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Friends of Grampian Stones

Friends of Grampian Stones


Friends of Grampian Stones

Friends of Grampian Stones caring 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).

ne2.gif (1085 bytes) AROUND 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.

recumb.gif (1029 bytes) EARLIEST 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 weather.

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.

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 equinoctial sightings.

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.

cometinpg.gif (1132 bytes) FIRE 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.

pictcres.gif (974 bytes) 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.

pictcres.gif (974 bytes) SYMBOL STONES
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 separate county.

pictcres.gif (974 bytes)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.

pictcres.gif (974 bytes)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 page

pictcres.gif (974 bytes)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 representative.

Friends of Grampian Stones 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 attention.

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 1:50,000 series.

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..

please print out and return to: FOGS Info Office
Inverurie Aberdeenshire AB51 0JS Scotland
(print or type): we welcome subscription by standing order - please add amount to form below
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Please pay to the Bank of Scotland, The Square, Ellon, Aberdeenshire sort code 80-06-71 for the credit of Friends of Grampian Stones account number 00411442 the sum of
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While payment is appreciated in any currency, £ sterling drawn on a British bank is preferred.
If this is not possible, please add equivalent of £5 in your currency for bank charges & commision.

Friends of Grampian Stones is a charitable society registered in Scotland with the Capital Taxes Office ED/455/89/JP


FOGS Membership Information © FRIENDS OF GRAMPIAN STONES1999-2000
Editor Marian Youngblood

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