Much in the news this week has been the suggestion, reported in The Scotsman, that one of Glasgow’s hidden archaeological treasures might be revealed for the first time in 50 years.
The Cochno Stone is widely regarded as the finest example of Neolithic rock art in Europe. With its numerous cup-and-ring markings, spirals, footprints and other symbols, it was believed by maverick archaeologist Ludovic McLellan Mann to represent nothing less than a star map created by the Neolithic peoples inhabiting the area. He felt strongly that it was connected with the nearby ‘mortuary site’ at Knapper’s Farm (now lost under the A82 Great Western Road). Most photographs of the stone date from Mann’s 1937 excavation and show his painting in of the symbols and overlaid grid, from which he based his hypothesis that the whole Glasgow area was laid out in the form of a clock face of 38 sectors; a theory that captivated amateur researcher Harry Bell when he was mapping out his Glasgow Network of Aligned Sites for his cult book ‘Glasgow’s Secret Geometry’ in the early 1980s.
Captivating though Mann’s theory is, he was not one to share his sources with his fellow archaeologists, and consequently nobody really knows where he got this idea from. Nonetheless, it is surely worth unearthing the stone again to give modern researchers another crack at interpreting these enigmatic symbols.
Yet I confess to having mixed feelings about this. Yes, I would love to see the stone uncovered so that we can all have a look at it and it can be better documented and recorded with today’s laser scanning technology. But should it remain uncovered? That’s a different question.
The Cochno stone was originally re-buried ‘to protect it from vandals from the nearby towns’ – a precaution that I suspect is still necessary in today’s world. I’m also mindful of how much erosion the rock art carvings at Ballochmyle in Ayrshire have suffered since they saw the light of day again and they’ve only been exposed since their discovery in the 1970s.
I wouldn’t like to see the Cochno stone enclosed in a glass box (like Sueno’s stone in Forres) or indeed any type of enclosure, as that cuts the stone off from its environment and from studying similar sites it is very clear that these cup-marks should always be seen in the context of the larger landscape.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is that an accurate replica cast is made and the real stone is re-buried under it, as was done with the boar carving and footprint at Dunadd in the Kilmartin valley.
It’s not an ideal solution, but maybe it’s a reasonable compromise. We await developments.