Footprint Stone, Dunadd, Kilmichael Glassary, Argyll

Petroglyph:  OS Grid Reference – NR 83668 93579

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 212008

Getting Here

Footprint Stone in context

From Lochgilphead, take the A816 road north for several miles (towards the megalithic paradise of Kilmartin), keeping your eyes peeled for the road-signs saying “Dunadd.”  Turn left and park-up a few hundred yards down. Go through the gate and walk up Dunadd.  Just before the flattened plateau at the top, a length of smooth stone is accompanied to its side by the deep cup-and-ring of the Dunadd Basin.  Three or four yards away, you’ll see the long ‘footprint’.

Archaeology & History

Near the top of Dunadd’s Iron Age ‘fortress’ and overlooking the megalithic paradise of the Kilmartin valley, several man-made carvings are in evidence very close to each other, all with seemingly differing mythic content.  This one—the footprint—stands out; but it’s not alone!  Faint etchings of at least one other ‘foot’ is clearly visible.  The first literary account of it was by Ardrishaig historian R.J. Mapleton (1860), who told,

“There is on the top of Dunadd a mark that strikes me as interesting; it is like a large axe-head, or a rough outline of a foot.  My impression is that it may have been the spot on which the chief would place his foot when succeeding to the headship of his tribe. The footmark was always considered among the people here as a mould for an axe-head, and I was rather laughed at for suggesting an inaugurating stone.”

Dunadd Footprint (after Royal Commission 1988)
F.W.K. Thomas’ 1879 sketch

Be that as it may, a few years later the carving had caught the attention of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries.  In his article exploring the potential for ritual inaugurations at Dunadd, Captain F.W.L. Thomas (1879) explored, not only the footprint, but the mythic functions of this symbol, looking at parallels with petroglyphs elsewhere in the world where the ‘foot’ was known to be a ritual inauguration symbol (amongst other things).  He gave us the first real detailed account of the carving:

“About 10 or 12 feet below, and to the northward of the highest point, the living rock is smooth, flat and bear of sward, and in it is engraved an impression of a footmark, not of a naked foot, but such as would be made when the foot is clothed by a thick stocking or cuaran… The engravure is for the right foot; and it exactly fitted my right boot.  The footmark is sunk half-an-inch deep, with perpendicular sides, the surface is smoothed or polished, and the outline is regular… It has probably been sheltered by the turf until recently.  The footmark is 11 inches long, nearly 4½ inches broad where broadest, and 3½ inches across at the heel.  When a person stands with his foot in the depression, he looks a little easterly of north.”

A century or so later when the Royal Commission (1988) boys got here, they found not one, but two ‘feet’ carved into the rock!  A few feet away, near to the carved boar,

“At the south end of the main rock surface there is the lightly-pecked outline of a shod right foot. 0.24m long and 0.1m in maximum width, with a pronounced taper to the heel.  There are further peck marks within the outline, and a sunken footmark was intended but not completed.  This print is on almost the same alignment as the more prominent footprint some 2m to the north, which measures 0.27m from NNE to SSW, by 0.1m in maximum width and 25mm in depth.  It is somewhat broader at the heel than the incomplete mark, and its sides are straighter.”

Close-up of the carving

They then emphasize how we’re unable to date the footprints, although point out how such carvings are “found in Britain from the Iron Age onwards.”  But footprints have be found on other petroglyphs in Scotland (much less in England) and date between the neolithic and Bronze Age periods—but whether Dunadd’s example goes that far back, we cannot say.  Extensive excavations occurred at Dunadd between 1980-81 and most of the finds were Iron Age and early medieval in nature (this carving and the cup-and-ring barely got a mention in Lane & Campbell’s [2000] extensive summation).  But we may be looking at an evolutionary developmental relationship in symbolism and form, if the traditions of the place have any substance.  This is something I’ll return to when writing of the Boar Carving, just a few feet away…

Folklore

The legends behind this seemingly insignificant mark near the top of Dunadd ostensibly echo and relate to the huge cup-and-ring of Dunadd Basin four yards away.  I can only repeat what I said in that site profile.

R.J. Mapleton (1860) said that Dunadd was known by local people to be a meeting place of witches and the hill of the fairies, whose amblings in this wondrous landscape are legion. Legends and history intermingle upon and around Dunadd.  Separating one from the other can be troublesome as Irish and Scottish Kings, their families and the druids were here.  One such character was the ever-present Ossian.  Mapleton told:

“From these ancient tales we turn to a much later period of romance, when Finn and his companions had developed into extraordinary and magical proportions; a story is current that when Ossian abode at Dunadd, he was on a day hunting by Lochfyneside; a stag, which his dogs had brought to bay, charged him; Ossian turned and fled. On coming to the hill above Kilmichael village, he leapt clean across the valley to the top of Rudal hill, and a second spring brought him to the top of Dunadd.  But on landing on Dunadd he fell on his knee, and stretched out his hands to prevent himself from falling backwards.  ‘The mark of a right foot is still pointed out on Rudal hill, and that of the left is quite visible on Dunadd, with impressions of the knee and fingers.’”

As Mr Thomas (1879) clarified:

“The footmark is that of the right foot, and the adjacent rock-basin is the fabulous impression of a knee.”

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Footprints in Stone, Heart of Albion Press 2004.
  2. Campbell, Marion, Mid-Argyll: An Archaeological Guide, Dolphin Press: Glenrothes 1984.
  3. Campbell, M. & Sanderman, M., “Mid-Argyll: An Archaeological Survey,”  in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 95, 1962.
  4. Craw, J.H. “Excavations at Dunadd and other Sites,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 64, 1930.
  5. Lane, Alan & Campbell, Ewan, Dunadd: An Early Dalriadic Capital, Oxbow: Oxford 2000.
  6. Mapleton, R.J., Handbook for Ardrishaig Crinan Loch Awe and Pass of Brandir, n.p. 1860.
  7. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Argyll, Dolphin Press: Poole 1977.
  8. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – Volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
  9. Thomas, F.W.K., “Dunadd, Glassary, Argyleshire: The Place of Inauguaration of the Dalriadic Kings,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 13, 1879.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.085889, -5.478621 Footprint Stone

Mask Stone, Port of Menteith, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 56107 01712  –  NEW FIND

Also Known as:

  1. Ballochraggan 12a

Getting Here

Mask Stone, Port of Menteith
Mask Stone, Port of Menteith

Take the same directions to locate the cup-and-ring stone of Ballochraggan 12.  There are several rocks adjacent.  The one immediately next to it, to the northeast, is the one you’re looking for.  Be gentle and careful if you’re gonna look at it — deadly serious, be very careful indeed!

Archaeology & History

One of the most intriguing and most fascinating of all the prehistoric carvings I’ve yet to discover.  Not that this was all my own work. If it hadn’t been for Paul Hornby, we might have simply walked past it as being little more than a single cup-marked stone—and in this area, single cup-marks tend to be little more than geological in nature.

After we’d looked over several of the registered carvings close by, I did my usual meandering back and forth, stroking stones and seeing if there were any carvings that had been missed by previous surveyors.  And in walking past a small piece of smooth rock, a singular cupmark seemed to stand out.  I walked past it, shouting across to my colleague.

“It looks like we’ve got a single cup-mark here Paul,” I said, “with possible half-ring.”  Thankfully Mr Hornby gave it his better attention.

Mask Stone, with faint 'urn'
Mask Stone, with faint ‘urn’
Close-up of features
Close-up of features

The sun was still out and shining across the smooth rock surface, which tends to mean that you’re not seeing any carving on the stone quite as good as it actually is.  Thankfully however, the sun was beginning to get lower and, when this happens, if we wet the rock, any carvings that might be there stand out much better.  And this little fella just seemed to get better and more curious the more attention Paul gave it!

The first thing that became obvious were a series of faint carved lines above the single cup-mark.  Initially these didn’t seem to merit much attention (straight lines on rock are usually more the product of geophysical action than that of humans), but as the rock got wetter, Paul saw something very distinct indeed.

“There’s a face on it!” he exclaimed.  And indeed there was.  A Rorschach response no doubt, but it was still very much like a face.  This looked for all the world akin to the stylised olde English gentry sort of countenance, as in old cartoons.  It was quite ‘distinct’, as such characters themselves insist on being!  Yet around this initial face, more lines seemed to be emerging as the stone gave up more and more of its hidden story.

Standing back from an initial investigation, the carving was seen to consist of a triple-ring, but without the traditional ‘cup’ in its centre.  Instead, the centre was marked simply by a small ‘dot’—perhaps, originally, being a small conglomerate hole formed as a result of another tiny harder fragment of stone falling away from its larger mass.  But a ‘dot’ it was.  The other carved ‘lines’ however, immediately below and attached to the triple-ring, gave us something almost unique—and another strong Rorschach response.  As the photos clearly show, we have a distinct second ‘face’ made up of the same lines but in a quite different form.  This ‘face’ has all the attributes we usually associate with pictures of mythical spirits, demons, or a mask—hence the name!

Paul took a series of fine photos, hoping that he could catch the image that our eyes could clearly see.  And thankfully, his digital camera brought the image to life even better than our eyes did!  The ‘mask’ is comprised of carved lozenge forms, akin to the more decorative ones we find at Kilmartin, and more especially around Newgrange, Ireland.  We sat and talked about this: wondering and working out routes that we’d take over mountains and moors, from Ireland, to Kilmartin, then onto Ballochraggan, etching the same designs onto the rocks hereby and attaching similar mythic notions to them: of shamanism and kingship; underworlds and journeys—paradigms lost and certainly misunderstood in the non-polysemia of many modern academics.

Lozenges and rings
Lozenges and rings

…The stone here was still slightly covered over and, beneath the loose grasses, another feature emerged of another petroglyphic rarity.  At the topmost western side of the  rock a straight line ran across the surface, seemingly marked by the hand of man, with a curious little line almost doubling back on itself for just an inch or so, and then feeling to run down the stone, towards the concentric rings and the face below.  When we stood back and took the photos, this line and its tracer took on a form that I’ve only seen echoed in one of the Netherlargie tombs at Kilmartin, Argyll, 44.4 miles (73km) to the west.  It is very distinct.

Mask Stone04
The beaker, rings & ‘face’

Spuriously ascribed as being ‘axe’ carvings (oh how archaeologists love this Rorschach projection), the Netherlargie North tomb cover-stone in Kilmartin has a series of burial ‘urns’ or beakers carved onto the rock, amidst a scattered collection of cup markings. (Beckensall 2005:73-4; Bradley 1983:92-3; Royal Commission 1971:68-70; Twohig 1972, etc)  Here too at Ballochraggan we find another such symbol, but just a singular example, much larger and more clearly a beaker or urn, as are traditionally found within many old neolithic and Bronze Age tombs; although no tomb is immediately apparent at this Ballochraggan carving.

The entire carving is very faint indeed (you can’t even see it when you’re looking directly at it unless conditions are good) showing that it remained open to the elements for thousands of years.  Other adjacent carvings lack the erosion that we find on this one, even on those which, as archaeologist Lisa Samson said, is “softer sandstone rock than this one”—implying that it’s one of the older carvings in this incredible cluster.

The carving was covered over when we finished examining it, to ensure that Nature’s erosion keeps it alive for just a few more centuries at least, hopefully…..

References:

  1. Beckensall, Stan, The Prehistoric Rock Art of Kilmartin, Kilmartin Trust: Kilmartin 2005.
  2. Bradley, Richard, Altering the Earth, Society of Antiquaries Scotland: Edinburgh 1993.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1971.
  4. Twohig, Elizabeth Shee, The Megalithic Art of Western Europe, Clarendon: Oxford 1981.

AcknowledgmentsHuge thanks again to Mr Paul Hornby for his considerable help with this site, and for use of his photos.

 © Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Mask Stone

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Mask Stone 56.186226, -4.320063 Mask Stone

Creag na Cailleach, Killin, Perthshire

Sacred Mountain:  OS Grid Reference – NN 5640 3715

Also known as:

  1. Creag na Caillich

Getting Here

Another silly-sounding directional pointer!  Get to the now tourist-infested town of Killin (best in Winter, when the town is quiet and you get to know the locals a lot better) and travel through it as if you’re going to follow Loch Tay up its western side.  As you’re going out of the village towards the Bridge of Lochay Hotel (an excellent place), you’ll see an amphitheatre of mountains in the background.  The tallest of the hills on the left is where you’re heading.  Go straight up the hillside and follow your nose!

Creag na Cailleach, Perthshire
Creag na Cailleach, Killin

The hill guards the entrance to the legendary Glen Lochay (Valley of the Black Goddess).  There are many ways to climb her, but my first venture here took me up the waterfalls and steepish burn of Allt na Ceardaich.  Once on the level, I found myself surrounded by that amphitheatre I mentioned, from which – on my first visit – I took up the sheer face of this great mountain. (to be honest it’s nowt special if you’re into mountaineering and stuff) From the tops you’ve got a damn good view all round.  But respect this old hill, as danger awakens to idiots who would think themselves champions.

Folklore

Here, where axes were quarried by ancient man from beneath Her rocky slopes, this ‘Hill of the Old Woman’, or ‘Hag’, was one of the abodes of the primal Mother Goddess in olden times, so says her name.  Her ‘dark’ aspect seemed manifest one time when I climbed her with a rather stupid man in tow.  Following one of the streams back into the valley below, he thought it wise to copy my gazelle-nature as I sprang without thought, quickly, from rock to rock, bouncing at speed down the fast-flowing stream  (which takes a lotta weird practice and very strong ankles!), in spite of the advice to do otherwise – and in doing so he broke his leg in three places and, to make it worse, had to spend the night there in complete agony!

Don’t tell me there’s no ‘dark’ goddess to some of these great places!

Axe production has been found to have occurred as early as 2500 BC.  There have been numerous flint finds hereabouts aswell – but considering this is a mountain, you’d expect to find something on or about Her slopes!

I’ve just been back up here as the first good snow fell upon the hills and the white cover brought the elements out of her form in a way I’d not seen before.  Tis a wonderful place the Creag na Cailleach; and, it seems, a site that played a now forgotten part in the ancient name of the glen, Lochay, which was the living abode of the Black Goddess in more archaic days.  Twouldst be good to hear some of the authentic old stories from old locals that were once known of this ancient deity in the glens.  If anyone knows of such tales, let us know before they are lost forever…

References:

  1. Ritchie, P.R., ‘The Stone Implement Trade in Third Millenium Scotland,’ in Coles & Simpson’s, Studies in Ancient Europe, Leicester University Press 1968.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Lindsay Campbell for her hospitality, food and roof hereby.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.504105, -4.335171 Creag na Cailleach