Gouk stones and other cuckoo place-names: prehistoric cult sites

David Alexander Nance*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The common cuckoo was a pre-Christian symbol of male fertility across Eurasia, associated with several European fertility goddesses. Some standing-stones are named after it as cuckoo (coucou is Old-French) or gowk (Anglo-Saxon). Gouk and cuckoo stones can only have been so named from the fifth and eleventh centuries respectively but at least one stone was erected in the third millennium BC. It was not known if the naming was recent or if the stones had been associated with the cuckoo since prehistory and through subsequent language transitions. Previous authors thought some cuckoo place-names were places of seasonal ritual associated with specific natural and cultural features. Traditional toponymic methods cannot test these hypotheses being temporally limited by linguistic and textual constraints. A wider study of all known cuckoo place-names in Britain was undertaken using cartographic and statistical analysis independent of language transitions and textual evidence. Several natural and cultural features were very statistically significantly associated with both cuckoo stones and other cuckoo place-names indicating the association with the bird originated in prehistory. GIS geoprocessing also confirmed that early Roman structures were very significantly associated with cuckoo place-names indicating that they were cult-centres targeted for psychological advantage during the conquest period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-122
Number of pages25
JournalScottish Geographical Journal
Issue number1-2
Early online date8 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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