Historians Studying an ‘Ancient’ Scottish Stone Circle Learn It Was Built in the 1990s

A stone circle like this one was recently shown to be a replica.
A stone circle like this one was recently shown to be a replica.
iStock.com/Stephen Buwert

In December 2018, Scottish historians and archaeologists learned of a newly discovered ancient recumbent stone circle on local farmland in Leochel-Cushnie, Aberdeenshire. But this week, their excitement fizzled: According to The Guardian, a former owner of the farmland contacted the historians and admitted the structure was a replica stone circle built in the mid-1990s.

Late last year, local officials inspected the formation and determined that its dimensions, though 10 feet smaller than similar recumbent stone circles, were in line with others found in Scotland. Historic preservationists were thrilled with the discovery. “It is rare for these sites to go unidentified for so long, especially in such a good condition,” Neil Ackerman, a historic environment record assistant at the Aberdeenshire Council, told Aberdeen's Press and Journal.

Recumbent stone circles (RSCs) are specific to the Aberdeenshire region in northeast Scotland as well as southwest Ireland, and they often date back 3500 to 4500 years. RSCs are traditionally found with one large stone slab laid flat on the southern side of the formation, flanked by two tall stones, and made a circle by other stones. RSCs are thought to have served as windows or manmade horizons for specific moon patterns (such as the periodic standstill moon), though they may have been used for rituals and burials.

This one likely served none of those purposes. While it's unclear why the landowners built the stone circle and why they are now coming clean, the truth about its recent vintage was “disappointing,” Ackerman told The Guardian. But, he said, it “adds an interesting element to its story. That it so closely copies a regional monument type shows the local knowledge, appreciation, and engagement with the archaeology of the region by the local community.” He noted that the council is always open to reports of any modern constructions that mimic these ancient monuments.

Laser Scans Detect Hidden Buildings and Tunnels Beneath Alcatraz Prison

iStock.com/f8grapher
iStock.com/f8grapher

Isolated in the San Francisco Bay and surrounded by steep cliff faces, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary seemed like the most secure place to keep dangerous criminals in the mid-20th century. But it's recently come to light that every inmate on Alcatraz Island lived above a series of potential escape routes that predated the prison's construction, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

In a new study published in the journal Near Surface Geophysics, archaeologists reported their discovery of structures and artifacts beneath the Alcatraz prison yard, including underground buildings, tunnels, and ammunition magazines. Guided by historical maps, documents, and photographs, they used laser scanning technology and ground-penetrating radar to locate the subterranean fortress close to the surface.

The site dates back to the mid-19th century, when Alcatraz Island was used for military purposes. The same natural features that would later make Alcatraz an appealing prison also made it an ideal coastal fortification. Enough brick buildings were built there to house 200 soldiers and enough food was shipped in to feed them for four months.

But the fortification wasn't used for its original purpose for very long. It was transformed into the West Coast's official military prison during the Civil War, and in the 1930s, the government turned it into a federal prison. Instead of tearing down the forts and tunnels leftover from its military days, workers left them intact and built over them to save money. Archaeologists plan to investigate the underground structures further without disturbing the historic site.

Alcatraz Prison closed in 1963, so the underground tunnels no longer pose a security problem. Today the island is part of the U.S. National Park Service and is a popular tourist attraction.

[h/t San Fransisco Chronicle]

The Site Where Julius Caesar Was Assassinated Will Open to the Public in 2021

iStock.com/Largo di Torre Argentina
iStock.com/Largo di Torre Argentina

Besides being a sanctuary for stray cats, Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome is best known as the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed 22 times by assassins in 44 BCE. As the city's oldest open-air square, the spot is an important piece of Roman history, but it's fallen into disrepair. Now, Condé Nast Traveler reports that Largo di Torre Argentina will reopen to the public following a $1.1 million restoration project.

The site includes four ancient temples, a medieval brick tower, and the ruins of the senate house where Caesar was murdered. About 20 feet below street level, it was excavated under the rule of Benito Mussolini in the 1920s, and has remained largely closed to the public since. Today, Largo di Torre Argentina is overgrown and accessible only to the feral cats that live there.

On Monday, February 25, Rome mayor Virginia Raggi announced that Largo di Torre Argentina will reopen in the second half of 2021. To get the site ready for the public, the city will add restrooms, install lights, and build walkways that allow visitors to explore the area. Stone ruins, some of which are stacked into piles, will be secured, and artifacts currently sitting in storage will be moved to a museum. The one area the project will avoid is the corner where the cat sanctuary is located.

Rome, of course, is filled with ancient ruins—some that residents weren't even aware of until recently. In 2014, a 2000-year-old Roman road was unearthed during the construction of a McDonald's.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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