Cairnpapple Carvings, Torpichen, West Lothian

Cup-Marked Stones:  OS Grid Reference – NS 98717 71739

Archaeology & History

Cup-marked stones from Cist A, Cairnpapple
Cup-marked stones from Cist A, Cairnpapple

A profile of two seemingly trivial cup-marked stones is called for, out of memory for the carvings and also because they are now hidden in some vault somewhere, out of view in one of the Scottish museums I presume.  In visiting the impressive Cairnpapple Hill the other day, I thought that the carvings should really be in situ, where they belong, and not in a box somewhere for the eyes of just a privileged few.

Cairnpapple Cist A
Cairnpapple Cist A

Two small, single, almost portable-sized stones—not unlike other cup-marked rocks found at sites like the Little Skirtful of Stones and elsewhere—were unearthed during the primary excavation of Cairnpapple by Stuart Piggott in the late-1940s.  Although there are many stone-lined cremation pits and graves at Cairnpapple, only one of the tombs seemed to possess any carvings—and these were found only in the western walling in one of the larger of the two tombs that are now housed inside the modern covering tumulus, in what Piggott (1950) called ‘Cist A’. (Curiously in all sketches of the tomb, he didn’t show where the carvings were found, typical of some archaeologists of that period who saw little importance in these relics.)

Cist A capstone, with large cup
Cist A capstone, with large cup

The giant stone roof or covering stone to Cist A also has a large worked cup-marking on its western side.  There are also what seems to be other faint rectangular etchings on the same rock-face, but the age and nature of these elements need to be assessed with some caution.


  1. Cox, Adrian, Cairnpapple Hill, Historic Scotland: Edinburgh 2010.
  2. Piggott, Stuart, “The Excavations at Cairnpapple Hill, West Lothian 1947-1948,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, volume 82, 1950.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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