As It Happens

'Bronze Age' stone monument actually built in the '90s by Scottish farmer

An archaelogist was thrilled to discover a prehistoric stone circle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland — only to find out after announcing it to the press that the stones were put there in the '90s.

Archaelogist Neil Ackerman admits there's 'a bit of a difference' between the Bronze Age and the '90s

Archaeologists thought this stone circle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland was thousands of years old. Then they learned a farmer built it in the 90s. (Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service)

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It was considered an exciting new discovery: a stone circle dating back to ancient times, spotted sitting unassumingly on farmland in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. 

But mere months after this new, so-called recumbent stone circle hit the headlines, local archaeologists were given some news that may have made them want to crawl under a rock. 

The stone circle isn't ancient. It's barely even old. 

"I was taken aback when I went to see it," Neil Ackerman, an archaeologist with the Aberdeenshire Council admitted to As It Happens host Carol Off.

"It did seem to be a genuine prehistoric stone circle."

Ackerman's colleague owns the neighbouring farm and they suggested he go take a look.

After a thorough review, Ackerman determined the arrangement dated back to the Bronze Age —anywhere from 3,500 to 4,500 years old.

"There's a lot of debate about [recumbent stone circles], but they would seem to be lining up with astrological or lunar events," Ackerman said. "It was a fairly big deal for us. It's not often that things like this get reported."

Ackerman admits the research he and the Aberdeenshire Council conducted was "inconclusive." But eventually they felt they had enough evidence to move forward and announce the discovery to the community. 

"We had noticed a few things that weren't sitting quite right. But from everything we knew at that point it seemed almost certain to be original," Ackerman said. "At some point you've got to stick your head up and say, "This is what we think we've got.'"

Then the phone call came.

"We got a phone call from someone saying, 'Actually, I built that,'" he admitted. "That stopped the research, really."

The caller was a farmer who told Ackerman and his team that the stone circle was only about 20 years old — not the 4,000 years as he had seen reported on the news.

"Bit of a difference," Ackerman quipped. "I think he just fancied having one on his farm."

It may have been a humbling phone call, but Ackerman says he is still interested in the stone monument even though he now knows it's a replica.

"My initial feeling was obviously disappointment and the realization that I was going to have to put out another press release to counter what I'd said," Ackerman said.

"But then, it is also very interesting in its own right. The more I kind of thought about it, the more interesting I find it that it is such a well-made version of a monument type that is so specific to this region."

Despite some ribbing from his colleagues, Ackerman points out that the response has been positive and that it has highlighted the archaeology of the area, specifically the history of recumbent stone circles.

"We've had a great laugh about it at work," he said. "The fact that it's slightly at my expense is by the by."

Written by John McGill. Produced by Ashley Mak.


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