Sooner rather than later I hope that my fellow archaeologists will accept the fact that Stonehenge was designed by a very small number of exceptional Neolithic architects and one of those Stonehenge architects was a man who once lived in Aberdeen. Now, I need to use this article to clarify why I believe that such a Scottish Stonehenge architect played a vital role in the construction of this prehistoric structure.
Figure 1. “Nesshenge” built by Dr Hill, a reconstruction of Stonehenge’s first henge-earthwork circa 3000 BC, which led to Dr Hill’s theory that a Scotsman from Aberdeenshire was a Stonehenge architect for the sarsen stones. (Author provided)
Aberdeenshire Stone Circles Point to Scottish Stonehenge Architect
I am an experimental archaeologist who has been reconstructing the architectural designs of numerous British Neolithic monuments for over 20 years. To do so, my experimental methods utilize measured lengths of ropes to set out on the ground the designs of these monuments. Significantly, Stonehenge has been the focus of my attention for most of this time and here is an example of my experimental work.
Figure 1 shows a reconstruction of what the ditch and bank henge-earthwork looked like when it was first built (circa 3000 BC), before the sarsen stones were erected. Today this reconstruction is referred to as “Nesshenge” and it was built as part of my contribution towards the 2008 Liverpool Capital of Culture celebrations.
My experimental research has continued to look at all the stages of construction at Stonehenge, especially when the sarsen stones were added to it around 2500 BC (Figure 2). But it was only after surveying Aberdeenshire’s Recumbent Stone Circles (RSCs) did I realize the similarities in both the architectural and geometrical designs between these RSCs and the layout of Stonehenge’s sarsen stone features.
In short, the person who built the RSCs across Aberdeenshire was the same person responsible for raising the great sarsen stones at Stonehenge.
Figure 2. The central Sarsen Stones architecture was added to the first earthwork around 2500 BC. (Author provided)
The Recumbent Stone Circles of Aberdeenshire
Readers will be familiar with the prehistoric monument Stonehenge but not necessarily so regarding the Aberdeenshire RSCs therefore it would be prudent for me to provide a brief overview of these fascinating stone circles.
Dotted across northeast Scotland (Figure 3a) are the extant remains of 71 prehistoric stone circles referred to as Recumbent Stone Circles; so called because when originally built, around 2500 BC, they all contained an outlandishly large stone that was deliberately laid flat in the southern quadrant of the stone circle (Figure 3b).
Figure 3. (a) The location of the RSCs in relation to the site of Stonehenge (b) The main architectural feature of an RSC – the recumbent stone and its flankers. (Author provided)
The “recumbent” stone was immediately flanked by two taller stones (referred to as flankers) and the rest of the circle generally contained an additional 8-10 standing stones which were orderly positioned by being graded in height. The shorter stones stood opposite the recumbent whilst the rest increased in height as they got closer to the recumbent.
Incidentally, I have discussed these stone circles in greater detail in a previous Ancient Origins article and I would recommend the reader to view that article in conjunction with this current paper:
Design Similarities Shared by Aberdeenshire and Stonehenge
Before I discuss my detailed findings regarding the shared geometry used by this exceptional Scotsman when he was setting out the standing stones at both Stonehenge and the RSCs, I present some incidental similarities between the two styles of architecture:
- a. Firstly, the construction of all the sarsen stone features at Stonehenge are contemporary with the building of all 71 RSCs i.e., circa 2500 BC. Thus, there can be no dispute about the dates not being contemporary with each other when the Scottish Architect was constructing these remarkable architectures .
- b. Secondly, the Trilithon sarsen stones at Stonehenge are graded in height. The tallest of them being positioned in the southern quadrant of its center. (And even its bluestones followed this rule of grading in height). The same principle of grading the circle stones by increasing their height, towards the southern quadrant of their respective circles, was also a commonality found amongst the RSCs.
- c. Thirdly, different geologies and various colors of stones are employed at both the Scottish and English architectures. Sarsen and bluestones at Stonehenge, granites, and schists at the RSCs. Additionally, mixtures of colors such as pinks, reds, greys, and whites are found at the RSCs whilst greens, greys and blues can be seen at Stonehenge.
- d. Fourthly, there are even comparisons between the pairing of textures which combine rough and smooth facing stones at both architectures. Stonehenge’s upright Trilithons alternated their combinations of rough with smooth textures; as indeed, the RSCs also possessed alternating smooth and rough facing stones as chosen for their respective flankers.
The above four points are just a few incidental similarities between the two styles of architecture noted by antiquarians and other modern-day researchers. But let me add a few more similarities of my own before I go into even more specifics.
- e. Certainly, the Scottish Architect possessed vast experience of both organizing and moving heavy stones. Afterall, he had moved as many as 71 huge, heavy recumbent stones across miles and miles of the Aberdeenshire landscape. And some of these recumbents were comparable in weight as to those large sarsen stones required for building Stonehenge. For instance, Old Keig’s granite recumbent stone weighed 53 tons or 119,000 pounds (Figure 4). Moreover, this recumbent stone needed 1166 persons to drag it from its source to its destination, a distance of 6 miles or 9.7 km; this feat would have then taken 12 days to achieve. Thus, when it came to moving the 86 sarsen stones from the Marlborough Downs to the site of Stonehenge (a distance of 20 miles or 32 km) then the Scotsman would have been aware of what was required. In short, we have a specialist who understood the engineering and logistical principles of moving heavy stones from source to destination. Furthermore, that specialist would have acquired the experience of organizing and supervising large groups of people to undertake such labor-intensive tasks across Aberdeenshire before applying those same “management” skills to the workforce at Stonehenge.
Figure 4. The author (with Rocky) stands before the 53-ton recumbent at Old Keig RSC. (Author provided)
- f. Interestingly, Stonehenge contained its own recumbent stone, otherwise known as the Altar Stone . A greenish block of sandstone originating from South Wales which was moved to its current prone position within the central sarsen stones settings around 2500 BC. Unfortunately, this extant stone is now difficult to see today as it is obscured by a fallen trilithon lintel stone (Fig. 5a). However, back in the 1840 AD, the antiquarian William Stukeley managed to dig underneath its position and he established its length at about 17.4 feet (5.3 meters).
Let me now present an intriguing comparison between this Altar Stone and an extant recumbent stone which is found at the Sunhoney RSC.
Stonehenge’s Altar stone is 17.4 feet (5.3 meters) long and 6.3 feet (2 meters) wide; the granite Sunhoney recumbent is 17.3 feet (5. 27 meters) long by 6.3 feet (2 meters). Their dimensions are virtually identical. And there’s more. The orientation of the Altar Stone as seen from the geometrical center of Stonehenge is 230 degrees azimuth as it is with the same 230 degrees azimuth found at the Sunhoney RSC. Additionally, if I was to stand at the southern end of the Altar Stone and look northwards along its longer axis then I would be looking in a direction of 320 degrees azimuth and this orientation is exactly the same should I look along the length of Sunhoney’s recumbent stone. There is even a comparison regarding the distances of both stones in relation to their respective geometrical centers. The Sunhoney recumbent is located three times the distance of the Altar Stone from its geometrical center of Stonehenge. Perhaps, the recumbent Altar Stone at Stonehenge was an architectural “signature” left behind by the Scottish Architect?
Figure 5. (a) Stonehenge’s Altar Stone is now buried underneath a fallen lintel stone (b) Looking northwards along the Sunhoney recumbent stone. (Author provided)
The above similarities are interesting but let us look at some of my specific geometrical evidence that indicates the individual handiwork of the Scotsman. In order to understand these specifics, it is vital for the reader to become familiar with the astronomy of Stonehenge’s Station Stones Rectangle. This term refers to a configuration of four sarsen stones that were once raised upon the same circumference line of the Aubrey Holes circuit at Stonehenge, that is after the Aubrey Holes had gone out of use (circa 2500 BC).
Today, only two of the station stones survive at Stonehenge but if the original four station stones were joined by imaginary straight lines, then they would form a rectangular pattern (Figure 6a). The very name “stations” was given to these stones by archaeologist Herbert Stone in 1924. The idea being that if you stood behind one station stone and looked towards another station stone, at a certain time of the year you would witness an important astronomical event (e.g., the summer solstice sunrise or the winter solstice sunset).
No doubt, this rectangle has been central to most of the astronomical theories associated with Stonehenge. In Figure 6b we can see a sample of just ten observations taken from a staggering 18 astronomical alignments associated with the rectangle, as proposed by the astronomer Gerald Hawkins in his important book “Stonehenge Decoded.” Interestingly, my surveys amongst the RSCs have also identified multiple rectangles created by four of the circle stones (at each respective circle) and these Scottish rectangles also captured the same astronomical alignments as did the rectangle at Stonehenge. In Figures 7abc, I present just three of examples of these alignments.
If astronomy was the reason for arranging such complex rectangles at both Stonehenge and amongst the RSCs, then this raises important questions for archaeology. Obviously, one practical question to ask is how the Scottish Architect managed to set out such rectangles and capture so many astronomical alignments? To answer this, then let us perform an experiment for ourselves.
Figure 6. (a) Stonehenge’s Station Stones rectangle. (b) The astronomy associated with the rectangle.
Figure 7. The Station Stones rectangles at (a) Loanhead of Daviot RSC (b) Strichen House RSC (c) Easter Aquhorthies RSC. (Author provided)
An Archaeological Experiment – Recreating Stonehenge’s rectangle
I ask the reader to bear with me as I explain how to perform an archaeological experiment which will accurately reconstruct Stonehenge’s Station Stones rectangle. I deduced the solution to the setting out of this rectangle by performing both tape survey and rope experiments at the real Stonehenge. It took me some time, to say the least, to understand how it was set out and yet, in hindsight, the solution now seems rather simple. A reconstruction of the rectangle can easily be performed providing the reader has access to a large, unobstructed sports field, otherwise I can do it all for you as I recommend viewing my freely available YouTube video “Stonehenge’s Station Stones rectangle reconstructed by experiment:”
As stated above, we know that the four stations stones were erected upon the circumference line of the Aubrey Holes circuit which has a radius of 141 ¾ feet (43.2 meters). So, the first task is to set out a large circle with a length of rope 141 ¾ ft long. Next, place one stick at the circle’s center and at midday note the direction of the stick’s shadow as cast by the sun. At midday, the shadow reduces in length to its shortest point, and thus indicates the direction of true North. Now use the shadow to act as a line of sight and have a helper place a second stick at the true North position on the circumference line of the large circle. Use these two sticks to act as a further line of sight so that you can place a third stick in a straight alignment, due South on the circumference line of the large circle. Then, stand at the center of the large circle, facing true North and hold out both your arms so that they are at parallel with the ground and at right angles to true North. Your outstretched arms now determine the directions of both due West and East. Then place another two sticks on these cardinal points along the circumference line of the large circle (i.e., West points in the direction of your left arm, East points in the direction of your right arm). You have now identified the four cardinal points on your large circle. Significantly, these are the same instructions that are fundamental for setting out all the station stone rectangles found amongst the Aberdeenshire RSCs. Therefore, I ask the reader to bear this procedure in mind and remember these sequences should they wish to try when recreating the forthcoming RSC examples. But let’s go back to Stonehenge.
Fold the 141 ¾ foot rope in half, so that its length is equal to 70.875 feet (21.6 meters) and stand at the East cardinal point and set out a circle with a radius of 70.875 feet (21.603 meters). Where the circumference line of this second circle overlaps the southern extent of the first large circle, place a marker that represents the position for Station Stone 91. Repeat the same exercise at the West cardinal point of the large circle and where the circumference line of the second circle cuts across the circumference line of the first large circle, place a marker at the north overlap of both circles. This marker now represents the position of Station Stone 93. Next, fold the 141 ¾ ft rope into a quarter, equal to a length of 35.4375 feet (10.8 meters). Stand at the South cardinal point of the large circler and set out a third circle with a radius of 35.4375 feet (10.8014 meters). Where both circles overlap, place a marker (i.e., Station Stone 92) at the east overlap. Repeat the same exercise at the North cardinal point of the large circle and where the fourth circle overlaps the first circle, place the next marker (i.e., Station Stone 94) at the west overlap. Figure 8 provides a visual, geometrical schematic for the rope experiment.
Figure 8. The geometrical solution to Stonehenge’s Station Stones rectangle. (Author provided)
The Remarkable Results of My Experiment
Providing you have used a flat field, and your rope did not stretch too much when setting out, you should have ended up with measurements close to the following:
SS 91 to SS 92 equals 111 ½ feet (33.9 meters)
SS 93 to SS 94 equals 111 ½ feet (33.9 meters)
SS 93 to SS 92 equals 261 ½ feet (79.7 meters)
SS 91 to SS 94 equals 261 ½ feet (79.7 meters)
To give you some idea of your accuracy, I quote archaeologist Aubrey Burl’s approximation for the rectangle’s dimensions: about 262 feet x 110 feet (80 meters x 33.5 meters). Regarding the accuracy of the orientation data then I present a comparison between Gerald Hawkins astronomical data and my own results (Table 1).
Table 1. Comparison of Stonehenge’s Station Stones rectangle orientations between Hawkins’ azimuth data and Hill’s rope experiment.
What is important about the above rope experiment is that just using “rudimentary” methods of folding a measured length of rope and monitoring the sun’s shadow, you have achieved significant results. And I firmly believe that this method was not only close to those original methods of setting out used by the Scottish Architect, but these methods also satisfy any criticisms raised by fellow academics, especially with regard to the intellectual capabilities of a preliterate society. Afterall, British Neolithic society lacks any evidence of advanced mathematics and astronomy. Moreover, they were preliterate. But here, the reader can set out a large circle with a length of rope which is then folded in half and sets out two circles on the East and West cardinal points of the large circle and then it is folded again in half to set out two smaller circles on its North and South cardinal points. This is not rocket science and it does not require injecting anachronistic maths and astronomy into the experiment, yet the simple methods used here produce incredible results.
Now, let us look at the “rectangle” geometry at the RSCs. In Figure 9, I present just two examples showing the geometrical solutions for those rectangles found at Nine Stones RSC (Figure 9a) and Loanhead of Daviot (Figure 9b). In both cases, you can see the same geometrical patterning of circles as found at Stonehenge. Simply put, use a measured length of rope to set out a large circle (30 feet; 9.14 meters) for Figure 9a; 33 ¾ feet (10.2 meters) for Figure 9b), fold the rope in half and set out two circles on the North and South cardinal points; then fold the rope in half again and set out two more circles on the East and West cardinal points. Finally, placing the four station stones on their respective circumference lines as shown in Figures 9a and 9b accordingly.
Figure 9. The Station Stones rectangle at (a) Nine Stanes RSC (b) Loanhead of Daviot RSC. (Author provided)
Whilst the operation of folding the ropes at the RSCs is the same at Stonehenge, there is a slight difference with both the sequence of folding the ropes and their corresponding positions upon the cardinal points. I ask the reader to carefully consider this point. At Stonehenge the measured rope used initially to set out the large circle is then firstly folded to set out two circles on the East and West cardinal points, and when folded again sets out two smaller circles on the North and South cardinal points. Alternatively, at the RSCs, their respective ropes initially set out their first large circles but, this time, when first folded, the ropes sets out two circles at the North and South cardinal points, and when folded again, sets out two smaller circles on the East and West cardinal points – quite the reverse operation to the sequence of setting out of the folded ropes used with the Stonehenge geometry. So why the reverse operation?
Amazingly, this reverse operation with the ropes incredibly reflects the differences in latitude between the locations of Stonehenge and the Aberdeenshire RSCS. Geographically speaking, they are at a difference of about 8 degrees latitude apart – or separated by a distance of 500 miles (805 kilometers). This difference in both latitude and distance is reflected in the azimuths for the rising and setting positions for both the sun and moon at critical times of the year around 2500 BC. For example, the azimuth for, say, the summer solstice sunrise at Stonehenge is 49.1 degrees whilst the azimuth for the same sunrise at Loanhead is at 41 degrees – thus indicating the difference of about 8 degrees between the angles of latitude for Wilshire and Aberdeenshire. What I find amazing about this “latitude factor” is that the Scotsman has managed to make the appropriate adjustments to his respective geometry. In order to correctly capture the seasonal rising and setting of the sun and moon, whether in North-east Scotland or Southern England.
Throughout this paper I have been quite clear on gender, stating that the architect was a Scotsman. Not so long ago I would have used language describing the architect’s gender as nonspecific. Indeed, he or she could have adequately performed this role – irrespective of their gender. But our view of Neolithic society is changing (circa 4000 – 2500 BC). Traditionally, this society was seen as an egalitarian community. Everybody was equal; everyone was buried together, and individual status was not archaeologically visible. However, recent genetic data is starting to change our view. Analysis of the genetics coming from the bones of burials within Neolithic British and Irish burial tombs are starting to portray a patriarchal society with an emphasis towards elite males. As such, I have assumed the Scotsman to be a man of authority who held a high-ranking role in Neolithic society.
Finally, of what archaeological evidence can I offer to support the existence of a Scotsman actively designing Stonehenge. Unfortunately, there is little to offer regarding his presence at the monument. Certainly, we know that people from North-east Scotland were visiting the Stonehenge area around 2500 BC as shown by the presence of their Scottish cattle bones which have been found at the neighboring Neolithic Village, Durrington Walls. Most likely, in my opinion, the Scottish Architect was a high-ranking “cattle-baron” from Aberdeenshire who also held socio-political authority and influence across the wider British Neolithic tribes. So much so, that he had considerable say as to how Stonehenge would be designed around 2500 BC.
Top image: In this 17th-century depiction of Stonehenge from the Atlas van Loon one wonders where the Scotsman Stonehenge architect of Dr John Hill’s convincing theory is working and on what. Source: Blaeu, J / Public domain
By Dr John Hill
Burl, Aubrey. 2006. Stonehenge – A New History of the World’s Greatest Stone Circle. London, Constable.
Hawkins, Gerald. 1973. Stonehenge Decoded. London, Book Club.
Hill, John. 2009. Design your own Stonehenge using the Occam’s Razor Solution. British Columbia, Trafford Publishing.
Hill, John. 2021. The Recumbent Stone Circles of Aberdeenshire: Archaeology, Design, Astronomy and Methods. Newcastle, Cambridge Scholar Publishing,