Ancient Stones
A Guide to Standing Stones & Stone Circles in the South of Scotland.


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Finding Forgotten Stones

Stone hunters in the United Kingdom have free and ready access to what are arguably the best maps in the world. The Ordnance Survey of Great Britain produces maps that allow the hunter of ancient stones to find thousands of stones across the length and breadth of the country and most of these stones are recognised as being ancient i.e. they were erected some time between around 4000 BC to 500 BC. Okay, thatís fine. Now the interesting bit.

It has been estimated that only around 10% of the stone circles and standing stones that once existed, can still be seen in the landscape today. That means that a whopping 90% are gone. Some will have been deliberately destroyed beyond any hope of recovery and some will simply have been lost or forgotten. And itís the stones that have been lost or forgotten that interest us here.

In my own area, that of the South of Scotland, I have detailed around 200 or so ancient stones, give or take a few and not being too accurate as to whether they can be classified as properly ancient or not. That means that another 1800 stones have been destroyed, lost or forgotten. And to my way of thinking some of them must still be out there somewhere.

It is unlikely we are going to find true standing stones or stone circles as our country is just too small and too well trodden for this to happen. Stones that have been buried will continue to turn up on occasion but you are not going to stubble upon any lost circles when you wander through the local woods.

Now, that leaves us with other types of stone such as named stones and boundary stones. These stones are often simply forgotten and lie waiting to be found under ancient hedgerows and along old county and parish boundaries. Finding these stones is quite easy but does require some luck. You will need to get hold of an old map showing the local parish or country boundary first of all. Then its just a case of walking the boundary and having a good poke around as you do so. You never know what might turn up.

This brings me onto the subject of other types of sacred stones and the matter of stone worship. Although I have been unable to find much on this matter with respect to the United Kingdom but have discovered that in Japan, natural stone and rock outcrops are still worshipped to this day. These sacred stones were called iwakura and each stone or group of stones has a supernatural force known as mononoke, a resident spirit or deity that lives in the stones or stones. If natural stones and rock outcrops were, and still are treated as sacred sites in Japan, did similar activities ever take place here in our forgotten past?

Even here in the South of Scotland there are many such stones and places that are not marked on maps or recognised as having any archaeological significance whatsoever. One good example is the large erratic boulder that stands on the west side of Dunsapie Hill in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh - 019 Stone, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh. It seems amazing that this huge stone has survived the passage of time in such an ancient city as Edinburgh. I wonder if the reason that is has survived is due to it having some sacred meaning in the past, although this has now been forgotten. Another site that comes to mind can be found near the south shore of Loch Skeen, in the Tweedsmuir Hills. There are many dozens of massive boulders and slabs lying in the heather, all of glacial origin. I often wonder if this was a sacred site in the past and that our ancient ancestors worshiped the stones at this amazing location. Many other similar sites no doubt exist elsewhere in the region.

With so many stones lost and forgotten, it goes without saying that any stone you find surviving in the landscape may have had some significance in the past. But how can you tell and ancient stone from a good old lump of rock? Personally, I think the clues are to be found in the landscape. Any stone that has been placed there has been placed there for a reason. The stone had a purpose and all you need to do is try and find that purpose. (See Reading The Landscape for more.)

Even stones that were worshipped were chosen because they were something special, they had something that made then stand out from other stones. What this could have been is difficult to say but the next time you find an unusual stone, it could well worth trying to look through the eyes of our early ancestor and trying to envisage what he saw and felt about the stone in question. You never know what you might find.

010 Drumtroddan Standing Stones

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