Duncroisk Crosses Stone, Glen Lochay, Perthshire

Carved Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 53258 36436

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 24167
  2. Dancing Shaman Stone
  3. Duncroisk (Canmore)
  4. Duncroisk 4 (Morris)
  5. Warrior Stone

Getting Here

The carved stone

The carved stone

Follow the same directions to get to the cup-marked stone on the slope behind Duncroisk Farm.  Once here, look up the hillside and about 100 yards above you there’s the fence, and a gate in the fence.  Go through that gate and walk uphill for some 20 yards where you’ll meet with a large sheet of flat sloping rock with a stream by its side.  The crosses are on this rock sheet at the top left-hand side.

Archaeology & History

Although the stone here is pretty easy to find, the insignia carved on the rock itself can be troublesome to see.  The accounts by both Cormack (1952) and Morris (1981) each recommend visiting the site around sunrise, but an hour before sunset is also profitable if you wanna see the design with any clarity.  And of course, if you keep the rock-face wet (the adjacent stream is handy here) the carvings stand out even better!

Main section of carving

Solar cross & arrow?

It’s a quite superb carving in a truly superb setting, come rain, shine or mist — but for the cup-and-ring aficionado’s amongst you this one might not get y’ going, as we’re looking at a carving that was probably born of the more recent mythic period.  Although there are between two and four faded cup-markings here, the principal designs do not echo the more usual neolithic and Bronze Age carvings scattering this part of Perthshire.  Instead we find very worn examples of what have been variously called “solar wheels”, “Greek crosses”, Celtic crosses, etc.  We also find simple carved ‘arrows’ at the ends of both natural and man-made lines in the rock; along with very distinct ‘eye’ or vulva symbolism. (Crawford 1957)  Added to this is the possibility of human figurines discernible in the carving, very similar indeed to those found in Spain (Kuhn 1956) and elsewhere.

Mr Cormack’s 1952 rubbing of the stone

The site was first described by E.A. Cormack (1952) who wrote the following, (slightly edited) piece:

“Examination of the rough and sloping rock surface revealed an interesting group of inscribed figures, confined to an area of about 8 by 2½ feet, four of which included a cross within a circle. The figures are difficult to discern, except when thrown into relief by early morning sunlight, but are clearly demonstrated on a rubbing.

“The crosses may be described in three groups:

“Group 1 — a) Near the upper edge of the rock is a cross within a circle of 8-inch diameter. The vertical axis of the cross is extended below the circle for 4 inches, resting on an ill-defined rectangular base, and upwards for 5 inches to form an arrow-head with 3-inch barbs. At the junction of the shaft of the arrow with the top of the circle is a pair of contiguous rings of about 1-inch diameter. The cross is deeply cut, to about a half-inch depth, with equal arms 4 inches long and 1 inch broad. The left arm of the cross extends beyond the circle, but this may be due to the circle being slightly excentric in relation to the cross. The lower right quadrant of the circle is marred by a natural crevice in the rock, but careful examination shows that the circle does not cut the right arm of the cross.

b)  On each side of this figure is a roughly circular marking, one about 4 inches above and to the left, of 3-inch diameter, and the other 2 inches to the right, of about 5-inch diameter. In each there is an indefinite depression across the centre.

“Group 2 — a) About a foot below and to the right of Group 1 there is a boldly cut cross within a 7-inch circle. Again the vertical arm of the cross is extended above and below the circle, downwards for 5 inches to a curved arrow-head with 4-inch barbs, and upwards as an equal armed 5-inch crosslet above which is a 4-inch circle with the central axis continued through it. (The junction of this axis through the circle with the top of the small cross is slightly angled.) The main cross and circle are cut to fully half an inch in depth and one inch in breadth, but the upper part of the figure is much less distinct.

b) About 8 inches to the left of the upper part of the above figure is a very faintly incised cross within a 2½-inch circle.  It is difficult to discern on the rock, but can be seen in the photograph and is very clear on the rubbing. It also appears to have an arrow-head above it.

“Group 3 — a) A foot below and to the right of Group 2 is a clearly cut cross within a 6½-inch circle. A natural cleft in the rock has been used for one axis of the cross, which lies obliquely to the others already described, and this axis terminates in an arrow-head 3 inches below the circle, and another slightly smaller arrow-head is cut 2 inches above the circle; in each case the angle formed by the arrow being towards the circle.

b) Immediately below the last cross is a curious hieroglyph not easy to make out on the rubbing, but clear in the photograph. On an 18-inch vertical axis can be seen from above downwards an arrow-head, an oblique line to the left, a faint 2-inch circle, a transverse stroke, and finally two oblique lines to the right. A natural crevice to the left of the figure rather confuses the picture.”

Ron Morris’ (1981) description wasn’t as detailed and he was initially hesitant about using the site in his rock art survey of the area, as he thought it “most likely to be early christian” in nature and period.  He changed his view after talking with an associate at Bergen University, who pointed out that the symbols found here up Glen Lochay were “exactly the same as Norway’s second commonest symbol, the ‘Cross-ring’, which is contemporary with their cup-and-ring series.”  Morris described the carvings here as:

“3 ‘cross-rings’ and 7 other rings, some of which have traces of crosses within them.  There are also grooves, some extending from a ‘cross’-line to form an ‘arrowhead’, and one group, with ring above, rather resembles a ‘man.’  Largest ring diameter, 20cm (8in) and greatest carving depth, 1cm (½in).”

Examples of the artistic symbolism found here at Duncroisk are scattered throughout western Europe from the Bronze Age period onwards: notably at Dowth and Clonfinloch in Ireland (Brennan 1983; Coffey 1912); Jonathan’s Cave, Fife (Simpson 1867); Valcamonica, Italy (Anati 1961); and all over Norway and Sweden (Coles 2005; Gelling & Davidson 1969; Janson 1966).  In more recent times we find these curious symbols etched inside the prehistoric chamber of Ty Illtud (Grinsell 1981) — but these are thought to be later additions.  However, the universal nature given to such interconnecting symbols such as those found here is, simply, ritual magick.  We find it across the Himalayas, Africa, north and south America – just about everywhere.  It would be quite wrong to believe that the presence of an encircled ‘cross’ on this stone relates it to a christian belief system, as such a motif is found in many non- and pre-christian societies with a mythic nature akin to that of the swastika, i.e., of a world unfolding or emerging from a centre-point and the arms of the ‘cross’ outwards defining the directions and boundaries of any specified cosmology: be it landscape, heavens, spirit worlds, pregnant belly, etc.

Solar cross? Eye? Vulva?…

or dancing human figure?

As Cormack (1952) described, the respective groups of carvings are integrally linked by an interconnecting line that joins the symbols in the respective groups to the  other symbols.  The fact that the connecting ‘lines’ are natural is meaningful in the relationship between humans and Nature; but moreover, the connecting line linking the symbols strongly implies sequential reasoning and magickal import.  Indeed, these three distinct clusters (see Cormack’s rubbing) are functionally akin to magickal sigils, examples of which are found across the ancient and modern world.  This is a notion that must be given serious consideration as a function in the carved stone of ‘Duncroisk 4’.  Equally we can see in one section of the carving what may be a dancing human figurine, very much like rock carvings found elsewhere in Europe and beyond.

Both Erich Neumann (1973) and Alex Marshack (1972), for slightly different reasons, would also see the images carved here as early expressions of human development: either through i) the emergence of archetypal patterns and the interpretative interplay of the ego, or ii) the intellectual evolution of magickal appliance, whereby imagery and human action are recognized as meaningful in a wider natural sense.  In the case of Duncroisk 4 it would more likely possess magickal import, as symbols were much more than ‘art’ and possessed meaning on several interconnecting levels, one of which being ritual function — an element that modern archaeology is slowly learning to incorporate into its analyses.

Dancing Siberian Shaman

Dancing Siberian Shaman

Dancing shaman figure?

Dancing shaman figure?

A more in-depth comparative essay is really needed to give a clearer exposition defining the nature of this carving… My personal view is that the carving represents, not some solar design, but one of Britain’s earliest artistic examples of human beings, in this case dancing and beating a drum or bodhran.  It may indeed be the earliest pictorial example of a bodhran in the country.  I’d say so.  There is also the distinct possibility that the dancing figure is a shaman.  We have many petroglyphs from all over the world that highlight such a character, integral to all early cultures—and this is as  likely a contender as any for such a figure. (see Gough 1999; Whitley 2000, etc)  It may however, be a warrior with a shield.  You see the problems we can have with these damn carvings! :)

Folklore

This carved rock is said by local people to have been where a ‘Celtic’ saint delivered sermons to the heathen populace.  The saint concerned is likely to be the one who tradition tells gave his name to the small glen immediately across the track from here: St. Charmaig.  Halfway up the small glen is a small cave, barely accessible, with untouched remains of dried roots and other elements of human habitation therein.  A few hundred yards to the north in old Finn’s Glen, is the forgotten Waterfall of the Oracle which sometimes isn’t even there!

References:

  1. Anati, Emmanuel, Camonica Valley, Alfred Knopf: New York 1961.
  2. Brennan, Martin, The Stars and the Stones: Ancient Art and Astronomy in Ireland, Thames & Hudson: London 1983.
  3. Coffey, George, New Grange and other Incised Tumuli in Ireland, Dolphin: Poole 1977.
  4. Coles, John, Shadows of a Northern Past: Rock Carvings of Bohuslan and Ostfold, Oxbow: Oxford 2005.
  5. Cormack, E.A., “Cross-Markings and Cup-Markings at Duncroisk, Glen Lochay,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 84, 1952.
  6. Crawford, O.G.S., The Eye Goddess, Phoenix House: London 1957.
  7. Gelling, Peter & Davidson, Hilda Ellis, The Chariot of the Sun and other Rites and Symbols of the Northern Bronze Age, Aldine: London 1972.
  8. Gough, Galal, “The Dancing Shaman and Dancing Ritual in Native American Rock Art,” in Utah Rock Art Symposium Proceedings, volume 19, 1999.
  9. Grinsell, Leslie V., “The Later History of Ty Illtud,” in Archaeologia Cambrensis, 131, 1981.
  10. Janson, Sverker & Westman, David, Rock-Carvings at Fiskeby, Esselte AB: Stockholm 1966.
  11. Kuhn, Herbert, The Rock Pictures of Europe, Sidgwick & Jackson: London 1956.
  12. Marshack, Alexander, The Roots of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginnings of Man’s First Art, Symbol and Notation, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London 1972.
  13. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR 86: Oxford 1981.Neumann, Erich, The Origins and History of Consciousness, Bollingen Princeton University Press: New York 1973.
  14. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  15. Simpson, James, Archaic Sculpturings of Cups, Circles, etc., Upon Stones and Rocks in Scotland, England and other Countries, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1867.
  16. Whitley, D.S., The Art of the Shaman: Rock Art of California, University of Utah Press 2000.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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About megalithix

Occultist, prehistorian and independent archaeological researcher, specializing in prehistoric rock art, Neolithic, Bronze Age & Iron Age sites, and the animistic cosmologies of pre-Christian & traditional cultures.
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