Historic Scotland

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A local specialty 

Erected about 4,000 years ago, this is one of the finest recumbent stone circles in existence. Stone circles are common across Britain, but recumbent stone circles are only found in north-east Scotland, where there are about 100. 

The characteristic feature of these stone circles is a large stone laid recumbent – on its side – flanked by two upright stones, usually on the south or south-west arc of the circle. The tallest stones of the circle are usually on the same arc, with the others graded in height. 

We don’t know why these stone circles were erected. They may have been ritual sites related to the disposal of the dead through cremation. The erection of the stone circles could have brought the site’s ritual use to an end. 

Alternatively, the south-west alignment of the stones may have helped prehistoric farming communities to follow the changing seasons. The flanking stones would have framed the rising and setting moon at midsummer. 

At East Aquhorthies, there are 11 upright stones, all of pinkish porphyry, except for the one closest to the east flanker, which is of red jasper. On the south-west edge of the circle is the recumbent stone, the largest in the circle.  It rests between the two tallest upright ‘flanker’ stones. 

The stones show notable geological variation, and appear to have been chosen for their colour. 

Under the surface 

A slight rise in the unexcavated interior of East Aquhorthies suggests the presence of a ring cairn. Excavations at similar sites reveal complex, multi-period monuments. The circles usually begin as cremation pyres, later developing into ring cairns. Enclosing stone circles usually mark the final phase of activity.