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5 4 the PrehiStOric envirOnMent warm and dry in the Neolithic The Isle of Lewis seems a remote and unlikely place for prehistoric peoples to have settled and built one of their greatest monuments. The modern visitor finds stretches of rolling, treeless moorland, inhabited only by hardy blackfaced sheep. The coastline varies between spectacular rocky shores and sweeping pristine beaches of white sand. Inland from these beaches, the sandy machair has relatively fertile soil. Most known prehistoric settlement sites, including that at Dalmore, nine miles to the north, were on the machair. Lewis today suffers frequent winter gales and high rainfall. But in the Neolithic, or New Stone Age, the island was warmer, drier and less windy. Sea level was lower, so the sealoch to the south of Callanish would have been mainly dry land. Studies of pollen, preserved deep in the peat, show that hazel and silver birch grew near Callanish. Around 1550 BC, trees were cleared and cereal cultivation began but undoubtedly there were settlements earlier than this known date.
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