Will 5000-year-old Cochno Stone carving see the light of day once more?
With dozens of grooved spirals, carved indentations, geometric shapes, and mysterious patterns of many kinds, the Cochno Stone, located in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, is considered to have the finest example of Bronze Age cup and ring carvings in the whole of Europe. Yet, for the last 50 years it has laid buried beneath several feet of earth and vegetation in what was a desperate attempt at the time to protect it from vandals. However, according to a report in The Scotsman, the local council is now considering whether to reveal the spectacular stone once again.
The stone, which measures 42ft by 26ft, was first discovered by the Rev James Harvey in 1887 on farmland near what is now the Faifley housing estate on the edge of Clydebank. It is covered in more than 90 carved indentations, known as ‘cup and ring’ marks.
Cup and ring marks are a form of prehistoric art consisting of a concave depression, no more than a few centimetres across, carved into a rock surface and often surrounded by concentric circles also etched into the stone. The decoration occurs as a petroglyph on natural boulders and outcrops, and on megaliths such as the slab cists, stone circles, and passage graves. They are found mainly in Northern England, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal, North West Spain, North West Italy, Central Greece, and Switzerland. However, similar forms have also been found throughout the world including Mexico, Brazil, and India.
Detail of cup and ring markings on the Cochno Stone. Credit: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
The cup and ring marks on the Cochno stone, which are believed to date back some 5,000 years, are accompanied by an incised pre-Christian cross set within an oval, and two pairs of carved footprints, each foot only having 4 toes. Because of the array of markings on it, the Cochno Stone has been recognised as being of national importance and designated as a scheduled monument.
The four-toed footprints etched onto the surface of the Cochno Stone. Image source.
During the 1960s, the Cochno Stone was repeatedly damaged by vandals, so in 1964, Glasgow University archaeologists recommended it be buried to protect it from further damage. The stone has been covered ever since and is now covered by vegetation and surrounded by trees.
Although the original meaning contained on the Cochno Stone is now lost, many theories have been put forward to suggest what their purpose may have been. Hypotheses range from an ancient form of writing, to markings with religious or spiritual significance, boundary markers, star maps, or simply decorative markers. Some general comments can be made about the siting of carved stones which may provide clues to their function. Many of the rock carvings are sited near, or actually incorporated into, cairns and burial mounds, thereby linking the symbols in some way with burial practices and possibly beliefs concerning ancestors and an afterlife. The symbols are also found carved on standing stones and at stone circles – places thought to have been used for religious and ritual purposes in the past. Carvings often occur on outcrop rock where the site appears to have been specifically chosen so as to give uninterrupted views over the surrounding country. Others have said that they correspond to star constellations, or that they are records of land ownership or reflect boundaries
History researcher Alexander McCallum, who has lobbied to have the stone uncovered, said there were multiple interpretations for the carvings.
“Some people think that the Cochno Stone is a map showing the other settlements in the Clyde Valley – that’s one of the theories. I think it was probably used for lots of things; it was never used for just one thing and over hundreds of years it changed use,” said McCallum. “As far as the symbolism goes, some believe it’s a portal, of life and death, rebirth, a womb and a tomb – people believed in reincarnation, so they would go into the earth and then come out again.”
Map of the petroglyphs on the Cochno Stone. Image source: The Modern Antiquarian.
West Dunbartonshire Council are now considering the possibility of uncovering the famous stone, and if they do so, what steps they could take to conserve it. A spokeswoman for the council explained:
“In the 50 years since it was covered over, there have been significant advances in recording techniques and our understanding of conservation, and we would be happy to support any considered and adequately resourced proposals to uncover it, in conjunction with the local authority and the landowner.”
Featured image: The Cochno Stone bears what is considered to be the finest example of Bronze Age 'cup and ring' carvings in Europe. Credit: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.