Achavanich Stones

Achavanich at Caithness is a strange stone circle, if a circle it can be called. It is actually U-shaped and has its stones positioned so that their thin edges face the centre of the U, rather than the flats, which is the more common. It is very near to a burial cairn just outside the U, inside which a woman’s body was found in 1987. Named Ava, her remains are dated back 4,250 years, with the stones being arranged a few centuries later. We sometimes see ancient remains and assume they were from the same period, whereas one burial cairn might have been a thousand years old when another, neighbouring landmark was being constructed.

If the stones were made to remember this high-status woman, or served as a ritual site for the disposal of other persons, the positioning of the stones must have lent an additional poignancy. When a loved one dies, it is not just an inconvenience or irritation. It is not like the expiration of a banana or a collapsed shed. Our whole life is affected, if not devastated. All our stones are turned to face the empty chair and the occupied coffin. Those who think life a mere accident or natural selection's logical method of removing the weak, have never contemplated the horrors of grief. It is unnatural, unworthy, unpalatable and unwanted; we know, deep down, that we were meant to live forever.

These old stones might point to poor Ava’s death and her family’s grief, or they might have played their part in two millennias’ worth of funerary ritual for countless others. Thank God, the Christian knows of One to whom the stones did not merely point, but by whose rising were rolled away and broken for ever.

See from the dungeon of the dead,
Our great Deliverer rise;
While conquests wreathe his heavenly head,
And glory glads his eyes.

The struggling Hero, strong to save,
Did all our miseries bear
Down to the chambers of the grave,
And left the burden there.

See, how the well-pleased angel rolls
The stone, and opes the prison!
Lift up your heads, ye sin-sick souls,
And sing, The Lord is risen.

No more indictments justice draws;
It sets the soul at large;
Our Surety undertook the cause,
And faith’s a full discharge.

To save us, our Redeemer died;
To justify us, rose;
Where’s the condemning power beside
Has right to interpose?

The Lord is risen! thou trembling soul,
Let fears no more confound!
Let heaven and earth, from pole to pole,
The Lord is risen resound!

-Joseph Hart, in Gadsby's Hymns, No 487