FRIENDS OF GRAMPIAN STONES operated as a charitable society in Northeast Scotland under the umbrella of the Scottish Capital Taxes authority (registered charity number ED/455/89/JP) from late 1988 until dissolved in 2008. During its 20-year history, it helped raise awareness of the plight of sacred sites in Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Moray and Kincardineshire (now known as the ‘county of Aberdeenshire’). This triangle of sacred sites, girt by the Cairngorms and Grampian mountains on the west and the Moray Firth and North Sea on north and east, is one of the most densely-packed prehistoric countrysides in Britain. Its famous recumbent stone circles date from 3000-4000BC with stones gathered from local as well as distant quarries, in order for Neolithic builders to site them in energetic ‘windows’ where the sun, moon and constellations might be viewed throughout the year. This archaeo-astronomy is still relevant in many unaltered stone circles thoughout the region, and, even where stones have been moved in historical times, the setting is still awesome.
During the first decade, the need to convince authorities, farming communities and building consortia of the importance of these ancient places was an uphill task. But gradually, with a growing membership, many annual outings, meetings, symposia and conferences, in addition to media presentations to schools and university groups, the Society made its mark.
Government bodies began to take over the task of volunteers and lists of officially ‘scheduled’ monuments grew. While not all individual sacred sites have become ‘listed’, a number of previously unknown stones, formations, circles and precincts have been added and vast photographic documentation and files have been deposited with authorities like the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) and individual museums (e.g. Aberdeen’s Marischal Museum and Inverurie’s Carnegie Museum). Much of this is thanks to volunteer members of Friends of Grampian Stones, who know who they are.
Historic Scotland, which holds the National Archaeological Record of monuments in government care, has constantly underperformed in its role of guardian of our heritage; bureaucracy and finances have usually been cited as reasons for not adding protection to an ancient site. Over twenty years, however, even this effort has improved. It would, on the other hand, be preferable to have more wardens in counties like Aberdeenshire, because the archaeological heritage is so vast – in both geographical spread and in time periods.
From earliest lithic and flint-quarrying sites, to axe factories, to flint workshops, Aberdeenshire’s examples are rivalled only, perhaps, by the English Lake District. Its recumbent stone circles are unparalleled. Iron Age enclosed palisades and settlements still crown every hilltop, some more striking than others. There are Roman ramparts and marching camps. And Pictish settlements, sacred land boundary markers and placenames in great number remain in the landscape.
Some gaps exist, however. Because of a growing trend to museum-ize when all else fails, several Pictish stones in their original settings have been moved; not always with replicas put in their place. So, gradually there is less visible evidence in the countryside which was once teeming with the industry of our ancestors. If this trend continues, most of Northeast Scotland will be housed in drawers.
It is hoped that a group of ‘new blood’ or an enlightened administration will come along to remedy and rescue the situation before it vanishes completely.