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

Alresford Hill, Alresford, Essex

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TM 0628 2022

Archaeology & History

Alresford Hill urn

In a region well known for the finding of early British remains (Belloc 1905), another prehistoric burial mound was destroyed in the Essex landscape simply due to ignorance and neglect.  Thankfully once more we have local antiquarians and an astute schoolgirl for discovering and preserving a record of this site, otherwise we’d have no record of the place at all!  Described in M.R. Hull’s (1946) article on some of the Bronze Age relics of the area, he told how a well-preserved urn in the edge of the tumulus,

“was found in June 1942 by a schoolgirl, Miss Anne Pilkington, on the top of the hill overlooking Alresford Creek and the Colne Estuary, about 70 yards northwest of Bench Mark 74.8 and 560 yards slightly west of south from Alresford church, west of the road to the creek and south of the lane running west along the north side of the field.  This is the northern limit of a huge gravel-pit. She noticed the vessel standing upright in the side of the pit and recovered it. Nothing else was noticed…

“Afterwards the diary of our late Fellow, Mr P.G. Laver came into my hands and I find under the date 8th July, 1922, that he noticed, when motoring past the site, ‘a definite tumulus, but much ploughed down, now barely 18ins above the field level.  It is close to the road through the field, the centre being roughly 20 yards S of the road and about 200 yards from the road to the ford.’ The sketch-plan leaves no doubt on the identity of the site.”

Annoyingly though, Mr Hull didn’t think it worthwhile to reproduce this alleged sketch-map.  He did however give us a good description of the urn and its position in the ground, saying,

“The vessel is stated to have been about 5ft below the surface when found, but I am not certain whether the top-soil had been removed or not.  The clay is fine, burnt light red, but black within, and the whole body is covered with horizontal lines impressed in exactly the same way as (those on the Flag Inn urn), but much less clearly.  The base is slightly hollowed beneath and is not far from having a foot-ring.”

Folklore

Mr Hull (1946) also made an interesting comment on the views of local people about the site where Anne had found this urn, reminding me of what Highland and hill folk would have put down to faerie-lore, though no such memory was noted. He told:

“On enquiry I learnt that no one had observed a mound at the spot, but that it had been observed that exactly there the corn, when the field was cultivated, grew taller and greener in a large round patch”!

References:

  1. Belloc, Hilaire, The Old Road, Archibald Constable: London 1905.
  2. Hull, M.R., “Five Bronze Age Beakers from North-East Essex,” in Antiquaries Journal, volume 26, Jan-April 1946.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Alresford Hill

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Alresford Hill 51.842599, 0.993399 Alresford Hill

Flag Inn, St. Osyth, Essex

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TM 117 178

Archaeology & History

Bronze Age beaker from the Flag Inn tumulus

Roughly halfway between Thorrington and St. Osyth, a few hundred yards east of the Flag Creek on the grassy wasteland south of the historic Flag Inn, could once be found a fine tumulus, of whose past we sadly know so little.  Nothing now remains of the old burial mound apart from a carved urn that once lived therein and was recovered from the site before its final demise.  According to M.R. Hull (1946) the well-preserved Bronze Age beaker found here—which he said “stood out as different” from others in this area—

“was found in 1930 on the 50ft contour-line about 200 yards south-southeast of the Flag Inn, in a gravel pit, in St. Osyth parish. The position is a mile and a quarter north-northwest of St. Osyth church.  On this occasion it was not possible to examine the site, which could only be established with moderate accuracy some time after the discovery…

“The clay is fine, of light red colour, ornamented with three bands of trellis pattern, each bounded by three horizontal lines, and a band of four such lines at the base, all executed with an instrument making a short line of square impressions, probably the end of a comb used in weaving.”

References:

  1. Hull, M.R., “Five Bronze Age Beakers from North-East Essex,” in Antiquaries Journal, volume 26, Jan-April 1946.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Flag Inn tumulus

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Flag Inn tumulus 51.819169, 1.070950 Flag Inn tumulus

Boatbridge Quarry, Thankerton, Lanarkshire

Cists (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 981 376

Also Known as:

  1. Tinto Quarry

Archaeology & History

The sites that were once here have long since been destroyed as a result of quarrying operations.  But thankfully this place was given a quick appraisal by those renowned Scottish archaeologists, Anna Ritchie and D.V. Clarke, before final destruction.  They recorded the site in an early edition of Discovery & Excavation in Scotland:

“Two short cists were discovered in November, 1970, during the removal of a long low gravel ridge protruding into the flood plain of the River Clyde.  The two cists were both aligned NE-SW and were 14m apart.  Both employed identical construction techniques.  The side slabs overlapped both end slabs and the N end slab was shorter than the other three slabs, necessitating a building-up of the floor by some 30cm.  Both appear to have had a double layer of capstones although this is uncertain in one case.  The cists contained and adult and child without grave goods on a gravel floor in one, and an adult with a beaker on a ‘crazy-paving’ floor in the other.”

Crazy-paving in prehistoric times sounds good!  The Scots got there first!

References:

  1. Clarke, D.V. & Ritchie, Anna, “Boatbridge Quarry: Short Cists,” in Discovery & Excavation in Scotland, 1971.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  55.621942, -3.618929 Boatbridge Quarry