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Field Visit

Date 7 December 1999

Event ID 635070

Category Recording

Type Field Visit


Shortly before 1866 the remains of a recumbent stone circle were removed from the leading edge of a broad terrace on the hill to the NW of Ardtannes Cottages. Its inclusion in the gazetteer rests on the description of the recumbent itself, which was reported in that year to the OS surveyors (Name Book, Aberdeenshire, No. 42, p 31) and subsequently published in more detail by Rev John Davidson, who wrote a history of Inverurie and the Garioch (1878, 3–4). The stone lay in the easternmost of three ‘Stone Circles’ shown on the 1st edition OS 25-inch map as pecked outlines, having been trenched and brought under cultivation by the tenant of Artannes, William Bisset. Bisset and Davidson are both cited as the authorities for the account in the Name Book. The common feature of each circle was an enclosing bank rather than a ring of standing stones, and in the case of the largest, which lay immediately W of the circle containing the recumbent, this was apparently about 0.9m in height (Davidson 1878, 3). Although nothing of the circles remained visible, the surveyors wrote: ‘A very large stone, supported on two smaller ones, lay in Circle No. 3. Its longitudinal direction was east and west. Equidistant from the two supports, on account of the curvature of the stone underneath, it was just clear of the ground’ (Name Book, Aberdeenshire, No. 42, p 31). Captain Edward Courtenay added his own gloss and a note reading ‘Probably the “Altar Stone”.’ is appended in the margin. Davidson provides a more detailed if confusing description, which includes observations made when Bisset trenched the circle:

‘a careful artistic structure appeared in the small circle… It was in the form of a saucer, nine feet [2.7m] wide and about one [0.3m] in depth, the circumference being of triangular stones dovetailed together so firmly, that the ordinary tramp pick was not sufficient to unsettle the fixture. They were bedded in finely wrought tough clay; and the bottom of the saucer was of small pebbles closely packed together in the same material, making a watertight basin.

Near by these stood upon four props a great stone, ten feet [3m] in length by five [1.5m] in breadth and four [1.2m] deep, shaped like a fishing cobble, having a broad end and a narrower point. The pillars kept it quite clear of the ground… The erection stood on a prepared base–a flat space neatly causewayed with pebbles, oval in form, and about the same length as the table, but wider.’ (Davidson 1878, 4).

At this remove it is difficult to interpret some aspects of these accounts, though there can be little doubt about the character of the ‘Altar Stone’; its size and shape, its exposed support stones, and its alignment, are all typical features of recumbents in other circles. The bed of pebbles beneath it is likely to have been part of the platform surrounding an internal cairn, while the ‘saucer’ may have been a central court, its closely-fitting kerbstones again a feature of courts seen elsewhere. In summary, there are sufficient elements recorded here to confidently identify Ardtannes as the remains of a recumbent stone circle, and probably one enclosing a ring-cairn. The apparent absence of any local memory of the flankers and the other orthostats simply indicates that it had been partly cleared many years before, perhaps in the late 18th century or the first decades of the 19th century when so many other monuments fell victim to tenant farmers improving their ground. Then the circle had been part of a wider landscape of hut-circles and clearance heaps. In addition to the other two ring-banks on the same terrace, a fourth had been removed about 240m to the E on Corsman Hill, where numerous small cairns extended back beneath the plantation that covers its summit. Davidson also refers to discoveries of flints and deposits of burnt stones in the fields below (1878, 3–4). By the time Coles passed through the district, little trace of any of these monuments remained, and though he knew of Davidson’s account he failed to make the link between the ‘great stone … shaped like a fishing cobble’ and a recumbent; concluding that the three circles marked on the map were more probably the remains of cairns rather than ‘true stone circles’ (1901, 224–5), he omitted them from his survey.

Visited by RCAHMS (ATW) 7 December 1999

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