Posts Tagged ‘stone circles


Friends of Grampian Stones 2002 Candlemas newsletter Vol.XIII #1

Return of the Light

IMBOLC (Christian Candlemas) brings new light, the rise of spring, bird nesting activity, anticipation of the warmth and fecundity to come.

While markers within Neolithic stone circles were probably well-known to the contemporary population, we sometimes forget that each stone had its solar as well as its lunar function. We sometimes forget to experience sunset at all.

Sunset at Easter Aquhorthies one mile West of Inverurie is always a revelation. At Imbolc it is defined by a clear shadow of the recumbent ‘window’ group falling on two stones to the north of the shimmering jasper stone at the modern entrance. As sunset approaches in early February, one is mesmerized by the advancing shadow as it creeps towards the two smaller circumference stones. Precisely at the moment of sunset, they align exactly and then both sun and shadow are extinguished.

The jasper stone alone, it seems, holds a memory of the light, continuing to twinkle and gleam until dusk. Its quality of reflecting light must indeed have been revered.

Other miracles of light seem to happen at this time, significant to much later civilizations. The Hill of Barra, NJ803 257, has no known stone circle, but was an enclosed ramparted settlement of the Iron Age which continued as a hilltop stronghold in the Pictish era. From its summit, accessible via the Bourtie-Meldrum Community Walk, at least five stone circles are visible, but most compelling is the uninterrupted view of Mither Tap of Bennachie. Around 5pm, weather permitting, for 10 nights in mid-February the sun and Mither Tap do a dance. For the week of Imbolc, Bennachie’s mass engulfs the sun, swallowing the orb low into Mither Tap. But midway through this time period, a change occurs and she agrees to spit the sun back out! On February 17th, the sun starts its sunset roll into Mither Tap, is received by the mother mountain at 5pm and reappears seven minutes later on her northern crag. This rebirth, even to time-worn eyes, is a surprise. Mother mountain has given birth to the sun! One dimly understands the joy of celebration, seasonal change.The sun is almost playful in this rite of passage, setting for the next week in more of a roll than an extinction, as each of the peaks in turn along her broad back appears to rise to swallow its fire. ©2002MCY

Ringing in Changing Seasons

A FEW weeks of unseasonably fine weather called for a FOGS-run experiment at Garioch stone circles in central Aberdeenshire.

There are many 18th and 19thCC references to ringing stones at Grampian circles – among them Easter Aquhorthies, Balquhain, the Standing Stones of Dyce and Arnhill, Tillytarmont. For good measure a small group of FOGS tried to produce effects at a number of circles. Results were especially good where surrounding stones remain complete, and gave an amphitheatre of sound. One person struck or played a musical instrument within the inner ‘sanctuary’ or preciinct enclosed by the recumbent stone and flankers, while listeners stood or walked to various points within the circle.

At Easter Aquhorthies and Loanhead of Daviot, the best point for receiving the sound was on a mound [E.A.] or stone platform [Loanhead] marginally to N of centre where string chords or even voice reduced to a whisper were quite audible. At Easter Aquhorthies there is a kind of ‘tuning fork stone’ projecting inwards from the centre of the massive recumbent; it may have been set strategically as a sounding board because the human voice carries remarkably well from this stone – its vibrations spreading out and reverberating not only through the circle amphitheatre, but also creating a secondary echo resonance.

The group repeated the exercise at Loanhead, where there is no such ‘sounding’ stone, but where the recumbent is split in two. Hands clapped between the two slabs resulted in echoes felt by participants throughout the inner circle. Again the group tried the voice experiment at Kirkton of Bourtie circle – a damaged monument with much stone clearance clutter, and while they could feel resonance, much of the effect seemed to disperse, with no amphitheatre to ‘capture’ the sound.

Ultra- and infra-sound experiments recently replicated by groups in south Britain and at New Grange in the Boyne valley in Ireland, including much sophisticated equiment, gave sonic waves graphically recorded’.

The effect on our FOGS observers, to say the least, was tantalizing and exciting enough to suggest yet another side to the rituals enacted by Neolithic celebrants to mark the changing seasons.

Charting the Nation
CHARTING the Nation’ is a three year collaborative digital imaging and cataloguing project, whose primary aim is to widen access via the web to historic maps of Scotland and associated archives dating from 1590 to 1740. It is led by two researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Charles Withers and Andrew Grout.

one of 30 bull stones which ringed the Pictish promontory fort

Bull carved stone, one of 30 originally surrounding Pictish Burghead

HENRY Moore Institute Leeds is currently showing a rare glimpse of Unidentified Museum Objects on loan from the British Museum. They include the unique phallic Portsoy whetstone, a carved ball and a Burghead bull. Sadly the exhibition will not travel farther north and so any FOGS keen to see the rarities will have until the end of the month to visit the Henry Moore Institute, Headway, Leeds. For non-travellers, details on the British Museum website.

Roman discoveries at Birnie

Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus

Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus (AD192-211)

TWO surprise hoards of Roman coins have been found in an Iron Age context at Birnie, Moray. In last year’s excavation, curator of Iron Age and Roman
archaeology with the National Museums of Scotland Fraser Hunter was delighted when a pot of Roman denarii turned up in excavations at an Iron Age settlement outside Elgin. The pot was broken, but contained some 300 coins dating to the reign of emperor Severus, last to attempt conquest of Pictish Caledonia, nearly 1800 years ago. Early this year another clay pot was unearthed – this one entire and undamaged – only 10 yards away from the former hoard. Both are in NMS undergoing conservation and examination.

‘Spiritual’ Tourism

FOGS has added its voice to two national bodies attempting to moderate the state-dominated attitude to digging up the past. It is based on our members’ respect for sacred sites in our own area and on the premise that laser scan and sonic technology [archaeoptics and infrasound] can arguably be used to better effect than digging into and disturbing a sacred space with the possibility of loss of ‘finds’.

‘Spiritual’ tourism – one which takes account of people’s need to visit a site for its sacredness in an atmosphere conducive to contemplation – is supported by the Cruithni Charter, ASLaN (AncientSacred Landscape Network) and countryside organizations, including SNH, Friends of the Earth, Council for Rural England and others concerned for the historic landscape. As ever, our view puts emphasis on education, in order to prevent degradation or defacement. Additional URLs: here and here.

Copyright ©2002-2009 FOGS & MCY


Friends of Grampian Stones Spring 2000 newsletter vol.XI#2

SPRING EQUINOX NEWSLETTER Volume XI number 2 March 2000

Brandsbutt stone Inverurie ogham and serpent

Brandsbutt carved Pictish stone Inverurie

Holding the Fort
WINTER provides a magnificent opportunity for study and photography of our ancient monuments, but it also allows closer inspection of any damage which has occurred. We are particularly aware of ever-encroaching ‘progress’ and of potential alteration to the land left us in trust by our ancestors. Current farming practice, while generally not too threatening to ‘scheduled’ antiquities, thinks nothing of bulldozing and burying 18th century drystane dykes whose stones were gathered so laboriously as necessary enclosures in times before barbed wire. How soon will the NE landscape become one without stone altogether, a place of billboards and development signs and barbed wire fences?

OUR worries on this score may be needless, if those who heed our warnings act promptly and deal with the miscreants. But recent activities in this corner of Scotland do not indicate a general tendency towards conservation and respect for the past. Rather is it a current theme in agricultural business to ‘make the most’ of a loophole in legislation and make a profit from an endless round of grants and subsidies; and for those in charge of our heritage to let them.

map of Scotland with Neolithic and Pictish heritage

Neolithic, Bronze Age and Pictish sites in Scotland

TO clarify the situation: Antiquities and heritage in stone in Scotland are now under the protection of the Scottish Executive, with ‘operational responsibility for safeguarding Scotland’s built heritage’ in the hands of Historic Scotland – the north-of-the-border equivalent of English Heritage. The offices of this executive arm are in Edinburgh, at Longmore House, Salisbury Place EH9 1SH, telephone 0131-668 8777. It has jurisdiction over 7,000 scheduled monuments in Scotland and is essentially in charge of deciding which monuments countrywide meet the criteria for ‘national importance’.

If an ancient site is considered worthy, it is added to the List of Scheduled Monuments. If not, it is not. As a government agency, it is by its own remit, only able to prosecute those who are caught doing damage to a scheduled antiquity.

Damage or defacement of ‘unscheduled’ stones is not their concern. In a recent letter, Historic Scotland reminded FOGS that ‘the responsibility for keeping monuments in good order lies with owners.’ This was probably safe in the hands of farming proprietors who took pride in maintaining boundary walls, shelterbelt planting and wildlife conservation. Stones were an organic part of that landscape.

BUT land changes hands.

AND in certain areas, backed by our so-called ‘public servants’, interest is now in how much farmland can be turned over for housing, or if retained for agricultural practice, how much more land can be brought under the plough or is eligible for a forestry planting grant. Half a century of blanket forestry planting by a single agency has shown how much damage occurs to antiquities either in root growth or in logging mature trees. Yet, the responsibility for such monuments lies with owners.

SINCE the acquisition in 1991 by Historic Scotland of the responsibilities previously shouldered by Historic Buildings & Monuments and, before that, by the Ministry of Works, a laudable 50% has been added to the number of scheduled monuments. However, the Northeast, with by far the largest number of antiquities in Scotland, has protection of only a fraction of the national total (16%), and only one warden assigned to an area half the size of Switzerland. She cannot possibly visit all the monuments in her charge more than once in five years.

IN a letter from the First Minister to a colleague who questioned, in support of FOGS, whether enough was being done, the Rt. Hon. Donald Dewar MP indicated he felt coverage was ‘adequate’. However in light of the bureaucratic nod given to a track dredged through woodland in Durris to create a 4WD off-road playground – thereby damaging an unscheduled 4000-year old monument without penalty or legal consequences – we are not convinced.

Activity in the arena has speeded up. In this climate it is a short step to losing sight of the picture altogether. If owners themselves are becoming seduced by profit margins, who but FOGS will still be around to hold high the banner or guard the fort? ©2000-2009MCY


archives from Friends of Grampian Stones webpage

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