Welcome to the prehistoric
Until each Government department has its own webpage explaining clearly individual areas
of responsibility in the protection and conservation of stones, cultural and
ecclesiastical heritage, and means of looking to the future with a clear eye on the past,
we are happy to provide a few pointers.
Currently, with a national Government intent on throwing the
baby out with the bathwater, we are not overly convinced that the status quo is
sufficient to conserve our dwindling heritage in Scotland in general and in Aberdeenshire
and Northeast Scotland in particular. The upper house - Westminster's House of Lords - has
traditionally been aware of landowning responsibilities, and Scots who are members of that
house have had their share of looking after ancient monuments at their own cost - as
guardians for a nation. However, not only have their powers been historically limited as
to how few [or how many] matters relating to Scotland they are able to discuss in the
House, but its very existence - and their unpaid protection of our antiquities - are now
The Scottish Executive, based in St Andrew's House in Edinburgh, telephone
(011+44+0)131-556 8400, now has responsibility for the antiquities of the nation, with
'operational responsibility for safeguarding Scotland's built heritage' in the hands of
Historic Scotland (HS) - the north-of-the-border equivalent of English Heritage. The
offices of this executive arm are also in Edinburgh, at Longmore House, Salisbury Place
EH9 1SH, telephone (011+44+0)131- 668 8777. They maintain and update a publication 'List
of Ancient Monuments in Scotland' annually, available from them on request.
Historic Scotland was in 1991 created out of the former Historic Buildings and Monuments
department of the Scottish Office, which itself was formerly a division of the Ministry of
Works [some ancient monuments, like the Castle of Boyne in Banffshire, still display their
Ministry of Works metal plaques dating back to 1931 and some to 1913 - so longevity is a
strong point]. HS has responsibility for over 7,000 scheduled monuments in Scotland and is
essentially in charge of deciding which monuments countrywide meet the criteria for
'national importance'. If an ancient site is considered worthy, it is added to the List of
Scheduled Monuments. If not, it is not.
So damage or defacement to stones in the 'unscheduled' category goes unpunished. More
precisely, vandalism or damage caused to an unscheduled stone or cluster of man-made
prehistoric or historic structures does not fall within the area of protective
custodianship of a department responsible to the Scottish Executive and to the First
Minister of Scotland in charge of caring for Scotland's cultural heritage. Such places,
even if forming historically-important landmarks, sited in some of our most striking
settings with stunningly grandiose views of unaltered wilderness and beauty, are not cared
for by this executive department. They are out on their own.
The responsibility for keeping monuments in good order lies with owners.
This is fine and dandy if the owner cares. And historically, owners have, on balance,
But the future of landownership is Scotland is not at all secure. So where does that leave
Historic Scotland's new name for the 'nineties is laudable, and, according to a recent
statement from HS Director Heritage Policy, '. . . since [HS] came into being, the list of
scheduled monuments in Scotland has increased by over 50%.' FOGS prehistoric map shows
predominant clusters of Neolithic (red) & early historic (Pictish) monuments in NE
Scotland - shown as purple dots. For higher resolution map click here
to stone circles, cairns and Pictish carved and symbol stones in Northeast Scotland.
The 'scheduled' monument category covers all types of 'Ancient Monuments' - prehistoric
ritual and funerary, prehistoric domestic and defensive, Roman, crosses and carved stones,
ecclesiastical, secular and industrial.
Counting all seven categories, there is presently a total of 432 scheduled monuments in
the former Region of Grampian, presently designated in governmentese as Aberdeenshire and
Moray, but covering the counties of Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Kincardineshire and Moray.
So, in an area half the size of Switzerland, with an unofficial count of
prehistoric, early-historic and medieval antiquities, settlements, ecclesiastical and
agricultural remains running in the thousands, but protection is given to a mere 16% of
the national total.
It is perhaps as well that the landowners of Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Kincardineshire
and Moray are content to care for the antiquities on their land without recognition or
recompense. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
The picture is clouded by an historical precedent set in 18-19thC Scotland when
gentlemen-archaeologists chose to excavate and remove stones from original positions.
While protected by a thin veil of respectablity, this practice continues and, at the turn
into the 21st Century, many portable stones of unquestionable importance to their own
locality are still being removed to Edinburgh (homebase of Historic Scotland) for 'study
and conservation'. This invariably leaves nothing in the original site which would allow
countless visitors to explore their own inspiration, research, sacred quest or scientific
At worst, some stones are given artificial lighting, heating and recirculated air in dry
indoor conditions. There are exceptions: some monuments in Angus, Forfar and Fife have
been provided glass covers to protect them from the worst elements, while continuing to
afford the stone the type of environment in which it originally thrived (wet, breathable
air, natural seasonal changes). A rare example in Grampian is the glass canopy sheltering Sueno's Stone at Forres (9thC).
While Historic Scotland has official care on behalf of the Nation of the Scots of
'scheduled' monuments, and landowners are expected by law to care for 'their' monuments,
there are other forces at work.
Most creditable and above politics are the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical
Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), founded in 1908 and still surveying every inch of Scottish
soil. They are presently conducting the 'Strathdon' survey, roughly following the line of
country within the catchment of the Don and her tributaries. It is the first full survey
of this kind in Aberdeenshire. RCAHMS maintains a photographic and survey record of all
sites of note, as well as thousands of donated records, journals, photographs,
manuscripts, treatises and suggestions from learned bodies and the public. Their attitude
to assistance from volunteers is truly non-partisan and, as such, they have amassed a
database second to none. This is gradually being digitised. Meantime, RCAHMS resources can
be viewed online at Canmore.
They also produce an annual Review of Monuments on Record, as well as the excellent and
recently re-assessed publication Pictish Stones - an illustrated Gazeteer
(updated from the former 'Pictish Handlist').
In Scotland, the Council for Scottish Archaeology (CSA) acts rather like its parent, the Council for British Archaeology
(CBA), but whereas CBA publishes a monthly magazine, British Archaeology (except
in January and August) and a monthly Briefing newsletter, CSA publishes a
thrice-yearly newsletter, Scottish Archaeological News(SAN) , and can
be reached via email. It is supported in kind by
the Museum of Scotland and in grants by Historic Scotland.
A series of policy documents issued in collaboration with Historic Scotland, CSA and the
Scottish Museums Council deal with various aspects of the Nation's antiquities and
recommended routes to follow. These include recent policy on Treasure Trove (essentially
the right asserted by the Nation to 'own' all finds of importance on private land in
exchange for a trove fee). There is also a leaflet on policy for 'Carved Stones in
Scotland' which maintains that Historic Scotland, endorsed by the Ancient Monuments Board
for Scotland, has a 'presumption in favour of retaining carved stones in situ', but
that those stones which 'require to be moved' should normally stay locally. This neatly
covers all acts of removal.
Huge collections are now held in Edinburgh at the Museum of Scotland and the Royal Museum of Scotland amalgamated with
the former National Museum of Anquities collection. Regional museums fare less well, with
the exception of the fine award-winning Elgin Museum, (akin to its larger neighbour in
Inverness) and Aberdeen's Marischal Museum which has benefitted from a long legacy of
donations over two centuries. A suitable building has yet to materialise to house the
magnificent collections of the former North East of Scotland Museums Service and until a
concerted effort is made to recognize the value and diversity of those collections, pieces
will continue to be displayed on a sporadic basis in small museums like Banchory,
Inverurie and Deer presently under the umbrella of Aberdeenshire Council's poorly-funded
With major interest shown at home and from overseas in our clearly irreplaceable heritage,
our antiquities attract the casual visitor, genealogist, geologist, author, prehistorian,
ecclesiastical historian, photographer, placename devotee and dedicated academic, not to
mention the fringe elements including detectionists, magnetometrists, weaponry theorists,
collectors and, sadly, graffiti vandals and bonfire-builders.
are convinced a clearer show of national responsibility and awareness
needs to be manifest, which takes account of public opinion and attachment to our unique
heritage and acts in the interest of our antiquities in their original context, and not
necessarily in the interest of amassing or hoarding in centralized banks.
was founded in 1989 to conserve and protect the antiquites of
Northeast Scotland and to raise awareness to their condition. FOGS acts as liaison for all
interested parties, including visitors, benefactors, landowners, educational &
The opinion expressed in these pages is that of the society and does not reflect that of
any other body or individual. The society is a non-profit charitable organization
registered in Scotland with the Capital Taxes Office number ED/455/89/JP All funds whether
derived from membership fees or in other donated form are used for the society's stated
aims and all commmittee activities are 100% voluntary and unpaid. click
here for Membership and Donations page
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