As Spinal Tap’s David St Hubbins once sang of Stonehenge, no-one knew who they were or what they were doing, only that their legacy remains “hewn into the living rock”.
But in the case of a newly discovered stone circle in rural Aberdeenshire, a short-lived mystery has been debunked – and its mysterious legacy turns out to be somewhat prosaic.
A mischievous farmer has admitted creating the replica recumbent stone circle in the 1990s, putting paid to theories that it might have dated all the way back to the Bronze Age.
Since its official listing last month, the unusual formation in the parish of Leochel-Cushnie, west of Aberdeen, has beguiled experts and amateur historians alike.
The stones were spotted by the current owners of the farm, who immediately recognised the circle’s small diameter and proportionately small rocks as out of the ordinary.
They were not the only ones to be excited by the find. The Scottish Government quango, Historic Environment Scotland, and Aberdeenshire Council’s archaeology service both celebrated it as an authentic discovery, and resolved to undertake a period of research.
That endeavour, however, was cut short after they were contacted by the farm’s former owner who admitted it was he who had built the circle, which is approximately 25 years old.
Neil Ackerman, historic environment record assistant at Aberdeenshire Council, said although he was sad to learn that the stone circle was not authentic, the care and attention to detail with which it had been constructed demonstrated a genuine affection for the real archeological phenomena.
“It is obviously disappointing to learn of this development, but it also adds an interesting element to its story,” he said. “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.
“I hope the stones continue to be used and enjoyed. While not ancient, it is still in a fantastic location and makes for a great feature in the landscape.”
Recumbent stone circles generally date back 3,500 to 4,500 years and are unique to the North-east of Scotland, although it is considered rare for unknown circles to be found nowadays.
They feature a large horizontal stone flanked by two upright ones, usually situated between the south-east to south-west of the circle.
Mr Ackerman said he and his team would not be put off from examining any other potential new finds which come to light, unlikely as they may be.
He added: “These types of monument are notoriously difficult to date.
“For this reason we include any modern replicas of ancient monuments in our records in case they are later misidentified.
“We always welcome reports of any new, modern reconstructions of ancient monuments, especially those built with the skill of this stone circle and that reference existing monument types.”