The history of the standing stones at Cothiemuir Hill

21st June 2020#cothiemuir
The history of the standing stones at Cothiemuir Hill

Sarah Wickham

Marketing Coordinator/Landowner

This beautiful stone circle at Cothiemuir Hill Natural Burial Ground is an important part of Cothiemuir Wood. It can be found at the centre of the woodland burial ground is a protected area that has been historically important for thousands of years. It brings to mind so many questions as to why it’s there, what it’s use was and why these magnificent stones circles, placed across Britain and Ireland and beyond, were built. Many stone circles are linked to the summer solstice, but on closer inspection of the stones at Cothiemuir Hill it’s more likely that this stone circle was linked to the moon and the lunar standstills.

We know that the summer solstice was an important time of year for our Neolithic ancestors. While the use of standing stone circles is still widely debated, it is thought that the stone circle at Cothiemuir Wood was used as an ancient burial ground and a place to celebrate the ancestors.

Surrounded by stunning woodland the stone circle is over 20m across. Some of the stones are still upstanding while others lie on their side, however, the recumbent stone which is flanked by two large stones, appears to have three large cup marks on the outer face. The reason for these is a mystery although it has been speculated they were used to map ancient lunar positions. Maybe they were used for another purpose, or are just a coincidence but they do appear to point towards the major lunar standstills. As the standing stone circle was built to have an open view of the south, which would allow for tracking the movements of the moon, they are probably not a coincidence.

It is due to these distinctive markings on the outer face that the standing stones gained the alternative name of ‘Devil’s Hoofmarks’. This name appears to date back to the 1800s when unknown hoof marks were considered to be the devil’s footprints. The superstitious culture that existed at this time resulted in stone circles being destroyed and stones removed, mainly because they feared the unknown and did not fully understand what these monuments symbolised. Luckily for us, this did not happen to the standing stones at Cothiemuir Hill, and the links to the lunar cycles are a much stronger theory considering how the stone circle has been laid out.

Contrary to the beliefs of the 1800s and possibly even earlier societies, it is thought now that this was a very meaningful place, a place to remember those that have gone before in a special way. Something that we can definitely relate to at Leedam since it has always been our aim to provide special, peaceful, natural resting places that celebrate the countryside. The stone circle was clearly built with a lot of thought, even down to the stones used in the circle itself which have a distinctive pattern with a pink and grey recurring arrangement. You may not be able to see this at first glance due to the weathering on the stones, but it is clear at the base of the stones.

12 stones would have originally surrounded the stone circle, although only 8 of these have survived and this megalithic stone structure was most definitely man-made. These stone circles were thought to have been important gathering places, possibly for funeral pyres, although the stone circle was actually a later addition to an earlier monument.

A more in-depth investigation of the stone circle at Cothiemuir in 1980 showed that the creation of this site is similar to sequences observed at other sites such as at Tomnaverie. In 1980 three small trenches were excavated at the stone circle. It was found that a low cairn would have been the original monument possibly containing a cist. The recumbent stone circle was a later addition to the monument which was identified by the sockets of two of the monoliths that cut through the existing structure of the cairn.

The only artefacts recovered were worked flint as well as worked and unworked quartz which helps to date this beautiful monument back to the Neolithic. More recent discoveries of stone circles have also raised theories that these Neolithic sites may have been part of a larger cultural community with links between stone circles, so maybe these similarities are not such a coincidence.

However, it creates even more mystery to the meaning behind these magnificent monolithic structures, how they were used, and what they meant to the people who created them.

We are very lucky that we have the privilege of being able to see these structures and visit them. The stone circle at Cothiemuir Wood can be visited from Cothiemuir Hill Natural Burial Ground with a beautiful walk through the woodland. Dogs are also welcome we just ask that people respect the surrounding natural burial and the monolithic structure itself, as both have a lot of meaning in both the past and the present.