Cup-Marked Stone: OS Grid Reference – NN 7417 4703
Also Known as:
Go into the Fortingall churchyard, turning left through the gates (walking across in front of the enclosed sacred yew tree), towards the dip in the walling past the graves. Go over this wall, turning left and through another small gate. Immediately through the gate, note the small upright stone on your right, below an offspring of the old yew tree. That’s the spot!
Archaeology & History
In the legendary churchyard at Fortingall — home to remains from a panoply of beliefs — below the sacred yew tree we find the remains of this hewn piece of stone, recovered from the Earth beneath the roots of the old tree more than 100 years ago. Upon its crown we see a cluster of cup-markings: Fred Coles (1910) counted 14, I counted 13, the Ordnance Survey boys counted 9, and other surveyors are somewhere in between.
Described and illustrated in the Strathtay rock art survey of Sonia Yellowlees (2004), it seems that the earliest mention of the stone was by our Perthshire megalith hunter Fred Coles (1910). When he wrote about it, the site had only recently been rediscovered. He told that he was,
“informed by Rev. W. Camphell, minister of the parish, that in 1903, when some alterations were being made in that portion of the burying-ground belonging to the late Sir Donald Currie of Garth, the workmen came upon this Stone lying at a depth of 8 feet, at a point not many feet distant from the stem of the famous Yew-tree. Noticing the cup-marks on the Stone, the workmen raised it and set it up erect on the site it now occupies, close to the western wall of the Garth burial-ground — about 25 feet from the spot where it was unearthed: In the plan annexed (fig.2) the oblong bounded by the letters A B C D shows the dimensions of the base, and the small cup-marked surface, evidently much broken, and 2 feet 10 inches above ground, shows all that now remains of the work of the prehistoric artificer. There are no rings or grooves, and the cups, except for clearness and neatness of finish, do not present any special features.”
Mr Coles then made some intriguing suggestive remarks regarding the position of the carving beneath the ancient yew tree (which to those of you who aren’t aware, is believed to be the oldest yew tree in Europe and has a pagan altar next to it), wondering whether the animistic tradition of the tree had anything to do with the carving itself. It would certainly make sense. But there is also the possibility that the carving was brought from elsewhere and placed by the tree at a later date. We simply don’t know.
- Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 44, 1910.
- Yellowlees, Walter, Cupmarked Stones in Strathtay, Scotland Magazine: Edinburgh 2004.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian