Cup and ring mark

Cup and ring marks or cup marks are a form of prehistoric art found mainly in the Atlantic seaboard of Europe (Ireland, Wales, Northern England, Scotland, France (Brittany), Portugal, and Spain (Galicia) – and in Mediterranean Europe – Italy (in Alpine valleys and Sardinia) and Greece (Thessaly and Irakleia (Cyclades)[1]), as well as in Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, and Finland) and in Switzerland (at Caschenna in Grisons). Evidence suggests that immigrants from the Fertile Crescent, rather than native British tribes, built Britain's Stonehenge and similar megaliths which bear cup-marks.[2]

Similar forms are also found throughout the world including Australia,[3] Gabon, Greece, Hawaii, India (Daraki-Chattan), Israel, Mexico and Mozambique.[4] The oldest known forms are found from the Fertile Crescent to India.

They consist of a concave depression, no more than a few centimetres across, pecked into a rock surface and often surrounded by concentric circles also etched into the stone. Sometimes a linear channel called a gutter leads out from the middle. The decoration occurs as a petroglyph on natural boulders and outcrops and also as an element of megalithic art on purposely worked megaliths such as the slab cists of the Food Vessel culture, some stone circles and passage graves such as the clava tombs and on the capstones at Newgrange.

Typical cup and ring marks at Weetwood Moor, in the English county of Northumberland (Google Maps)


The site of Atlit Yam, abandoned circa 6300 BCE and now under Israel's Mediterranean Sea coast south of Haifa, features cup marks engraved into megalithic stones, some of which are set upright to form a semi-circle which has been referred to as resembling the UK's stonehenge but smaller,[5][6][7] with ceremonially buried bodies at the site, and potential alignments to the solstice, and/or to other stars, still being hypothesized as the site was only discovered in 2009 and undersea sites are difficult and expensive to explore. Further inland, dating to at least 3000 BCE (exposed) and estimated up to 4000 BCE (unexcavated layer, under the layer which is exposed), is Rujm el-Hiri, a cairn (tumulus) type of megalith, consisting of concentric circles (as cup marks also are concentric circles, but much smaller than Rogem Hiri) estimated to contain 40,000,000 kg of stones moved by humans, with an opening in the outer circle which aligns to the summer solstice (just as sites throughout Eurasia also align to solstices) and which has a burial chamber in the center, with thousands of dolmens nearby, a "dolmen" being a 3rd and younger type of megalith found elsewhere in Eurasia, the oldest of which, thus far, are found in the UK, but date only to the 3rd millennium BCE in Israel.[8][9]

The cup marks are still present in other proto-Canaanite sites as recently as the Chalcolithic Age, for example at several sites in and around modern-day Modiin dated to the fourth millennium BCE[10] and the third millennium BCE,[11] and in the City of David, Old Jerusalem. Tel Gezer has more up-ended megaliths dating to only 1550 BCE which are aligned to Earth's north and south physical poles, but Tel Gezer's cupmarks have only recently been surveyed (2012) and do not appear to have been dated (as to whether they were made before, concurrent to or after the 1550 BCE megaliths) yet;[12] however, excavations at Gezer are ongoing as of 2014.[13]



Novalesa cup-and-rings stone Italy
Novalesa cup-and-rings stone Italy

Numerous cup-marked stones have been found in quite all the alpine valleys, comprising Val Camonica (Italy), associated with rock drawings. Regarding western alps (Piedmont), the best known are distributed along the Chisone,[14] Susa[15] and Viù valleys; also the La Bessa[16] site is to be cited. Strictly referring to cup-and-rings, it is possible to cite in the western Alps only the Novalesa stone,[17][18] in the Cenischia Valley, near the Italian-French border. Found in 1988, it shows 4 concentric circles, with a central cup-mark; all around a network of 20 cup-marks and channels.

Sardinia mamoiada perda pinta
Sardinia mamoiada perda pinta

Sardinia is rich in cup-and-rings stones: the best known is the Perda Pintà (the "painted stone", which is carved, not painted) or Stele di Boeli,[19] at Mamoiada: an impressive stela or menhir 2,67 m high with various concentric circles patterns crossed by engraved channels and central cup-marks.[20]


Similar patterns are known in Galicia,[21] which has given them the name of 'Galician style'. These types, the cup-and-ring, cup-and-ring with gutter and the gapped concentric circles motifs are shared between this part of Iberia and the British Isles, manifesting, together with other cultural expressions like megaliths or Bronze Age culture, a cultural link along the coasts of Atlantic Europe.[22]

United Kingdom

Dalgarven, North Ayrshire, Scotland.

Precisely dating megalithic art is difficult: even if the megalithic monument can be dated, the art may be a later addition. The Hunterheugh Crags cup and ring marks near Alnwick in Northumberland have recently been demonstrated to date back into the Early Neolithic era through their stratigraphic relationship with other, datable features. Some cup marks have been found in Iron Age contexts but these may represent re-used stones.

Where they are etched onto natural, flat stone it has been observed that they seem to incorporate the natural surface of the rock. Those at Hunterheugh are mostly connected to one another by gutters that can channel rainwater from one to the next, down the sloping top of the stone. It has been suggested by archaeologist Clive Waddington that the initial Early Neolithic impetus to create the marks was forgotten and that the practice fell into abeyance until a second phase of creation continued the basic tradition but with less precision and more variability in design. The markers of this second phase moved the art from natural stones to megaliths as its symbolism was reinterpreted by Later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age people.

Their purpose is unknown although some may be connected with natural stone outcrops exploited by Neolithic peoples to make polished stone axes. A religious purpose has been suggested. Alexander Thom suggested in a BBC television documentary, Cracking the Stone Age Code, in 1970, "I have an idea, entirely nebulous at the moment, that the cup and ring markings were a method of recording, of writing, and that they may indicate, once we can read them, what a particular stone was for. We have seen the cup and ring markings on the stone at Temple Wood, and that's on the main stone but we can't interpret them ...yet."[23] He created diagrams and carried out analysis of over 50 of the cup and ring markings from which he determined a length he termed the Megalithic Inch (MI).[24]

This whole idea has been ignored almost completely apart from a critical analysis carried out by Alan Davis in the 1980s, who tested Thom's hypothesis on cup and ring sites in England by examining the separations of neighbouring cupmark centres. He found some weak evidence for the "Megalithic Inch" but it was not statistically significant, and he suggested "strongest indications...towards the use of a quantum close in value to 5 MI at certain sites" and that "the apparent quantum seems strongly associated with ringed cups."[25] Davis made an initial effort to build on Thom's start, and to answer the question he posed: "Why should a man spend hours – or rather days – cutting cups in a random fashion on a rock? It would indeed be a breakthrough if someone could crack the code of the cups."[25]

Subsequently, Davis investigated the idea that the prehistoric carvers used an elementary method of diameter-construction in laying out the carvings. This investigation (incorporating both Scottish and English sites) suggested a possible explanation for many of the characteristic shapes of carved rings, and also produced evidence in the ring diameters for the use of a unit of measurement close to Thom's MI (and 5 MI) that was of high statistical significance. The evidence is consistent with the use of rough measures such as hand- and finger-widths (rather than the formal, accurate system proposed by Thom), but the important conclusion is that a similar design ritual, apparently involving a consistent measurement system of some kind, was in use over a wide geographical area.[26]


Sites with cup and ring marks include:


Work at Drumirril in County Monaghan has uncovered Neolithic and early Bronze Age occupation evidence around the rock carvings there and this dating is generally accepted for most of the art. Another particularly rich source of cup-marked boulders is the Derrynablaha townland on the Iveragh peninsula in County Kerry.

Switzerland (Grisons)

Switzerland Carschenna concentric circles and cupmarks
Switzerland Carschenna concentric circles and cupmarks

An open air Rock Art site in the Swiss Alps is situated at Carschenna, Rethic Alps (in Grisons, Switzerland), where Latin derived languages mingle with German. The first engraved rocks were discovered in 1965,[28] during the building of an iron electricity framework. Carschenna engravings[29] are mainly characterized by cup-marks with from 1 to 9 concentric circles. Spirals, sun-like figures, riding scenes, and schematic horses are also present.


Kuppikivi hartola

Hartola, Finland

Laxe das Rodas 01

Galicia, where hundreds of stations are known.

Pera Crevolà cup marked stone

In Piedmont there are many cup marked stones. Pera Crevolà of Val Susa, Italy

Touron petr

Deer and cup-and-ring motifs, Tourón, Ponte Caldelas, Galicia.

Petróglifo de Portaxes, Monte Tetón, Tomiño

Cup-and-ring mark at Monte Tetón, Tomiño, the largest one in Galicia

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Selina Brace et al, "Ancient genomes indicate population replacement in Early Neolithic Britain", Nature Ecology and Evolution (2019).
  3. ^ "East McDonnel Ranges". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  4. ^ Francis Scott Elliot, George (1915). Prehistoric Man and his story. Seeley, Service. p. 398.
  5. ^ Marchant, Jo (25 November 2009). "Deep Secrets: Atlit-Yam, Israel". New Scientist. Reed Business Information Ltd. (2736): 40, 41. ISSN 0262-4079.
  6. ^ Jerusalem Post:
  7. ^ Israel Antiquities Authority:
  8. ^ Oldest archaeological org in Israel:
  9. ^ "Dolmens - prehistoric megalith tombs". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  10. ^ van den Brink, Edwin (2 Dec 2007). "Modi'in, Horbat Hadat and Be'erit (A)". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 119.
  11. ^ "עיריית מודיעין מכבים רעות, גבעת התיתורה". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  12. ^ Mitchell, Eric; Jason M. Zan; Cameron S. Coyle; Adam R. Dodd (31 Dec 2012). "Tel Gezer, Regional Survey". Hadashot Arkheologiyot. 124.
  13. ^ "Home - Tel Gezer Project". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  14. ^ "Western Alps rock art records". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  15. ^ "Archivio Online - arte rupestre ed etnografia delle Alpi piemontesi (a cura del Gruppo Ricerche Cultura Montana)". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  16. ^ "Rock art and cup marks of Bessa". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  17. ^ "Archivio Online - arte rupestre ed etnografia delle Alpi piemontesi (a cura del Gruppo Ricerche Cultura Montana)". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  18. ^ A rock record in the western Alps, TRACCE Online Rock Art Bulletin 12, 2000
  19. ^ it:Stele di Boeli
  20. ^ "The strange case of snow-circles and cup-and-rings". 24 April 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  21. ^ "R. Bradley et al., Rock art and the prehistoric Landscape of Galicia..." (PDF). Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  22. ^ "M. Stewart, Strath Tay in the Second Millennium BC. A Field Survey" (PDF). Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  23. ^ The Spectator, p. 608. 1970. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  24. ^ Systematics: The Journal of the Institute for the comparative study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences, Vol. 6, Number 3, Coombe Spring Press., December 1968
  25. ^ a b Alan Davis in Clive Ruggles (13 February 2003). Records in Stone: Papers in Memory of Alexander Thom. Cambridge University Press. pp. 392–422. ISBN 978-0-521-53130-6. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  26. ^ MacKie, E. W.; Davis, A. (1989). "New light on neolithic rock carvings: the petroglyphs at Greenland (Auchentorlie), Dunbartonshire". Glasgow Archaeological Journal. 15: 125–155.
  27. ^ Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot. 1970-71. Vol. 103 pp. 33–56.
  28. ^ ZINDEL C., 1970. Incisioni rupestri a Carschenna, in Valcamonica Symposium, 1968, pp. 135-142, Capo di Ponte.
  29. ^ "Rock Art in the Alps – The engraved rocks of Carschenna". Retrieved 23 March 2018.

Further reading

  • Beckensall, Stan and Laurie, Tim. 1998. Prehistoric Rock Art of County Durham, Swaledale and Wensleydale. County Durham Books. ISBN 1-897585-45-4
  • Beckensall, Stan. 2001. Prehistoric Rock Art in Northumberland. Tempus Publishing. ISBN 0-7524-1945-5
  • Beckensall, Stan. 2002. Prehistoric Rock Art in Cumbria. Tempus Publishing. ISBN 0-7524-2526-9
  • Butter, Rachel. 1999. Kilmartin. Kilmartin House Trust. ISBN 0-9533674-0-1
  • Hadingham, Evan. 1974. Ancient Carvings in Britain; A Mystery. Garnstone Press. ISBN 0-85511-391-X
  • Morris, Ronald W.B. 1977. The Prehistoric Rock Art of Argyll. Dolphin Press. ISBN 0-85642-043-3
  • Papanikolaou Stelios. 600 Written Rocks. Channels of primeval knowledge Larissa <<ella>> Second Revised Edition 2005 ISBN 960-8439-21-3
  • Schwegler Urs, Die Felszeichnungen von Carschenna, Gemeinde Sils im Domleschg, Helvetia Archaeologica, Bd. 28, Heft 111/112, 1997, ISSN 0018-0173, S. 76–126.

External links

Ballochmyle cup and ring marks

The Ballochmyle cup and ring marks were first recorded at Ballochmyle (NS 5107 2552), Mauchline, East Ayrshire, Scotland in 1986, very unusually carved on a vertical red sandstone cliff face, forming one of the most extensive areas of such carvings as yet found in Britain. Evidence suggests that cup and ring art was created from the Neolithic through to the Bronze Age (c. 4000-1500 BC). They have been designated a scheduled ancient monument.

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.

Clava cairn

The Clava cairn is a type of Bronze Age circular chamber tomb cairn, named after the group of three cairns at Balnuaran of Clava, to the east of Inverness in Scotland. There are about 50 cairns of this type in an area round about Inverness. They fall into two sub-types, one typically consisting of a corbelled passage grave with a single burial chamber linked to the entrance by a short passage and covered with a cairn of stones, with the entrances oriented south west towards midwinter sunset. In the other sub-type an annular ring cairn encloses an apparently unroofed area with no formal means of access from the outside. In both sub-types a stone circle surrounds the whole tomb and a kerb often runs around the cairn. The heights of the standing stones vary in height so that the tallest fringe the entrance (oriented south west) and the shortest are directly opposite it.

Where Clava-type tombs have still contained burial remains, only one or two bodies appear to have been buried in each, and the lack of access to the second sub-type suggests that there was no intention of re-visiting the dead or communally adding future burials as had been the case with Neolithic cairn tombs.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Dalgarven Mill – Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume

Dalgarven Mill is near Kilwinning, in the Garnock Valley, North Ayrshire, Scotland and it is home to the Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume. The watermill has been completely restored over a number of years and is run by the independent Dalgarven Mill Trust.

The village of Dalgarven was largely destroyed by the construction of the main A737 road, but the mill buildings survive and are open as a tourist attraction and educational resource, interpreting local history in addition to its role as a museum of Ayrshire country life. Very few mills remain in Ayrshire and this is an example which has been preserved due to the foresight of the family of the last miller who saw a modern role for an ancient industrial site and traditional social meeting-place. Some of the outbuildings have been converted for use as an antique shop, others are still occupied as dwellings and some are in the process of being converted to uses which will enhance the quality of the experience of visitors to the mill complex.

The Ferguson family, descendents of the last miller, are still involved with the running of the museum, working with a board of trustees who are all volunteers. The mill is not part of the National Trust or the Museum of Scotland; it is however an accredited four star Ayrshire visitor attraction.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

Hunterheugh Crags

Hunterheugh Crags are part of the Fellsandstone escarpment, 5 miles (8 km) north west of Alnwick, Northumberland, England and 9 miles (14 km) from the coast. The site is moorland forming part of the Bewick and Beanley Moors SSSI, although prior to the Bronze Age it is likely to have been thickly forested with broadleaf deciduous trees. This site is most famous for the cup and ring mark art present on the outcrop.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

Long Meg and Her Daughters

Long Meg and Her Daughters is a Bronze Age stone circle near Penrith in Cumbria, North West England. One of around 1,300 stone circles in the British Isles and Brittany, it was constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BCE, during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. The stone circle is the sixth-largest example known from this part of north-western Europe, being slightly smaller than the rings at Stanton Drew in Somerset, the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney and Newgrange in County Meath.It primarily consists of 59 stones (of which 27 remain upright) set in an oval shape measuring 340 ft (100 m) on its long axis. There may originally have been as many as 70 stones. Long Meg herself is a 12 ft (3.6 m) high monolith of red sandstone 80 ft (25 m) to the southwest of the circle made by her Daughters. Long Meg is marked with examples of megalithic art including a cup and ring mark, a spiral and rings of concentric circles.Infra-red aerial photography has identified several undated enclosures that seem to pre-date the Long Meg circle in the area. There is also the smaller stone circle of Little Meg (Maughanby) close by.

Megalithic art

Megalithic art refers to the use of large stones as an artistic medium. Although some modern artists and sculptors make use of large stones in their work, the term is more generally used to describe art carved onto megaliths in prehistoric Europe.

Megalithic art is found in many places in Western Europe although the main concentrations are in Malta, Ireland, Brittany and Iberia. Megalithic art started in the Neolithic and continued into the Bronze Age. Although many monument types received this form of art the majority is carved on Neolithic passage graves. Megalithic art tends to be highly abstract and contains relatively few representations of recognisable real objects. Megalithic art is often similar to prehistoric rock art and contains many similar motifs such as the 'cup and ring mark', although the two forms of rock carving also have large stylistic differences. The meaning of megalithic art is the subject of much debate.

Weathering and vandalism have affected many examples of the art and little of it remains to day.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.

Weetwood Moor

Weetwood Moor near Wooler, Northumberland is a moor in the North of England which contains a scheduled ancient monument. It has 26 known panels of Cup and ring mark petroglyphs carved into the sandstone.The rock art is prehistoric and could be either Neolithic or early Bronze Age as it has been dated to between 1500 and 3800 BCE, though not everything on the site is old, the cairn near the rock art is modern.

Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

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