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Field Visit

Date 15 June 1998

Event ID 635312

Category Recording

Type Field Visit


The imposing recumbent at Old Keig is one of the most enduring images of recumbent stone circles, not only embodying the scale of engineering required to build these monuments, but also the history of their exploration. Incorporated into a shelterbelt dropping down the crest of the SSW spur of the Hill of Airlie, it is situated on a minor rise immediately N of a track cutting through to link the fields to either side. While the fields are improved and featureless, within the narrow strip of woodland part of an earlier rig-system is preserved, the individual rigs descending the slope as a flight of low lynchets or terraces to either side of the circle. By the time it had been incorporated into the plantation the circle had been reduced to the recumbent setting on the SSW (1–3) and a single orthostat on the SSE (4), but as a result of the excavations initiated by Gordon Childe in 1932 (1933; 1934) three other fallen orthostats were identified, one of which can be seen lying on the E (5) and the other two on the N (6–7). The size of the circle is commensurate with that of its recumbent and is about 27m in diameter. The massive recumbent (2) measures some 5.45m in length by 1.75m in height, with an even summit set roughly horizontal. The flankers (1 & 3) stand about 2.2m and 2.3m high respectively and present very different profiles on the façade of the setting, the western being a relatively slender pointed slab and the eastern broader and subrectangular. In both cases they stand back from the leading face of the recumbent, but whereas the W flanker extends the alignment of the recumbent, the E flanker is turned slightly to trace the arc of the circle. With so many of the orthostats fallen and missing it is difficult to demonstrate that the stones of the circle were graded, but there is no doubt that the top of the sole orthostat remaining upright (4) is lower than its neighbouring flanker and there was probably a reduction in height to the fallen slab adjacent to it on the N (5).

Within the interior there is a heavily-robbed cairn, now largely reduced to bands of rubble extending across the plantation on the N and SW and spread up to 26m across from NNE to SSW. The seven kerbstones visible in the SW quadrant, coupled with at least another thirteen Childe discovered, most of them lying prostrate beneath the turf on the S and N, indicate that the cairn measures about 22m in diameter, expanding to 24m on the SSW where the kerb turns out to meet the rear of the recumbent setting; a prostrate slab within the ring on the SE (A) is one of the fallen kerbstones uncovered by Childe, and what are probably another ten have been incorporated into the dykes of the plantation. The seven that remain in place are not evenly graded in height, but the slabs about 1m broad and 1.2m high immediately behind the E flanker are significantly larger than those in the order of 0.75m high noted during the excavation on the N side of the ring; there can be little doubt that the kerb adjacent to the recumbent was an impressive setting of stones in its own right. In so far as Childe could detect, the cairn material had formed a ring-bank about 16.8m in internal diameter, though it is not clear from his account whether any of the large stones he found towards the edge of the bank on the SW and N were the remains of a formal inner kerb; it is perhaps more likely that this was simply an edge created by the pattern of stone-robbing. Nevertheless, a low mound of cairn material a little over 8m across survived in the centre and beneath this Childe discovered a patch of burnt ground measuring almost 4m by 2m and, eccentrically to this, a spread of cremated bones and pottery, the latter representing up to three separate vessels; an elongated pit had been cut through the burnt patch. Two other smaller areas of burning were identified in the area within the surviving bank of cairn material.

Visited by RCAHMS (ATW and KHJM) 15 June 1998

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