Ancient Geometry

Over four hundred stone balls like this have been found, nearly all in Scotland, and specifically the north-east. We do not know what purpose they served, or what their meaning was to the communities of the time. Such outstanding items must have carried powerful messages concerning the social identity of individuals within their communities.

Very few have been found in secure archaeological contexts and their dating was hotly debated for many years – it was once suggested that they were Saxon. However, examples have been found during excavations at the Later Neolithic settlement at Skara Brae, Orkney. The decoration on many of the balls is similar to that on other artefacts of the period, such as Grooved Ware pottery and passage tomb art.

The balls can be quite elaborate; the most common ones are those with six projecting knobs, which may be plain or decorated. They are usually very similar in size.

D.N. Marshall, ‘Carved stone balls’, Proceedings of the Society o-1, 108 (1976-77), pp. 40-72

M. Edmonds, ‘Their use is wholly unknown’ in Vessels for the ancestors (Edinburgh University Press, 1992)

Photo credit :: The British Museum