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Loanhead Of Daviot

Recumbent Stone Circle (Neol/bronze Age)

Site Name Loanhead Of Daviot

Classification Recumbent Stone Circle (Neol/bronze Age)

Alternative Name(s) Loanhead, Stone Circle And Enclosed Cremation Cemetery

Canmore ID 18789

Site Number NJ72NW 1

NGR NJ 7477 2885

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/18789

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2019.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Aberdeenshire
  • Parish Daviot
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Gordon
  • Former County Aberdeenshire

Recording Your Heritage Online

Loanhead of Daviot, 3rd millennium BC. One of the earliest structures in Gordon, a stone circle erected nearly 5000 years ago, of unique north-east type, with a massive slab laid recumbent between two flanking pillars.

Taken from "Aberdeenshire: Donside and Strathbogie - An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Ian Shepherd, 2006. Published by the Rutland Press http://www.rias.org.uk

Archaeology Notes

NJ72NW 1 7477 2885

See also NJ72NW 2.

(NJ 7477 2885) Stone Circle (NR) (Stone Ladle found).

OS 6" map, (1959)

The Loanhead of Daviot recumbent stone circle, comprising two concentric circles of stones with a central cairn, conspicuously situated at 531ft (162m) OD on a broad shelf near the summit of a gentle hill, was excavated in 1934. The excavations produced evidence of Beaker and Middle Bronze Age burials, with Iron Age burials and occupation.

The outer circle, 64ft (19.5m) internal diameter, is formed of 10 monoliths (5 of which were prostrate but were re-erected after excavation) and a large recumbent stone (split in two) on the S arc. Round each monolith a cairn had been piled and in some of these evidence of burials was found - in one a pot in the Hallstatt tradition, in another a similar pot containing calcined bones and in a third a short cist with cremated burial and a Pygmy urn. Monolith 9, numbering clockwise with the W flanker as 1, has 5 cup marks.

Within the main circle was the inner ring of stones, 54ft (16.5m) in diameter, forming a kerb to the central cairn which was about 12ft (3.65m) diameter and built over a cremation pyre. Prior to excavation these had been extensively robbed. On the N side of the recumbent stone, in order to keep the cairn away from it, a fender of stones was built into the inner ring.

Associated with the circle on its eastern arc was a low earthen bank, probably medieval, extending in a SE-NW direction, but most of it was removed when the Late Bronze Age cemetery (NJ72NW 44) was excavated (Kilbride-Jones 1936).

A stone ladle about the size and shape of an ordinary breakfast cup was found by workmen 'cleaning out' the circle about 1863 (Name Book 1867). Other finds included Beaker sherds, Iron Age potsherds, flint scrapers and a sword mould of clay, Late Bronze Age, according to Coles (1973). The relics from the excavation were presented to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) in 1939 (PSAS 1939).

Name Book 1867; H E Kilbride-Jones 1935; H E Kilbride-Jones 1936; Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1939; J M Coles 1962; R W Feachem 1963.

A recumbent stone circle as described and planned.

Resurveyed at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (RL) 11 March 1969.

This recumbent stone circle is situated on a broad shelf near the summit of a gentle hill at an altitude of 155m OD. The monument was photographed from the air in 1977 (AAS/77/3/SC/12) and has been photographed from the ground by GRC (CP11-15, CT15 and CV1-14) while the finds are held in the RMS under accession numbers EQ 451 and 464-78.

In 1989, the removal of stones from the central space of the ring-cairn and the returfing of the monument were supervised by IAG Shepherd and GJ Barclay.

NMRS, MS/712/19.

Air photograph: AAS/94/06/G15/26.

NMRS, MS/712/21.

Air photographs: AAS/97/08/G18/6-9 and AAS/97/08/CT.

NMRS, MS/712/29.

Scheduled as Loanhead, stone circle and enclosed cremation cemetery.

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 12 February 2001.

Activities

Publication Account (1986)

A recumbent stone circle, 20.5m in diameter, of eight standmg stones, two flankers and a massive, frost-split recumbent, crouching on a broad shelf at 155m OD, near the summit of a gentle hill. The stones of the circle are graded in height and the one immediately east of the east flanker has a vertical line of fIve cupmarks on its inner face (another seven have been claimed on this stone). Each stone stood in a little cairn, beneath which was a pit containing charcoal and pottery shreds. The central ling cairn, with its prominent kerb, occupies most of the intelior of the circle. It overlay traces of burning which, in the central space, included sherds, charcoal, human cremated bone (children's skull fragments and adult bones) and retouched flint flakes. It is possible that a small rectangular timber mortuary house (1.2m by 0.6m) was represented by four shallow holes in the very middle of the central space. An arc of kerbing reserves a space in front of the 12-ton recumbent, which is skewed into the circle. From the pottery found here it is likely that the use of the circle extended over many centuries and that it fell out of use during the beaker peliod (c 2000 BC).

The two arcs of low stone walling, with entrances at the west and east, that lie immediately south-east of the circle complise an enclosed cremation cemetery of the bronze age. Excavation in 1935 revealed a bulial in a shallow central scoop, consisting of the partially incinerated remains of a 40 year-old man. The pyre had been placed over the body and, unusually, the partially cremated remains had not been gathered up but rather the area had been used for subsequent, cremations. An adjacent, empty, pit may have been used for the storage of bodies before cremation. To the north-east and south more burial deposits were found, 11 in urns and the rest in pits.

Whereas the great stone circle had required the co-operation of a whole community (and their neighbours) to build it, and while its use for the rituals of life, fertility and magic extended over many centuries, the cremation cemetery is an altogether slighter, more transient creation, concerned with the relationships in death within an individual family or two over a short time.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Grampian’, (1986).

Publication Account (1996)

A recumbent stone circle, 20.5 m in diameter, of eight stand ing stones, two flankers and a massive, frostsplit recumbent, crouching on a broad shelf at 155m OD, near the summit of a gentle hill. The stones of the circle are graded in height and the one immediately east of the east flanker has a vertical line of five cup- marks on its inner face (another seven have been claimed on this stone). Each stone stood in a little cairn, beneath which was a pit containing charcoal and pottery shreds. The central ring cairn, with its prominent kerb, occupies most of the interior of the circle. It overlay traces of burning which, in the central space, included sherds, charcoal, human cremated bone (chi ldren's skull fragments and adult bones) and retouched flint flakes. It is possible that a small rectangular timber mortuary house (1.2m by 0.6m) was represented by four shallow holes in the very middle of the central space. An arc of kerbing reserves a space in front of the 12-ton recumbent, which is skewed into the circle. From the pottery found here it is likely that the use of the circle extended over many centuries and that it fell out of use during the beaker period (c 2000 BC).

The two arcs of low stone walling, with entrances at the west and east, that lie immediately southeast of the circle comprise an enclosed cremation cemetery of the bronze age. Excavation in 1935 revealed a burial in a shallow central scoop, consisting of the partially incinerated remains of a 40 year-old man. The pyre had been placed over the body and, unusually, the partially cremated remains had not been gathered up but rather the area had been used for subsequent cremations. An adjacent, empty, pit may have been used for the storage of bodies before cremation. To the northeast and south more burial deposits were found, 11 in urns and the rest in pits.

Whereas the great stone circle had required the cooperation of a whole community (and their neighbours) to build it, and wh ile its use for the rituals of life, fertility and magic extended over many centuries, the cremation cemetery is an altogether slighter, more transient creation, concerned with the relationships in death within an individual family or two over a short time.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Aberdeen and North-East Scotland’, (1996).

Field Visit (21 July 1999)

The recumbent setting stands on the SSW of the ring, though it does not face in this direction and is skewed round to the S. The recumbent (2) has split lengthwise along a natural plane of weakness and now gives the appearance of two slabs, one set in front of the other, with the taller at the rear about 1.8m in height; the original block measured 3.4m in length and had a relatively even summit rising slightly towards the W. The two pieces rest in a bed of boulders that extends laterally around the two flankers, both of which have suffered at the hands of stone breakers but are now restored. The top of the western (1), which is the more slender, still lay nearby at the outset of the excavations in 1934 and has been put back in its rightful place, while the then fallen E flanker (3) has been re-erected in its original socket; two chiselled hollows can be seen just below the point where the latter’s top has been broken off. Both flankers are set back from the face of the recumbent and the eastern bears a single cupmark a little above the ground surface on its inner face. Of the rest of the ring, four orthostats (7–10) on the N quarter were re-erected following the excavations, and a fifth on the WSW (11) has been heavily repaired. One of the re-erected orthostats is only a stump (9), otherwise the smallest is 1.4m high on the NNE (7), and the tallest, at 2.2m, is the W flanker. Around the E the orthostats are consistently graded to decrease in height from S to N. This is not the case on the W, but here the builders have utilised the slope rising outside the circle to create the same impression. In addition to the cupmark on the E flanker, the adjacent orthostat on the SE of the circle (4) has twelve shallow cups on its inner face, and its neighbour to the NNE (5) has two on its outer face. The cairn standing within the circle is polygonal on plan, measuring 16m in diameter and up to 0.3m in height, but it has been entirely reconstructed and it is difficult to tell which of the stones still remain undisturbed. Thus, of the near continuous kerb of earthfast stones recorded on the excavation plan, which tend to increase in size towards the recumbent, only 38 around the S half can be identified. In the same vein, a foundation of heavy stones visible immediately behind the recumbent setting is a reconstruction. As originally re-built the veneer of cairn material extended the full diameter of the cairn, but in 1989 an open space some 4.3m in diameter was cleared at the centre, creating the firm impression that this is a ring-cairn, though there is no clear evidence that the cairn ever had an internal court (see below). The kerb on the SSE of the cairn displays two lines, the inner springing from two points to either side of the recumbent setting (a & b) and extending behind the recumbent, and the outer linking directly to the E end of the recumbent (see discussion below). Beyond the kerb there was probably once an outer band of cairn material forming a platform extending out beyond the ring of orthostats, though most of its stones had been removed prior to the excavations; stony patches belonging to this platform are visible adjacent to the W flanker and six of the orthostats (4, 5, 6, 8, 9 &10).

Visited by RCAHMS (ATW and KHJM) 21 July 1999

Field Visit (7 October 2016)

The plan taken by RCAHMS in 1999 (Welfare 2011, 80, 389) was revised to show the kerbstones that were introduced largely on the NW arc of the ring-cairn during the monument's restoration for public display, following Kilbride-Jones' excavation. Another original kerbstone was identified and plotted on the WSW, while two small further examples were plotted on the primary line of the kerb behind the east flanker. In addition, a handful of stones delimiting the edge of the platform were added immediately SW of the west flanker (1) and east of the orthostat on the north (8).

Visited by RCAHMS (ATW and AMcC), 7 October 2015

Note (February 2017)

Great feats of engineering

Recumbent stone circles are distinctive because they contain a large recumbent stone - one that is set on its side rather than upright - between two flanking standing stones. The recumbent stone is always positioned in the southern quadrant of a ring and invariably encloses a small cairn.

Loanhead of Daviot, is situated just north of the village of Daviot in the heart of Aberdeenshire. It is one of only nine recumbent stone circles which survive complete – although it has been partly restored. It was excavated in the mid-1930’s by Howard Kilbride-Jones, a favourite student of the famous twentieth century archaeologist, Vere Gordon Childe. The lessons learnt and the evidence retrieved from these excavations has contributed much to our present understanding of these rather peculiar monuments.

The earliest evidence revealed by the excavation was a black greasy layer within the ring, which contained charcoal and fragments of human bone beneath which was a bright red patch of hard baked soil. This implies that the site was once a place where funerary pyres were lit in order to cremate the dead: a place where their bodies were transformed and their spirits were freed to translate from this life to the next. When the site was closed to further cremations, a large stony platform was built over the site, which incorporated at its centre a small cairn with a distinct outer kerb. The stone circle, which was constructed thereafter around the edge of this platform, was only considered complete when the recumbent stone was in place with the flankers beside it. The stones making up the ring at most recumbent stone circles usually decrease in height from the flankers until a point in the northern quadrant is reached, where the shortest is commonly found; and like the flankers, each stone is usually paired with another on the opposite side of the ring. Each of the eleven stones was very carefully chosen. They vary in size and texture, but primarily consist of pink and dark grey granite rocks. The recumbent stone here is unusual, as it has split into two as a result of an intrinsic weakness.

Commemoration and symbolism

Recent research has suggested that the design of recumbent stone circle is highly symbolic. They not only incorporate certain architectural traits derived from earlier Neolithic chambered tombs, but also mimic their features in varying degrees. Thus, the recumbent stone and the flankers can be understood to represent a closed doorway behind which lies a blocked passage that leads to a central chamber. The signifiers of the 'blocked passage' at Loanhead of Daviot are not only ill delineated, but also poorly preserved. It is represented by the way the kerbstones of the earlier cairn have been reconfigured immediately adjacent to the recumbent stone and the flankers, so that in reaching out and forging a connection with the later ring, they create a stony space immediately behind these three big stones defined on each side by kerbstones. No 'central chamber' was found here, the void at the centre of the cairn being nothing more that the bottom of a pit that was dug through the cairn at a much later date in the Bronze Age.

In addition to this symbolic element recalling the ancient Neolithic tombs, the architecture of the monument also incorporates another symbolic thread that speaks of regeneration. This is partly expressed in the monument's circular plan, but also in the location of the recumbent stone and the flankers in its southern quadrant, and their relationship to the smallest stone situated on the northern side of the ring. This disparity in size places the focus of the monument on the southern arc and thus upon midwinter, the point where the old year dies and the New Year is reborn. Thus the metaphor captured in this second strand of the architecture can be understood to refer to the cycle of life, to rebirth following transformation after death.

This interpretation is based on a mosaic of clues gathered from all the surviving recumbent stone circles and it is not wholly explicit at Loanhead of Daviot. However, enough of the elements are present here to confirm that its builders had the same intentions as those who built similar structures elsewhere.

Although archaeologists believe recumbent stone circles were built to commemorate the dead, they contain no burials. They were constructed to attract attention and the messages inherent in their design were intended to be easily read. Eventually that ability was lost, but they continued to be understood by the people who subsequently lived amongst them as places of significance in the landscape. And perhaps it was only when this was forgotten or wilfully ignored that they began to be seriously damaged and sometimes completely destroyed.

Maya Hoole (Archaeology InSites project manager) and A.T. Welfare (Archaeology Project Manager)

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