calanais may have continued in use as a place of ritual activity until between 1200 and 800 BC. The area began to be sealed under peat from about 1000 BC as the weather became cooler and wetter.
A rich folk and antiquarian tradition is associated with these standing stones in the Western Isles. The first reasonably accurate description was written in 1819 by MacCulloch. On the basis of MacCulloch's description and plan, it can be deduced that, apart from the removal of a depth of about 1.5 m of peat and several stones, the setting in 1819 was much as it is today. Sources for information about the missing stones include Worsaae's sketch plan of 1846 and J Palmer's plan and drawings of 1857. In 1857 only the upper parts of the stones of the circle were visible, before peat clearance by the landowner, Sir James Matheson, led to the discovery of the chambered cairn. Some stones have apparently been lost, probably uprooted during agriculture. There may also have been more stones in the S row, or a structure of some kind between it and the natural rock outcrop, Cnoc an Tursa. Two fallen stones have subsequently been re-erected: the stone to the SE of the circle had been set up by 1857; and the eastern stone of the E row was re-erected in its original socket in 1982.
The later house, still occupied in the 1850s to judge from James Kerr's undated perspective view of the site, belonged to one of the families which were moved away from the stone circle by the landowners sometime after 1857.
The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan and measures a maximum of 223m from N-S by 87m from E-W, as marked in red on the accompanying map. It includes the stone circle and radiating lines of stones, the chambered cairn, the house and the kiln, and an area around these features in which evidence relating to their construction and use may survive. All above-ground modern fences and signage, as well as the modern structures of paths and road surfaces, are excluded from the scheduling to allow for routine maintenance.