When a strikingly well-preserved example of a Recumbent Stone Circle was identified in Aberdeenshire farmland (shown above), archaeologists were intrigued by its unusual design. After further investigation, however, the reason behind the Leochel-Cushnie monument’s quirks became all-too-apparent: rather than being an ancient site, the stone circle was built only 20 years ago.
Recumbent Stone Circles are normally dated to between 3,500 and 4,500 years ago, and are unique to the north-east of Scotland, particularly in Aberdeenshire (see CA 277). They are defined by a large horizontal stone – called the recumbent – closely flanked by two upright stones, which are usually positioned between the south-east and the south-west part of the monument.
When the example discovered in the parish of Leochel-Cushnie was brought to the attention of Aberdeenshire Council’s Archaeology Service and Historic Environment Scotland, though, unusual features emerged. Although the monument was made up of ten stones, average for Recumbent Stone Circles, it was also about 3m smaller in diameter than other comparable circles, the stones themselves were also proportionately smaller, and there appeared to be no associated cairn or kerb stones as might be expected.
As significant variations are known to exist between examples of this monument type, these differences were not seen as anything suspicious, and the discovery was initially hailed as a rare find, adding a particularly well-preserved new site to the catalogue of known Recumbent Stone Circles. Subsequent analysis was cut short, however, when the archaeologists involved were contacted by a former owner of the farm on which the monument had been found. They revealed that the monument was, in fact, a modern replica that they had built in the mid-1990s.
Neil Ackerman, Historic Environment Record Assistant at Aberdeenshire Council, said: ‘It is obviously disappointing to learn of this development, but it also adds an interesting element to the story. That it so closely copies a regional monument type shows the local knowledge, appreciation, and engagement with the archaeology of the region by the local community. I hope the stones continue to be used and enjoyed – while not ancient, the circle is still in a fantastic location and makes for a great feature in the landscape’
He added: ‘These types of monument are notoriously difficult to date. For this reason we include any modern replicas of ancient monuments in our records in case they are later misidentified. We always welcome reports of any new, modern reconstructions of ancient monuments, especially those built with the skill of this stone circle and that reference existing monument types.’
This article appeared in CA 348.