Scheduled Monument

Tomnaverie, stone circleSM90303

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Prehistoric ritual and funerary: cairn (type uncertain); stone circle or ring
Local Authority
NJ 48655 3484
348655, 803484


The monument is the remains of a recumbent stone circle constructed and in use during the Bronze Age (2500BC to 800BC). It is visible as circle of eleven monoliths, measuring around 17m in diameter and including a massive recumbent with two large flanking stones on the southwest. The stone circle stands on a stony platform and encircles a polygonal cairn with kerb. The monument is located on a ridge at about 180m above sea level.

Excavations undertaken in 1999 and 2000 demonstrated the monument's complex development sequence. It was first used for cremation pyres, which gradually built up into a low mound of cremation remains. This mound was then incorporated into a polygonal cairn, open at the centre and measuring about 0.6m in height and around 15m in diameter over a well-defined kerb, constructed to form a relatively level platform on the hilltop. The cairn was buttressed by an outer rubble bank. At a later date the stones of the circle were erected forming a circle about 17m in diameter. Originally formed of twelve stones and a recumbent stone, ten stones and the recumbent remain. The recumbent is positioned on the southwest and is flanked by the two tallest stones. The remainder of the stones reduce in height to the northeast and are positioned closer together opposite the recumbent and flankers.

The scheduled area is irregular in plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling extends up to but excludes the post and wire fence to the west and specifically excludes the top 100mm of all gravel paths and the above-ground elements of all modern signage.

Statement of National Importance

Cultural significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is an upstanding and well-preserved recumbent stone circle. Although the stone circle has been subject to excavation, consolidation and reconstruction having been impacted by nearby quarrying in the early 20th century, it survives as a substantial monument close to its original scale and appearance. The visual impact of the monument is enhanced by the grading of the height of the monoliths and cairn kerb stones, creating an alignment from northeast to southwest, the incorporation of cup-marked stones and the use of stone of different colours and textures to build the stone circle and cairn.

The excavations have established that there is good potential for the survival of archaeological deposits, including human burials, artefacts and environmental remains such as pollen and charcoal, within, beneath and around the unexcavated portions of stone circle. The archaeological deposits have the potential to provide information about the date of the monument, ritual and funerary practices, and the structure of Bronze Age society, while any artefacts and ecofacts would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment. The site continues to have high potential to support future archaeological research using modern methods and recording.

Archaeological excavations have revealed a complex development sequence, with the site first used for cremation pyres, creating a low mound of burnt material, followed by the construction of the cairn and kerb between around 2600 BC and 2000 BC, the creation of a rubble ramp around the perimeter of the monument and the erection of the recumbent stone circle in the space between the kerb and outer edge of the rubble bank. The architecture of the earlier cairn, in the form of the grading of the kerb stones towards the southwest and radial divisions within the structure of the cairn, appears to prefigure the position and orientation of the circle of orthostats and recumbent setting, suggesting an element of planning. The site was later re-used around 1000 BC for the cremation of human bones in the centre of the cairn, and later still a pit was dug into the centre of the cairn in the 16 or 17th centuries AD. Questions still remain regarding the exact phasing and dating of the monument, so further scientific study of the structure of the monument has the potential to enhance our understanding of the development sequence of this site and of recumbent stone circles in general.

Contextual Characteristics

This monument is part of a well-defined regional-group of monuments found in northeast Scotland, of which fewer than 100 are known. These combine a number of similar elements: a large recumbent stone set horizontally between two tall pillars or flankers on the southern quarter to form a recumbent setting, a ring of graded uprights and a low internal cairn. Tomnaverie is of particular significance as a well-preserved example with an established sequence, which has been demonstrated by excavation. It lies at the southwestern extent of the known distribution of recumbent stone circles and there are two other examples within 12km: Blue Cairn of Ladieswell (Canmore ID 17000) and Balnacraig (Canmore ID 18024). The monument at Tomnaverie therefore has the potential to enhance and broaden our understanding of the Bronze Age landscape and the placing of such sites in the landscape, as well as prehistoric society and community.

More widely, recumbent stone circles share several physical characteristics with other forms of stone circles and cairns, in particular ring cairns and Clava cairns. Shared structural elements include an outer stone circle with stones size-graded to accentuate a particular arc, a cairn, a platform, radial divisions or spreads and the artefactual remains of various activities. What makes the recumbent forms unique is the use of a horizontally-lain stone within the southern arc of the circle. Various theories have suggested that this feature may have been connected to specific lunar or solar alignments and events, the framing of specific views to and from the monument, or the marking of an end (or closure) of a particular episode of use for the monument. At Tomnaverie, the northeast-southwest axis was emphasised throughout its development and Lochnagar is framed by the recumbent setting when viewed from within the monument. This monument, therefore, has the potential to enhance our understanding of the development of Bronze Age monumentality and burial, the nature of belief systems, ceremonial and ritual, as well as the place of such monuments within contemporary society. It has the potential to enhance our understanding of important connections between regions during the Bronze Age.

Recumbent stone circles are often positioned on the tops or shoulders of hills or ridges. They often have a wide ranging outlook. Tomnaverie is positioned at the end of a ridge with open views in all directions and Lochnagar visible to the southwest. Although the ridge is quite inconspicuous, the monument is visible on the skyline from much of the surrounding area. It may have been positioned here to increase its prominence when viewed from distance, particularly when linked with the burning that represents the earliest activity at the site.

Associative Characteristics

The form of the monument and consistent orientation throughout its development are thought to reflect the dominant beliefs and ritual traditions of the Bronze Age communities which built and used the monument.

Statement of of National Importance

This monument is of national importance as a well-preserved recumbent stone circle, a regionally distinctive class of Bronze Age monument only found in the northeast of Scotland. It make a significant addition to our understanding of the design, construction and use of such ceremonial complexes, and the nature of ritual and ceremonial practices and their significance in Bronze Age society and economy in the northeast of Scotland. Excavations have revealed a complex development sequence, which adds to our understanding of this monument type. This has significantly expanded our understanding of the nature of Bronze Age beliefs and ceremonial practices, as well as society and economy. The loss of this example would significantly impede our ability to understand variation in (and its meaning across) this important monument type and therefore the meaning of and importance of ceremony and ritual in the Bronze Age, the placing of ceremonial monuments within the landscape and the development of regionally distinctive expressions of monumentality within Scotland during prehistory.



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 17006 (accessed on 24/11/2016).

Aberdeenshire SMR Reference NJ40SE0001 (accessed on 24/11/2016).

Bradley and Ball and Croft and Phillips, R and C and R and T. (2002) The stone circles of northeast Scotland in the light of excavation', Antiquity, vol. 76, 293, 2002, p840-8.

Bradley, Ball, Campbell, Croft, Phillips, and Trevarthen, R, C, M, S, T, and D. (2000) Tomnaverie Stone Circle, Aberdeenshire', Antiquity, vol. 74, p465-6.

Bradley, R. (2005) The moon and the bonfire: an investigation of three stone circles in north-east Scotland. Edinburgh.

Coles, F R. (1905) Record of the excavation of two stone circles in Kincardineshire - in Garrol Wood, Durris; (1) in Glassel Wood, Banchory-Ternan; and (2) report on stone circles in Aberdeenshire, with measured plans and drawings; obtained under the Gunning Fellowship', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 39, 1904-5.

Feachem, R. (1963) A guide to prehistoric Scotland. 1st. London, p39

Welfare, A. (2011) Great Crowns of Stone: The Recumbent Stone Circles of Scotland. Edinburgh.

Historic Environment Scotland Properties

Tomnaverie Stone Circle

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HER/SMR Reference

  • NJ40SE0001

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Tomnaverie recumbent stone and flankers, looking north, during daytime with grey sky
Tomnaverie, looking southwest, during daytime, with grey sky

Printed: 27/01/2023 03:47