for the antiquities of Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Moray & Kincardine
in Northeast Scotland - read about us.
THE GRAMPIAN REGION
of Northeast Scotland has over 5000 places of prehistoric interest, ranging from earliest
longcairns (e.g. Blue Cairn of Balnagowan NJ 490 005, 4th Millennium BC), where Neolithic
people buried and worshipped their ancestors communally, to Pictish symbol stones carved
in the early-Historic period (formerly called 'Dark Age', e.g. Picardy Stone Insch NJ 609
302, AD5th/6th CC), proclaiming the power of individual families and territorial riches;
to Christian cross slabs and decorated ecclesiastic monuments (AD9-11thCC).
5000 years ago the first farmers took time off from worship of ancestors
and tending field and flock to build the first 'recumbent' stone circles in central
Aberdeenshire, which were to serve as annual calendars keyed to the movement of heavens
and seasons, as ritual places of worship, and to celebrate nature's seasonal changes with
fire festivals at times of watching the sun & moon rise and set.
recumbent stones were placed horizontally in circles along Donside to form a windowsill
flanked by huge uprights staring at the southwestern horizon. From the recumbent, by
contrast, the northern sky can also be viewed from an amphitheatre of up to 12 stones, and
some of the most spectacular circles like Easter Aquhorthies, (Inverurie NJ 732 207 early
3rd Millennium BC) have a near-360° vista. This recumbent feature served the stone circle
tradition throughout Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Kincardineshire and parts of Moray for at
least 3000 years, progressing through that time period to form the six-stone circles of
Banffshire, four-stone settings in parts of Kincardinshire and Moray, and eventually a
simpler form of the template or one which abandoned use of the recumbent stone altogether,
as in stone circles of Perthshire, Invernessshire, Badenoch & Strathspey. Many early
recumbent circles are decorated with cupmarks.
FORTUNATELY up to 600 sites in greater or
lesser degree of preservation still exist in Northeast Scotland today, in spite of farming
improvement, disapproval of the 17th-18thCC Reformed Church and effects of time and
IN THE BRONZE Age (early 2nd to 1st Millennia BC) the introduction of
metalworking and its apparently magical qualities changed society radically. Monuments
dating from this period show the influence of the N European 'Beaker' culture with its use
of precious metals and pots exquisitely decorated with flamboyant, individual style. While
the older Neolithic monuments appear to remain important as ancestral places of reverence,
a simpler banked enclosure, sometimes called a 'henge' (with single or double entrances)
appears as a ritual centre in the Bronze period.
INVARIABLY burials are associated with these enclosures and in many cases,
paved ritual avenues led to the site. The Druidsfield, Broomend of Crichie, Port
Elphinstone NJ 779 196 had until the end of the AD 19thC such a magnificent ritual avenue
of 72 stones leading to its bank-ditched enclosure and to a tripe-ring circle of stone,
but all but three avenue stones and a skeletal stone setting within the Druidsfield
enclosure have been destroyed in successive development of rail, road, industry and, more
recently, gravel extraction and a business park.
OTHER destroyed paved routeways led to
burial grounds from smaller ritual circles in the Howe of Alford on Don at (another)
Druidsfield, and at Crookmore and, in Clatt, at
Hillhead on the Gartnach.
BRONZE AGE activity continued to be
associated with the earlier Neolithic circles, and some, like the Buchan circle of
Berrybrae NK 027 571, had fine ritual deposits with a Beaker cultural connection. That
circle may itself have been a Beaker restructuring, as its alignment is clearly aimed at
the Beltane full moon, rather than the earlier Neolithic focus on solsticial and
A FURTHER Bronze Age modification to many
stone circles and recumbent monuments added a cairn-building ritual to the structure in a
frenzy of burnings and cremations; in Kincardineshire particularly, whole ring cairns of
substantial stones were tacked on to the recumbent, as at Raes of Clune NO 794 949.
The White Lady of Tillyfoure, near Alford NJ 643 135, is nearly submerged by its cairn.
Other circle stones are decorated by cup-and-ring
carvings, thought to identify cycles of rising & setting sun- and moon-lines.
FESTIVALS as seasonal signposts ensured ancient ritual circles survived
well into the Christian era, inspiring generations of Iron Age devotees, builders of great
hilltop ramparted enclosures ('hillforts', e.g. Tap o' Noth, Rhynie NJ 484 293).
Early-Historic Picts carved their beautiful symbols on material used in circle-building or
on stones nearby.
THE PICTS embraced the ancient religious
rites and adapted their own fire festivals, like the tradition of burning the clavie (a
human-sized torch) on the night of 'Aul' 'Eel' (old Yule, midwinter) on January 11th at
Burghead, Moray every year, confounding all attempts to suppress it. Many of the northern
and eastern ports held their own clavie burning, where the populace carried burning brands
around the town and down to the boats to mark the turning of the year from dark to light,
and this festival can claim its roots in prehistory. Sadly in Northeast Scotland all other
fire festivals save Burghead clavie & swinging fireballs at Hogmanay in Stonehaven
have died out.
MOVEMENT of portable stones has changed the picture: of 202 pre-Christian (early-Historic
class I) & Christian (early-Medieval class II) Pictish stones throughout Eastern
Scotland showing geometric and mystical designs and stylized sacred animals of the Pictish
pantheon, only four in Aberdeenshire remain in their original positions: Rhynie Craw Stane
NJ 497 263; Nether Corskie Dunecht NJ 748 096; Ardlair Kennethmont NJ 554 278 and the
Picardy Stone, Insch. In the county of Banffshire, no symbol stone is scheduled by
Historic Scotland and none is in Guardianship; matters are currently confused by a local
government convention of naming Banffshire within Aberdeenshire. Historically it is a
AT ABERDEEN, the Dyce symbol stones are scheduled
and in Guardianship, but their original site is lost and while until recently they rested
in a recess of the Chapel of St Fergus, Historic Scotland has exercised State prerogative
to move them to Edinburgh, on grounds of 'conservation'; no replicas have been
substituted. Click here for information on government Agencies.
In central Aberdeenshire, three symbol stones are in Guardianship and 18 are scheduled,
while in Kincardineshire, four are scheduled, none in Guardianship; Moray has eight stones
scheduled, with Sueno's Stone (9thC cross slab,
NJ 046 595) in Guardianship. Of the rest, Museums have taken a substantial sampling, as
have private owners who have historically had permission to erect them in their
grounds.While a similar situation applies to the preservation of stone circles and lone
megaliths throughout the region, (less than an eighth protected by effective legislation),
they are preserved, thankfully, by their size and by a long-standing tradition, backed by
superstition, that moving them brings catastrophe.
OF THE LARGER monoliths, the 6.5m high Sueno' Stone at Forres has set an example by remaining in
situ but with the protection of a glass case. This is preferable to wholesale
removal, such as Strathearn's Dupplin Cross
from its hillside at Forteviot to glamorise a new exhibition at the Museum of Scotland in
Edinburgh. No replica has been substituted for the thousands of visitors who expect to
find something at the end of their climb to this dramatic site. Historic Scotland have
promised to return it in two years' time, but not to its original site: it is to be housed
in St Serf's Church in Dunning.
For comment on national policy and the Dupplin Cross, see our Newsletter
Besides the more obvious
stone circles and Pictish stones, hundreds of sites of prehistoric importance, such as
souterrains, prehistoric field systems, settlements and cairns in Aberdeenshire and the
Northeast need attention and more effective protection. While Historic Scotland now has a
resident warden, the Grampian region has more monuments than any other region and
certainly more than can be practically supervised by a solitary government agency
have for a decade acted as
liaison for the interested visitor, landowner, educational institution & government
& church bodies. We continue to press for more funding and for stringent measures to
counteract vandalism or, more insidious, removal or replacement of ancient monuments to
make way for 'progress'. We are increasingly aware that our prehistoric &
early-Historic heritage is a fragile and irreplaceable resource which requires our
Location, where identified, is delineated by a convention of latitude and longitude grid
reference as used in Crown copyright Ordnance Survey (OS) maps of former one-inch, present
Annual membership: £10 ($20) corporate £20/$35 provides co-membership of the Council for
Scottish Archaeology (CSA), a quarterly FOGS newsletter & notification of events,
outings & lectures. Members are encouraged in their own research & to report any
threat to antiquities to the Red Alert team by email.
Membership falls due annually at solstice June 21st..
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FOGS Membership Information © FRIENDS OF GRAMPIAN STONES1999-2000
Editor Marian Youngblood