Balbirnie Carving (01), Markinch, Fife

Cup-and-Ring Stone: OS Grid Reference – NO 28587 02966

Also Known as:

  1. Balfarg
  2. Fif 1 (Morris 1981)

Getting Here

The cup-and-ring marked slab

Follow the same directions to find the Balfarg Stone Circle.  From the A92 going north from Glenrothes, turn E onto the country lane to Star and Kennoway. 100 yards on there’s a sign for Balbirnie; turn right here and about 200 yards on, where the road bends right, the circle’s just below you). This carving is perched on its side in one of the preserved grave cists within the circle, easily visible at ground level.

Archaeology & History

This carving (and its adjacent compatriot) was found inside the Balbirnie stone circle when it stood in its original position more than 100 yards northwest of the place it presently occupies (at NO 2850 0304). Thankfully, when the megalithic ring was moved and reconstructed, its original status was kept, including the repositioning of this impressive small cup-and-ring stone – despite it being a copy of the original.

Early photo of the carving

Like a good number of prehistoric tombs, this small carved stone was stood on edge, facing into the stone-lined tomb (cist), obviously representative of some important element in the Land of the Ancestors: perhaps a map of the landscape therein; perhaps a personal token; perhaps indicative of the spirits of the dead; perhaps a magickal amulet for safe guidance. There are a number of ritual possibilities here, and whichever it was, we can be sure the symbols were representative of the animistic cosmology of the neolithic people living hereby, linking the living with the dead.

As you can see from the original photograph, a number of cup-marks along the edges of the stone are accompanied by two or three cup-and-rings, one of which is very faint. Some carved lines run between some facets of the carving, linking one mythic element to another. Ron Morris (1981) described the carving, simplistically, as,

“Under a cairn, within a ring of stones, one of 5 cists had, carved on the inside of a side-slab (sandstone), ¾m by ½m by ¼m (2¾ft x 1¾ft x ¾ft): 2 cups-and-one-ring—one faint and incomplete—and also 8 cups, 2 with ‘tails’. Greatest diameter of ring 12cm (5in), and carving depths up to 2cm (1in).”


  1. Burl, Aubrey, Rings of Stone, BCA: London 1979.
  2. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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