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Chapter 15. Antiquities

The prehistoric period of man’s existence is divided by archieologists into the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age, according to the materials of which implements of industry or weapons of war were constructed. It must not, however, be supposed that bronze implements, when first fashioned, immediately displaced stone implements, or that weapons of iron at once superseded those in previous use. The different periods overlapped, and the introduction of the newer and better implements was gradual.

Of the Old Stone Age no examples have as yet been unearthed in Scotland; but of the Neolithic or New Stone Age examples are everywhere abundant. Axes, arrow-heads, celts, knives of flint, whorls, beads, and buttons of jet are among the ancient treasures found in the county, almost every parish having contributed its quota.

Specimens of the Bronze Age, which.began probably about 1200 or 1400 years B.C. and lasted for eight or ten centuries, have also been found, and include spears, hatchets, and other implements. A fine example of a bronze dagger was unearthed in 1840 near the site of the Roman Camp at Fordoun, while similar ones have come from Arbuthnott and Kinneff.

Kincardineshire, especially in the north, has numerous stone circles. Generally the circles consist of huge blocks of stone, irregular and of unequal size, some standing erect, others fallen down, arranged in a circle, which encloses one or even more concentric circles. Sometimes there is in the circle itself, or in the circumference, a large stone, known from the way it lies as the recumbent stone. It is usually on the south side of the circle, and is supposed to have been an altar stone. The circumference of the circles varies a good deal. The diameter of those in Banchory-Devenick is from 30 to 100 ft., the largest being the well-known circle at Auchquhorthies. This one presents some features of interest. The recumbent stone, 9 ft. 9 ins. long, 5 ft. high, and about 1 foot wide across the top, weighs about io| tons. It lies a considerable distance from the standing stones. The stones in the northern arc are small in comparison with the others. The circles are all composed of the blue granite common to the district, and nearly all have their recumbent stone on the south or southwest, while in more than half the circles relics have been found. What these circles were used for is still a matter of doubt. But since urns and calcined bones have usually been discovered in them, it is likely that they were burial places of the Bronze Age.

Other places of sepulture are the mounds or cairns under which have been found stone cists or coffins containing skeleton remains, along with urns, cups, beads, rings, arrow-heads, and other relics. In Banchory, Stra-chan, Marykirk, Kinneff, and elsewhere, these have been discovered, bearing mute but expressive testimony to the ideas which prehistoric man had of religion and of a future state.

At Greencairn Castle near Fettercairn are still to be seen traces of what is supposed to have been a vitrified fort. It was oval in form, and, like other strongholds of the same character, was surrounded by two ramparts, built of stone, without any lime or mortar, and without the least mark of any tool, although under the foundation wood ashes were got. Evidence of vitrification of the walls was obtained by Sir Walter Scott in 1796.

Of sculptured stones in the county the most interesting and most ancient is the Ogham stone at Auquhollie, near Stonehaven,'one of the fourteen to be found in Scotland. The writing is in some parts much worn and doubtful, but it has been deciphered and translated as follows:

“F[a] dh Donan ui te [? n]
[Here] rests [the body] of Donan, of the race of . . .”

There are three Scottish saints of that name, one being connected with Aberdeenshire.

When, about sixty years ago, the Loch of Banchory, or Leys, in Banchory-Ternan, was drained, an island was found to be artificial—a specimen of the old Celtic lake dwelling or crannog. It rested on trunks of oak and birch trees laid alternately, the spaces being filled up with earth and stones, and the island was surrounded with oak piles to prevent it from being washed away.

There are three interesting examples of old crosses in the county. That at Fettercairn, the old market cross of Kincardine, surmounts an octagonal flight of steps, and has an iron rivet to which criminals in olden days used to be chained by the jougs. The base and shaft of the old cross of Stonehaven stands beside the steeple (itself a picturesque Dutch-like erection dating from 1797). In the square of Bervie is a cross, about 14 ft. high, surrounded by a flight of steps, and supposed to be of considerable antiquity. The county has numerous holy wells, none of them of great importance. Two interesting cup-marked stones are preserved—one at Cowie House, and the other at Dunnottar Manse.


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