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RCAHMS, The Recumbent Stone Circles of Scotland

Date 1999 - 2011

Event ID 555900

Category Project

Type Project


The origin of this survey project lay in a landscape study of Donside in Aberdeenshire undertaken by RCAHMS from 1995-2001 (RCAHMS 2007). This area encompassed the core of the distribution of recumbent stone circles, which was itself one of a number of factors underpinning the initial selection of that area. Having visited and surveyed those in Donside, RCAHMS was asked to plan Tomnaverie in Deeside on behalf of Professor Richard Bradley prior to a series of new excavations that were designed to elucidate the character and chronology of these unusual monuments. This provided not only the opportunity to look further afield, but also the stimulus to embark on a wider programme of recording in support of this new work, which it was intended to complete roughly 100 years after Frederick Coles’ systematic survey of this class of monument.

The results of the survey were originally conceived in a traditional format, combining a descriptive Inventory with a brief introduction. However, the sheer wealth of material that was available was not fully appreciated at the outset of the project and this changed the emphasis of the final publication (Welfare 2011). These monuments are important for their place in the evolution of antiquarian and archaeological thought, as on the one hand they played a central role in the pursuits of local antiquarians from the 16th century onwards, while on the other they influenced the wider study of megaliths, beginning with the correspondence between Dr James Garden and John Aubrey (1692-95). Suffice it to say that the engagement of the likes of Sir Henry Dryden, William Lukis, Alfred Lewis, Sir Norman Lockyer, General Pitt-Rivers, Alexander Keiller and Gordon Childe gives the study of these circles a much wider resonance, while their recurring architectural resemblance and orientation within a restricted geographical region also placed them at the centre of the debates about ancient astronomy in the late 20th century.

As a result, the emphasis of the printed volume (Welfare 2011) differed from the original conception, for rather than focusing upon the description of the individual circles, it concentrated instead upon a more general discussion of their architecture and the ideas that this may encapsulate. As such, it provides a commentary on the records contained within the National Collection now held by Historic Environment Scotland. Such is the wealth of information for each monument, however, that an extended Gazetteer (with an important explanatory introduction) was also prepared, which is available online from . This contains plans and descriptions of the remains of each ring and a synthesis of the work that has taken place there, including critiques of older excavations in the light of more recent discoveries. The Gazetteer is also supported by an extended Appendix reviewing the other monuments that have been claimed to be recumbent stone circles. This online component of the publication represented a new departure for RCAHMS and was intended to provide general readers and researchers alike with a consolidated record of all the data that was collected in the course of the work. In addition, an electronic version (with minor corrections) subsequently brought together these two volumes into a single ebook, which is available from the Apple Bookstore (Welfare 2013).

Information from HES (ATW) 20 January 2021.

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