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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Recumbent stone circles

 Old Keig recumbent stone and flanking stones.  The recumbent stone is reputed to weigh 53 tonnes.
 Thanks to:  http://www.odysseyadventures.ca/trips/scotland/scotlandtrip_orkneys.htm

Thanks to Geo for bringing up this topic.  More interesting than I had anticipated!  I have been looking up some of the references on Old Keig and the other recumbent stone circles (RSCs) of Aberdeenshire, and I had forgotten what an interesting group of monuments they are.  According to some sites, there are scores of these circles in a restricted area -- representing a specific cultural tradition.

Aberdeen CC says:
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. 

One thing that occurs to me immediately is that the location of these recumbent stone circles has been determined by the presence of a large and convenient glacial erratic.  Some of the web sites and printed materials do not mention  glaciation, and they do not mention erratics -- and it is assumed that the big recumbent stones have all been moved into position, as have the smaller standing or flanking stones.  Now why would the builders want to go to all that bother?  As in the case of Garn Turne and all the cromlechs in Wales, you put your monuments where the biggest stones happen to be located.  In the case of the cromlechs, you use these big stones as capstones, and move in the pillars or supporting stones from round and about in the neighbourhood.  Perfectly sensible.


Garn Turne,  a burial mound or "megalithic monument" in which a massive slab of bedrock has simply been levered up along one edge, so as to serve as a capstone.  In this case the slab weighs c 60 tonnes.  it is often referred to as a "collapsed capstone" but it is doubtful that it ever was higher up than it is today...........

This is from an earlier post of mine:

There was some very interesting work reported by Colin Richards on the cromlechs / dolmens of the area.  There has been a big dig at Garn Turne (the one with the enormous capstone) -- and he reckons that here, as at Pentre Ifan and Carreg Samson the stones that have been used as capstones were originally embedded in the ground and have been lifted up onto supporting pillars without being moved very far, if at all.  He thinks they may not have been at the centre of earth or stone mounds at all, but that they were megalithic monuments in the true sense of the word, in the same sense that the trilithons at Stonehenge are "monuments".  He also thinks that they are very old -- maybe as old as the dolmens of Brittany, some of which go back to 4,500 BC.  I like the "use what's on the spot" idea -- and that of course is exactly what Steve Burrow says in his book.
http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.com/2011/09/credit-where-credit-is-due.html

 One thing that comes into the frame with respect to the Aberdeenshire RSCs is the evidence for glacial action in the landscape.  We still do not know with any degree of accuracy exactly what happened in the Devensian, let alone the earlier glacial episodes, but this is a reconstruction by Chris Clark and others:


In general, it looks to me as if most of the RSCs are in an oscillating ice shed area, where ice movement in virtually any direction might have occurred.....

Here is an enlargement of the relevant bit of the BRITICE master map, showing erratic routes in the Devensian in NE Scotland:


44 comments:

Geo Cur said...

Brian ,if you have a look at the larger scale Chris Clarkes, Devensian Britice map for Northern Britain you will get a clearer picture .Note that the area around Old Keig has no marked glaciation and the direction of Old Keig recumbent from source to site i.e. N.W. is a direction hardly noted in a 100 mile radius .

The question of why " anyone should go to that bother " is reminiscent of "what is swing " if you have to ask then it is unlikely you will ever understand , not quite earth sciences either .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- what do you mean by "no marked glaciation"? I am mystified...

Geo Cur said...

Brian , no glaciation marked on the map in the area of Old Keig .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- are you looking at the same sequence of maps as I am? The whole of NE Scotland was glaciated during the Devensian.

Geo Cur said...

Brian ,the map I initially mentioned was the "larger scale Chris Clarkes, Devensian Britice map for Northern Britain " found on his web site and downloadable as a pdf .

Anonymous said...

Geo Cur you write,

“ if you have to ask then it is unlikely you will ever understand”


This is a statement of belief! Objective truth requires questioning. If we are discussing beliefs, I understand and respect that. But when beliefs are presented as historical/scientific facts, then we have a problem!

Kostas

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- enough of this nonsense. I am getting weary. I still haven't got a clue what you are on about, and can only assume that you are misreading the maps or showing a highly selective tendency! I have modified the post, in the hope that this new info will help you. How's that for generosity?

Geo Cur said...

Brian ,http://www.shef.ac.uk/geography/staff/clark_chris/britice

Look for the Britice (north sheet ) downloadable pdf .
Then look at the direction of inferred errtic paths around the area of Old keig .

Robert John Langdon said...

Brian

Nice map - shame about the ice stuff on it!

What's interesting is the location of the sites by rivers on the coast of Scotland - I wont mention the 'B' word as you usually ban the comment - but even you must recognise the connection by now?

I agree with Colin Richards about the date and the Brittany connection - Why don't you get the astro-archaeologist Geo to give you the date of the road(the avenue) when the sun rises in the centre (not over the heel stone) and you have a date for Phase II of Stonehenge (Sarsens) and a further connection to the RSC's.

RJL

Geo Cur said...

Brain , now that have found the map can you point out where it shows any movement of erratics or glaciation towards the NW in the area around Old Keig ?

Geo Cur said...

As mentioned weeks ago the idea that some Portal tomb cap stones e.g. Pentre Ifan , Carreg Samson were quarried on the spot and simply raised has been around for a long time . Some of the capstones are big although they may have not been transported any distance but “why go to all the bother “ of raising the 160 tonnes of capstone at Kernanstown ? .As an example of moderns have a bash , at the excavation of Rathlacken court tomb four women and three men using only lever ropes and rollers lifted the 5 tonne capstone out of the chamber in two days .
The earliest date we have is for the Irish Sea area is Poulnabrone 3880 cal BC . Carreg Coetan has provided the earliest Welsh dates all from charcoal the oldest of which is 3778-3376 BC .One date from bone was 3089-2901 BC .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo

OK -- let's get things clear.

1. You are now accepting that the area around Old Keig (and indeed the whole of Aberdeenshire) WAS glaciated -- probably on several occasions -- having previously protested that there was "no glaciation"?

2. We have got some ice directions clarified as on the BRITICE map?

3. You assume that the recumbent stone has come from an outcrop in the Don Valley, SE of the site of the RSC that we know today?

4. You assume that the last (Devensian) ice travelled from the NW towards the SE -- as shown of the BRITICE map?

5. You assume that the geology on this is undisputed?

Geo Cur said...

Brian ,I am not a geologist but I think it was clear what I meant i.e. was there is nothing on the map to suggest that glaciation had moved erratics from the source of the recumbent to it's eventual site at Old Keig .
I have no idea if the geology of the map is undisputed it was you who menioned Chris Clarke in the first place .
Now that you have seen the map for the area can you point to any movement of erratics in the direction of source to Old Keig ?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- when somebody says "no glaciation marked on the map in the area of Old Keig" I do him the honour of assuming that he knows what he is talking about!

More to follow on this...

Geo Cur said...

Brian , if you read the original post you will see I said "Note that the area around Old Keig has no marked glaciation and the direction of Old Keig recumbent from source to site i.e. N.W. is a direction hardly noted in a 100 mile radius ."
The area around Old Keig on the map has no marked glaciation i.e. the area is blank and there is nothing to suggest any movement of erratics in the area in any direction never mind the the direction from source to site which is very rare in a hundred miles radius . I'm sure most non geologists would have appreciated what I was getting at .I make similar efforts all the time and ignore similar misuse of terminology by you and others when discussing non glaciation topics .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- "The area around Old Keig on the map has no marked glaciation i.e. the area is blank and there is nothing to suggest any movement of erratics in the area in any direction never mind the the direction from source to site which is very rare in a hundred miles radius."

Geo -- you are quite wrong in all of that. Shall we move on?

I'll stick up another post to examine the myth that the recumbent stone came from the SE.

Geo Cur said...

Brian , I asked a while ago for you to point out i.e. on the map some simple part of the legend( a green line with arrow at it's head pointing in direction movement )indicatng that erratics may have been moved from the SE of Old Keig towards the site of the stone circle ,you havn't done so . Surely it would be simple to do so if they existed .

chris johnson said...

Are we not missing an opportunity to talk about the Aberdeenshire stone circles? The main challenge of Brian's introduction is surely whether these circles were a happenstance or deliberately placed and aligned, the latter process involving moving some very heavy objects.

I was inspired to reread Julian Copes beautiful description of his several trips to the region. He remarks on the similarity of style and alignments that seem to have been chosen consciously - "monuments placed with care and accuracy".

Geo Cur said...

Chris , RSC ‘a are intriguing on many levels but possibly the most obvious are the fact that they are confined to particular area (although there are some Irish stone circles in Cork and Kerry with similarities usually described as axial stone circles ) with a specific architecture , recumbent with it’s two flankers which are often contrasted but not always , the remaining stones are usually graded NE –SW ,a device found in Clava cairns , Wedge tombs ,four posters etc and it is noticeable that they are arranged in opposing pairs along the axis of symmetry with the gaps between orthostats increasing towards the recumbent , the space between the recumbent and first pair of orthostats is generally less than between those and the next pair .The fact that the recumbent stands in the south has been noted since the 16th C but one of the striking features is the consistency of orientation from the centre of the circles across the centre of the recumbent covers WSW –SSE but when the various azimuths are checked for declination it is apparent that they are aligned towards the moon ,in some cases the actual standstill but generally the midsummer full moon which is low in the sky and can be seen to skim the top of the recumbents . They are usually found on the tops of hills edges of escarpments or spurs ,most have a wide ranging outlook , only a few have constrained views .The majority have central cairns and those that have been excavated and where it can be ascertained the recumbent seems to be final part of the architecture .

chris johnson said...

Geo_Cur, super post. Apart from the moon orientation, Julian also thinks that the horizon geography (sacred hills) was important. Do you agree?

Geo Cur said...

No Chris ,I don't .Two reasons , moderns from the mid 20th C seem to have taken a view possibly from a distorted understanding of archaeoastronomy that prominent hills are the focal points from sites like stone circles and often append them with the sacred word . We can't possibly know the beliefs of the builders in relation to this but ethnography shows that some prominent hills were seen as the abode of gods in some cultures whilst in others they were almost ignored , simply a backdrop .
In Aberdeenshire the hills as seen from all the RSC 's are not too high ,Bennachie is seen from much of the county and RSC 's but only gets to 528 m other prominent hills seen from RSC ‘s are Tap O’ Noth , Dunnideer ,Hill o’Fare but when each is considered astronomically i.e. from RSC to hill top orienations there is surprising lack of salient declinations ( you would expect some by chance ) ,it is almost as if they are being ignored . The one hill that approaches a Munro height that is seen from an RSC ( Tomnaverie ) is Lochnagar (1155m ) but is because of it’s distance it is actually less of a focal point than the much smaller hills .There are some anomalies among RSC 's worth mentioning Rothiemay is aligned on the solstice ,odd amongst all the lunat stuff , Midmar Kirk and Sunhoney both within 2km of each other have quite constrained views and are aligned on the minor standstill .

Geo Cur said...

As Kostas has remarked and as your “ friend “ would too , if he was aware of the comment , it might be better to stick to what people actually say and argue about that .
I don’t know but I doubt you have ever seen an RSC apart from a few pics ,read much about them or have much of an understanding about them other than superficially ,yet you quite happily “explain” why they are sited where they are with an explanation that involved no evidence and couldn’t do so . People have studied these monuments for years and slowly we have gathered information that is starting to give us a slightly better understanding including their siting yet your all encompassing explanation took a few minutes to suggest and could be trotted out like other simplistic explanations in relation to anything involving megaliths in a glaciated area , do you think this has never been suggested before or isn’t intellectually lazy ? as was the later suggestion about “forgetting about complicated one(s) “hardly scientific .
If you were really interested in having a better understanding of the prehistoric monuments their architecture and placement of components in relation to earth sciences then why didn’t notice a rare opportunity for providing some real evidence for a change ? I was harping on about Chris Clarkes map not showing the direction of erratic movement from suggested source to site at Old Keig yet you seemed more concerned about scoring points about terminology suggesting that the map may be disputed even suggesting that we move on ,all with no answer to the question “can you point to any movement of erratics in the direction of source to Old Keig ?” Because of the lack of erratics in that particular direction we have an opportunity by provenancing the recumbent and the possible sources to show that at least a glacier didn’t move the stone to it’s site or having to find another source for the recumbent . Why was this clear possibility obfuscated and ignored rather than seized upon ?
I have mentioned quite a few points about RSC ‘s that you might have picked upon ,real facts and opinions all falsifiable and open to debate not evidence free “glaciation did it “ ,never provable in any circumstance but at the same you can prove that it didn’t happen , or “ people did it “ never provable apart from when it is shown that glaciation certainly wasn’t the cause and there are plenty of them , this is basic stuff and cannot become convoluted ,it’s mostly about believers ,something that I have no interest in , preferring to sit on the fence and have a laugh .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- I am not going to get sucked into an exchange of cheap jibes. You say "it might be better to stick to what people actually say and argue about that." Can I just remind you that this whole exchange started when you claimed that there was no marked glaciation in the area of Old Keig, and I tried to establish whether you meant what you said, or meant something different?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- comment dumped. I'm not going over all this again. I'm fed up.

Anonymous said...

Brian,

It pains me to see you get into such petty disputes with your contributors! To the point where you feel your only choice is to block their posts. Being often on the receiving end of this, I can well understand how Geo Cur feels. What is particularly sad is this sort of thing is avoidable. May I suggest the following?

Make a clear 'Disclaimer' in the Home page.

All comments posted by others in your blog do not necessarily reflect your views. Excepting for verbally abusive and disrespectful comments your policy is to simply post them. Let the 'marketplace of ideas' determine their worth and value for consideration.

As part of that 'marketplace of ideas' you of course have the right and the free choice to either respond to any post or not respond. And leave it at that. It will save you, us, much unnecessary acrimony and conflict.

Your blog has now become a public forum where people interested in Stonehenge and Prehistory can have honest and meaningful discussions. It is unique in all of the web. This, among other things, makes your blog especially interesting and increasingly important. Some discussions may be off the mark, but most are very relevant, well reasoned and thought provoking. Encourage that by not acting like a gatekeeper. There are just too many of those in the 'establishment'. Please don't follow their example!

Kostas

BRIAN JOHN said...

Kostas -- it pains me more than it pains you! This is not a public forum or a marketplace for ideas. I do not want this blog to be used for fantasies or for hypotheses which are not underpinned by evidence-based science. Nor do I want it to be used for convoluted arguments based on misunderstandings of evidence already in the public domain. I am a very tolerant fellow, but I reserve the right to block things which do not contribute to the greater good of the blogging community. As I have said before, if you don't like it, you can always go off and contribute to somebody else's blog, or start a blog of your own.

Anonymous said...

Just being helpful, Brian.

We have all benefited from Geo Cur's many contributions to your blog and I really feel such treatment is not necessary. If an argument gets too convoluted, as you say, it just wont get responded to and that will be the end of it. But to dump it creates so many other issues that do not serve this blogging community, or any community, well.

Your last comment was a bit 'hubristic', if I may say so!

Kostas

chris johnson said...

Brian,
I am a recent participant and regularly amazed by the high quality of contributions past and present. I reckon we should thank you for your strict editorship over the years.

Still, I find it a shame when we start behaving like grumpy old men. Let us take a time out and start over - whose turn is it to get the next round in?

I have not had a problem with Brian's editorial policy so far although the day may come - and I do feel one of my more speculative posts has gone walkabout...

There are so many uncertainties around the theme that it is useful - to me at least - to try out a few theories and let the wise old hands put me straight. I am learning a lot.

Kostas, I don't think it useful to make this an open free-for-all. On the subject of Stonehenge there are many complete nutters looking for a platform to sell their next book. I would like to think that anyone with a wish to make a fact-based judgement is welcome here and will be able to both inform and learn from our small community.

My own experience in this respect is positive, even when making "stupid" remarks about stuff that you experts have been thrashing around for years I have received respect and clear information. Thanks to you all.

Now, lets talk about stones!

BRIAN JOHN said...

What did they say about Stonehenge making all men mad? I'm probably as mad as the next man, and thanks for pointing it out!

Anonymous said...

Chris,

I acknowledge the pitfalls of an open 'free for all' forum on Stonehenge! But the alternative is a 'slippery slope' where honest debate is made more difficult. Controversial arguments and positions can often become skewed and misrepresented by blocking comments in an ongoing discussion.

I believe in the power of democratic processes to sort out the insincere and ill-founded comments. These can be naturally filtered out by simply being ignored. Less opportunity for abuse this way than seeking to control the debate.

Lets talk about stones!

One thought that has been troubling me re: the discussion Brian and Geo Cur have been having on Old Keig. If Brian is right in saying this area was glaciated and Geo Cur is right in pointing out the known direction of glacier advancement is opposite to 'source to site' for this recumbent stone, than it is a fair question to ask how the glacier transport of this 52 ton stone was possible?

There are admittedly many unknown variables here. The glaciation arrows in the maps may be wrong, or the source for this recumbent stone may be different (as Brian argues) or something else unknown to us at this time.

Geo Cur raises a legitimate point. I for one do not know enough about this particular prehistoric monument to comment. But I can see circumstances and natural processes consistent with these contradictory facts on the ground which could perhaps provide an explanation. But I continue to find it incredulous that prehistoric people moved this stone.

Kostas

Robert John Langdon said...

Back to RSC's children.

They are very simple to explain if you understand why they constructed the stone circles, in the first place.

Most of the RSC's are on Rivers (some are just stone circles with the RSC tag have been added as archaeologists like grouping things together they don't full understand) so the stones are just way points.

If you use a boat you need to know the season - i.e. when to sail or not, best winds etc, as well as which way to go.

RSC are simple seasonal calendars, showing the seasons and therefore the weather - hence the SE (sunrise) or SW (sunset) orientation - not exactly rocket science is it!

All this astro crap is just a distraction for the obvious - moon alignments and mythology does not feed hungry mouths or help trade necessary tools and food - lets have some common sense here please.

RJL

PS on the tv again Brian - jack of all trades I guess?

PPS is Geo using your Julian Calendar for his dates Brian - if so I can see why the confusion.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Are you another one who watches the telly in the daytime, Robert? You should be ashamed!! You should be out there, looking for rivers...

Geo Cur said...

RJL , most RSC 's are not "on rivers " it would be unfair to list them all and their realtive geographical positions but look at my description and refute that .They are called RSC 's because they have a very distinctive type of architecture once again look at my description if you disagree tell me me different and we can discuss it. Like it or not the evidence from thir orienation and much more importantly decliantion is more compelling than any other prehisoric group of monumnts that I can think of . If you disagree supply the data to show that it is wrong ,if you want the data , do ask ? All that was mentuoned in my description can be backed by direct E word .(not mdma ).

chris johnson said...

Robert, I thought I wrote a reply last night but I must have forgotten to post it.

Maybe your calendar remark is tongue-in-cheek but it does not stack up cost-benefit wise with building a stone circle. For the increasing numbers of us who do not wear a watch we can still tell the difference between December and January - we don't need to erect stones in the garden.

Anyone who has done any gardening recognizes the risk/benefit equation of getting seeds in early. Where I live we consult the local "shaman", an 80 year old market gardner with considerable experience - we do not rely on the clock.

BRIAN JOHN said...

RJL comment dumped -- nothing but wild speculation and special pleading. If anybody want to know more, feel free to visit his blog:
http://robertjohnlangdon.blogspot.com/

Geo Cur said...

I had mentioned earlier about the orientation of centre of RSC's over centre of recumbents providing quite a narrow window of orientation i.e. 80 degrees when including the five anomalous RSC 's and even narrower and possibly more important one of declination i.e. 9 degrees of declination when the anomalous 5 are excluded and 16 when they are included .
This could be quite easily achieved by simple manoeuvring of the erratic at some point in the various phases of the monument so that it was perpendicular to the required orientation . The RSC not only have this tight orientation but as mentioned previously in their description but their situation and outlook is also similar .Often on hill tops sometimes in relatively flat areas but usually on spurs allowing wide views to the SE-SW . What you don't find are RSC 's on the north side of hills oriented to 280 degrees of the 360 nor facing into the hill oriented to the more usual remaining 80 degrees . This is hard data , falsifiable with no interpretation .
If we want to extend our understanding of these monuments using the earth sciences then provenancing of recumbents and sources looks to be more helpful than glaciolgy as it appears that any recumbent (in the absence of provenacing and with one exception ,at the moment ) could be described as having potentially been glaciated , that is no more helpful in the glacier /human transport debate as “humans could have potentially moved it “ . The one exception Old Keig doesn't seem to to have been too inspiring but there is a potential for showing that the Old Keig recumbent was not an erratic and if so the likely explanation would be human transport .I don't know ,but I have never heard of any similar situations that might prove relatively conclusive in this debate and am a bit surprised that considering the subject matter of this blog that others apart from Brian ,eventually , might not think this at least a bit interesting .

BRIAN JOHN said...

We need to pull in all of the earth sciences -- geomorphology, glaciology, geology, and even soil science -- in sorting out the problems associated with erratic transport. Geology will only tell us where an erratic has come from -- glaciology and geomorphology have much greater potential for telling us HOW a stone was moved, and when it happened.

Geo Cur said...

In relation to recumbents in Aberdeenshire and probably many other examples glaciologists can simply say " yes that could have arrived where it is by glacial action " .Without the addition of more accurate provenancing of source and recumbent it is pretty limiting, merely one possibility e.g. it may have been quarried from a source any distance away with the same chemical signature , it may have been glacially entrained to another point them moved by human transport by , like one commonly accepted version of the Stonehenge bluestones transport etc .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Not going there again, Geo. Already fed up.

Geo Cur said...

Another way of looking at the same problem .If there was anywhere within the area encompassing the RSC distribution that glaciologists could say “ you won't find any erratics here “ then there is the possibility of coming up with some examples within the confines that discipline's info but if the whole area is covered by a blanket “ it could be an erratic “ there is no hope of proving otherwise without resorting to the introduction of further info from other disciplines .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- nothing ever is decided by one discipline alone. Convergence of evidence is what matters in the end.

Geo Cur said...

That is certainly the case in the Glacial/human transport problem , exemplified by the lack of direct of evidence on both sides .
However there are things that can be decided about RSC 's e.g. the orientation ,declination ,outlook , spacing of pairs of orthostats ,grading of orthostats all simply deduced from plans recordings and site visits all falsifiable and showing a greater level of organisation within the monument type than might be be expected from the superficial recumbent ,two flankers and stone circle .

BRIAN JOHN said...

I have no problem at all with the idea that some recumbents (all recumbents? Let's see the colour of the evidence) have been levelled up or adjusted for a particular purpose. That's relatively simple -- even for very big stones all you need are a few levers and wedges. I wonder if the Altar Stone at Stonehenge was a close relative of these recumbents?

Geo Cur said...

I didn't mention the levelling of the recumbents as one the distinguishing factors as it was less striking than the others , although it is true . As for evidence despite most being covered by turf or even field clearance many have obvious chocking stones ,e.g. Old Keig excavation report ,Aikey Bare , Midmar Kirk ,Cairn riv ,The Ringing Stone ,Balquhain ,Braehead ,Cothiemuir Wood ,Millplough ,Ardlair ,Clochforbie ,Loudon Wood ,North Strone etc. Burl took a spirit level to a group and all were horizontal , considering the time period from erection you might consider some shifting but the most obvious thing to do is just look . I don’t see a connection between the Altar stone and recumbents . The recumbent was the biggest rock in the group set at the south of the monument flanked by two higher narrow standing stones with a relatively narrow window of orientation between centre of monument and centre of recumbent and in the cases we can sure about the final act of architecture , none of this applies to the Altar stone .