Historians Studying an ‘Ancient’ Scottish Stone Circle Learn It Was Built in the 1990s

A stone circle like this one was recently shown to be a replica.
A stone circle like this one was recently shown to be a replica.
iStock.com/Stephen Buwert

In December 2018, Scottish historians and archaeologists learned of a newly discovered ancient recumbent stone circle on local farmland in Leochel-Cushnie, Aberdeenshire. But this week, their excitement fizzled: According to The Guardian, a former owner of the farmland contacted the historians and admitted the structure was a replica stone circle built in the mid-1990s.

Late last year, local officials inspected the formation and determined that its dimensions, though 10 feet smaller than similar recumbent stone circles, were in line with others found in Scotland. Historic preservationists were thrilled with the discovery. “It is rare for these sites to go unidentified for so long, especially in such a good condition,” Neil Ackerman, a historic environment record assistant at the Aberdeenshire Council, told Aberdeen's Press and Journal.

Recumbent stone circles (RSCs) are specific to the Aberdeenshire region in northeast Scotland as well as southwest Ireland, and they often date back 3500 to 4500 years. RSCs are traditionally found with one large stone slab laid flat on the southern side of the formation, flanked by two tall stones, and made a circle by other stones. RSCs are thought to have served as windows or manmade horizons for specific moon patterns (such as the periodic standstill moon), though they may have been used for rituals and burials.

This one likely served none of those purposes. While it's unclear why the landowners built the stone circle and why they are now coming clean, the truth about its recent vintage was “disappointing,” Ackerman told The Guardian. But, he said, it “adds an interesting element to its story. That it so closely copies a regional monument type shows the local knowledge, appreciation, and engagement with the archaeology of the region by the local community.” He noted that the council is always open to reports of any modern constructions that mimic these ancient monuments.

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Explore Two of Pompeii’s Excavated Homes in This Virtual Tour

A photo of the Pompeii ruins from November 2019.
A photo of the Pompeii ruins from November 2019.
Ivan Romano/Getty Images

It’s been nearly 2000 years since the eruption of Mount Vesuvius decimated Pompeii in 79 C.E., and archaeologists are still uncovering secrets about life in the ancient Roman city. As Smithsonian reports, they’ve recently excavated two homes in Regio V, a 54-acre area just north of the Pompeii Archaeological Park—and you can see the findings for yourself in a virtual tour published by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities.

The 7.5-minute video comprises drone footage of the houses and surrounding ruins, along with commentary by park director Massimo Osanna that explains what exactly you’re looking at and what types of people once lived there. Osanna’s commentary is in Italian, but you can read the English translation here.

The homes, both modest private residences that probably housed middle-class families, border the Vicolo dei Balconi, or “Alley of the Balconies.” The first is fittingly named “House With the Garden” because excavators discovered that one of its larger rooms was, in fact, a garden. Excavators pinpointed the outlines of flowerbeds and even made casts of plant roots, which paleobotanists will use to try to identify what grew there. In addition to the garden and vibrant paintings that feature classic ancient deities like Venus, Adonis, and Hercules, “House With the Garden” also preserved the remains of its occupants: 11 victims, mostly women and children, who likely took shelter within the home while the men searched for a means of escape.

Across the street is “House of Orion,” named for two mosaics that depict the story of Orion, a huntsman in Greek mythology whom the gods transformed into the constellation that bears his name today.

“The owner of the house must have been greatly attracted to this myth, considering it features in two different rooms in which two different scenes of the myth are depicted,” Osanna says. “It is a small house which has proved to be an extraordinary treasure chest of art."

To see what Pompeian houses would’ve looked like before Mount Vesuvius had its fiery fit, check out this 3D reconstruction.

[h/t Smithsonian]