The Cup and Ring Markings, Blackshaw Estate

The Blackshaw Estate “Cup and Ring Markings” were discovered by D.A. Boyd and J.Smith in 1887. The find was communicated to the Society of Antiquaries by R.D. Cochran-Patrick. The full report can be read by clicking here.

The area of rock, measuring 45ft in length by 19ft broad at one end, and 3ft broad at the other, is sculptured with over 300 cup marks, and a variety of cup-and-rings, spirals, and other marks.

The term “cup and ring marking” describes a range of rock carved symbols that are found all over Scotland and indeed throughout the world. They are more technically known as petroglyphs. Here, the carvings are estimated to be around 4000-5000 years old which puts them firmly in our Neolithic age.

Generally the carvings are:

  • Circular hollows cut into rock surfaces (“cupmarks”), these can occur singly or in groups.
  • A cupmark surrounded by a circular channel (“cup and ring mark”), these occur with single or multiple rings.
  • Complex designs involving cups, cups and rings, with grooved channels linking or enclosing parts of the design.

Close examination of un-eroded carvings show that the symbols were often pecked into the rock surface using a pointed tool around 0.5cm in diameter, with metal, flint and deer antler being suggested as a possible tool materials. 

Currently the purpose and meaning of the symbols remains unclear, many theories have been suggested but no clear picture has emerged. 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. As yet, no immediate discovery of such has been found at Blackshaw.
  • 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. In the area close to Blackshaw is a standing stone circle which may relate to such a use.
  • 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. This is certainly the case at Blackshaw as it offers a clear uninterrupted view to Arran.

The following pictures were taken in the early 1990’s and have been reproduced here by kind permission of Mr J. Weir of Blackshaw Farm.

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