Archaeologists say Ross-shire rock art poses "tantalising" questions in northern Scotland

By Ben Miller | 28 February 2014

Rock art found face down in Ross-shire could reveal an unimaginable ancient world, say archaeologists

A photo of a stone on grass with pock marks on it
The 'discovered' side of a rock art boulder in Ross-shire© John Wombell
Puzzled archaeologists say prehistoric rock art, found on an overturned boulder on the Heights of Fodderty in Ross-shire, could represent the doodlings of bored shepherds, early attempts at star mapping, territorial marking or ritual symbolism.

Hammered and ground during the Neolithic or Bronze age period, the pecked decoration on one side of the stone led to cup and ring marks when it was moved to the Heights of Brae, possibly left face down in a plan to deliberately conceal the markings.

“Finding cup and ring decorations on the opposite side has raised a number of tantalising questions,” says John Wombell, of Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands.

“Although some stones are decorated on different faces, only a few other stones with decoration on opposite sides are known.

“But since most of the examples are very heavy or even on unmoveable boulders or outcrops, no one has looked at the reverse sides."

Landowners allowed the move to take place after the stone was threatened by building development plans, although it is thought to have originally been shifted onto a dyke around 200 years ago, when new crofters settled in the Heights.

Both sides of the stone are now visible on a fully accessible site near the monument to Neil Gunn, the prolific earth 20th century Scottish novelist.

“Neil Gunn knew this area well,” says Ann Yule, the Convenor of the trust dedicated to the writer.

“He wrote in the mornings in his home at Brae Farm House, then in the afternoons walked up through the fields behind the house, crossing the Heights road where the Neil Gunn Monument has since been erected, and on and up to the moor beyond.

“We cannot claim that he noticed this particular stone, but he would certainly have been aware of many of the prehistoric stones in this area.

“One thing I am quite sure of is that he would have been delighted to have such a companion.”

The stone is the latest discovery in the Ross-shire region, where a Neolithic chambered burial cairn, roundhouses from the Bronze and Iron Ages and The Heights of Brae hoard – the largest surviving late Bronze Age gold discovery in Scotland, from the 9th or 10th centuries – have been found.

Wombell is currently compiling the conclusions of a project to investigate rock art in the archaeologically intriguing climes of northern Scotland.

“Cup and ring marked stones represent one of our best windows onto an ancient world that we can scarcely imagine,” he suggests.

“The only problem is that is that the window has a lace curtain on it.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a stone on grass with pock marks on it
The underside of the boulder was buried in the field bank© Susan Kruse
A photo of a path in the countryside leading to an upturned boulder
A disabled access path has been created on the way to the upturned stone© Susan Kruse
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looks like the Boheh stone of Mayo
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