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Recumbent Stone Circles

The Recumbent Stone Circle (RSC) is Aberdeenshire's unique contribution to the tradition of erecting rings of standing stones which was current in certain parts of Britain and Ireland during the third and second millennia BC.

Up to 99 examples have been recorded, with diameters ranging from 18.2 m to 24.4 m.

The distinctive feature of the RSC is the massive slab, laid recumbent on its side in the south-western or southern arc of the ring, and flanked by the two tallest stones of the circle. The recumbents average 24 tons in weight and were carefully levered and chocked-up to ensure that their upper surface was as level as possible.

Standstill Moon

It is believed that the recumbent and flanking stones form a kind of false horizon or frame through which to view the rising or setting of the major standstill moon that occurs every 18.6 years. At that point, the moon dips towards the recumbent. On 12 of the RSCs, decoration in the form of cupmarks (cup-shaped hollows between 10 and 50 mm in diameter) have been found, clustering at points (the recumbent, flankers or immediately adjacent stones) where the major standstill moon rises or sets.

Rituals

Rituals were conducted that included the breaking and scattering of white quartz lumps, perhaps reminiscent of moonlight.

In several cases, RSCs were converted into burial monuments by the building of a ring cairn within the stone circle. Cremation burials were placed in the centre of the cairn. In this respect, in particular, RSCs are closely related to the early Bronze Age Clava Cairns of the inner Moray Firth and Speyside, but it is not yet known whether they are precisely similar in date.

Burial Areas

Many circles were eventually used as burial areas for cremated bodies, and at Loanhead and Sunhoney the evidence of actual funeral pyres was found.

While we have this evidence of burial, death and rituals, at this period (c 2000 BC to 1400 BC) we have little knowledge of the houses or farms in which the builders of these circles lived.

There are other stone circles in the North East of Scotland, which are related to the Recumbent tradition. Some were clearly used for burial, such as Cullerlie.

Four Posters

There is also a small group of Four posters of varying dimensions (eg Templestone) which are square or rectangular settings of four stones. They are found in the North East of Scotland, North Central Scotland and North East England and appear to be late in the stone circle tradition.

Single Standing Stones

Single standing stones may represent the remains of now destroyed stone circles, or be outliers from a circle or route markers.

In summary, recumbent stone circles are seen as primarily communal, seasonal ritual centres, some of which were subsequently adapted to cremation burial.

Examples of Recumbent Stone Circles