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Friends of Grampian Stones

Friends of Grampian Stones

Survey at Loanhead of Daviot

Friends of Grampian Stones

Loanhead Revisited - an alternative view of the great recumbent stone circle, Bronze Age burial ground and sacred precinct at Loanhead of Daviot, in the central Garioch, Aberdeenshire

My first visit to Loanhead with a dowsing rod was in 1995.  I roughly plotted a lot of shapes but decided to write up a study of New Craig,  rather than Loanhead.   This was partly because New Craig was an enigma ( because so much is missing ) and partly because I was a little shy about what I was doing and could work for months at New Craig without seeing anyone!  I returned to Loanhead in 1998 and it is interesting to compare the new plot with what I found in 1995. 
©Peter Donaldson
Loanhdminiplot1.jpg (5369 bytes)Loanhead plot 1

With one exception, (the strange buckled square near the centre), the shapes are very close.  Everything that is plotted here during 1998 and early 1999 has been plotted in detail once, and then double checked by re-dowsing and re-plotting some of the detail a week later.  This serves two purposes.  Firstly, it ensures that my measuring is not going awry.  Secondly, it ensures that what I am plotting is not imagination.   I can remember rough shapes - but not to within a few inches as to where they were!

The Loanhead site consists of an oblong parcel of fenced in land with the stone circle about 2/3rds of the way down the NNE side of the area. The cemetery area excavated by Kilbride-Jones is to the ESE of the stones.  Plot 1 shows the visible stones, and the recumbent is on the SSW side of the circle.  The two outliers are also shown.

Plot 2 shows the whole site with small scale details  of everything that I have dowsed. 
mainplot2.jpg (25774 bytes)

For brevity for the webspace, I discuss just two of the areas. These are:- area 1, which is the ground between the main circle and the western outlier;  and area 6 which is just inside, and to the left (west) of the entrance gate. Anyone wanting data on the rest of the area can contact me on .

The first features that I picked up were the double lines making a rough egg shape, with the sharp end towards the circle. These lines are believed to be stone.  Likewise, towards the top of the interior of the oval is a smaller oval.  It is similarly orientated and has an oblong structure extending from the NE side of it. Again, this dowses as rock and I wonder if the oblong area is a fallen stone or cist lid.  While still dowsing for rocky features, I found the three enclosures shown within the small oval.  It was when I switched to dowsing for bone that things became really interesting!  As can be seen from the large plot of Area 1, each of the enclosures contained areas of bone.  The one closest to the outlier appears to have separate bones.  It plots like a skeleton with the head to the NE but the head could equally be several short bones laid together. There is also a single area of pottery in the enclosure. 
Loanhead Area 1 ©1999PeterDonaldson
area1sml.jpg (26879 bytes)The larger oval enclosure on the southeast  corner of the interior oval, contains an area of bone, a pot in the middle and a small area of copper.  I am not suggesting that it is pure copper - it is just that it is that substance that I look for.  Bronze, brass etc. are all copper based and are detected at the same time - so take YOUR pick!

The third enclosure is the first of several identical features that I have found round the entire site.  It is an almost circular area of bone and pottery mixed.  This could either be just that - bones and shards of pot dumped in a pile.  Or it could be a Cinerary Urn. As can be seen, I found 7 of these objects in, or close to the large ovals. There is also a larger area of bone and pottery in the south-eastern quadrant - straddling the inner and outer face of the last oval. The area also contains a total of what appear to be 5 complete skeletons and 3 areas of bone without any real shape.   Also of note is the fact that copper is not found with any of the urns. In this area, it only appears with 2 skeletons and with the area of bone in the smaller oval.  

One of a couple of setbacks (and lessons!) that I have had with dowsing concerned a nice oval that I found in an unprotected area elsewhere. A friend and I decided to have a dig and became quite excited as we began to unearth charcoal. However, it turned out to be the remains of the root system of a tree that had been struck by lightning. After this debacle, I am reluctant to dowse for charcoal for obvious reasons!  Sure enough, there are bits of charcoal all over the site and not necessarily of any relevance to anything other than natural processes.  However, I have plotted one area because it struck me as interesting that it is exactly halfway between stone 2 in the circle - and the outlier.

I think that this whole area is a repeat of  the excavated burial ground area to the east.  It is (or was) rather more complicated and there appear to be several cists within the area. Otherwise it appears to have the same elements.  Mr Kilbride-Jones found 11 pots in his excavation compared with 13 pots and one area of pottery in my survey of this place.  If one examines plot 2, it can be seen that area one and the cemetery are neatly placed either side of the stone circle and are nearly equidistant from the recumbent's flanker stones.

And so to what I think is the most significant find of all.  I found the oblong structure because I was intrigued by the rock by the gate.  It is about 45 feet by 20 and goes through the fence into the woods where I managed to continue to trace it - inspite of hitting my head on several branches!  At the northwest end of it, there is a nice oval on the Loanhead side of the fence - which becomes distorted amongst the trees. At the centre of this, there appears to be a cinerary urn with bone.

The knockout discovery for me was the huge area of bone about 6 feet from the southeastern end.
area6closesm.jpg (7520 bytes)Area6 Loanhead please click here for fullsize image

There is also traces of pottery in this area but not in a solid mass.

So is this the mortuary house?  The structure is located where there is a slope but as the northwest dowses deeper than the south-east, perhaps the buried structure was either dug into the slope, or the area was more level 4000 years ago. If I could persuade the authorities to have a dig, it would be here. (and Area 1.)  The bone dowsing signal is very strong and would almost certainly yield something of interest.

People who have read my notes on New Craig may note that I have refrained from making date comments about the various finds in this survey.  The simple fact is that many of the dates that I obtained for New Craig (from authoritative sources) were already out of date by the time I published it.  As information grows, so many dates (first stone circles, Beaker folk, introduction of copper etc) are being revised.  Suffice to say that Loanhead was constructed 3 - 3500 years b.c. and everything else stems from that.

There is much surrounding the Loanhead site still to be found. There have already been finds in the field to the NNE of the circle and I plan to have a look there.  The woods have many interesting rocks - some with cupmarks - and I am sure that there are more structures to be revealed.  In the meantime, what of Loanhead?

I think that what strikes me most is the fact that there must have been a lot of people living in this area 2-3000 years bc. , Newcraig is easily visible from Loanhead.   There was an equal sized circle down in Daviot 1/2 mile in the opposite direction and one assumes that each circle a) took a lot of people to construct and b) judging by the activity revealed by the various surveys, served a lot of people as well.  It is possible that one group of people and their descendants built the three circles - moving their area of operations 1/2 mile north every 100 years or so - but this is extremely unlikely.  I am sure that the circle was the the parish church of its time.   Yes, we can add sacrifices to the activities.  For some reason, a few people do not wish to consider this.  I cannot see why not.  Sacrifices were made in bibilical times and, from the standpoint of ancient man - they made perfect sense.   If one had reached the stage of believing that the unexplainable had a supernatural (gods, deities etc) cause, then what is more sensible to try and please them at a time that suited you?  Cattle die unexpectedly so it is obvious that the Gods take them.   If one spring you try killing a few that suit you and offering them in some ritual way, and this is followed by one of the best seasons for years, it would be stupid not to keep the process going.  It is interesting that the circles had their initial decline as the climate worsened again.  This will probably be due, in part, to the declining population.  But if nothing seems to appease the gods anymore - why keep wasting time with it.

This is the nice thing about archaeology.  I am not trained in the subject and I make no pretence as to the fact that a trained eye will see so much more than I can.  But my speculation is just as good as the next person's.  And so is yours!  Enjoy our heritage and KEEP SPECULATING!

©Peter Donaldson - Spring 1999

Note: Loanhead of Daviot is situated at grid reference NJ747288 on the outskirts of the village of Daviot near Inverurie in the Garioch heartland. The excavation by Kilbride-Jones referred to was published in 1935 in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (PSAS 69, pp168-222). Finds are in several collections, including the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh and NE Scotland Museums Service, Peterhead [MY].

Capt. Peter Donaldson is a member of  Friends of Grampian Stones

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