Home eBooks Index eBooks by Author Glossary Search eBooks

The Clyde Mystery

The following is from The Clyde Mystery by Andrew Lang:

XXI--Quality of Art on the Stones

Dr. Munro next reproduces two wooden churinga (churinga irula), as being very unlike the Clydesdale objects in stone {84a} (figures 5, 6). They are: but I was speaking of Australian churinga nanja, of stone. A stone churinga {84b} presented, I think, by Mr. Spencer through me to the Scottish Society of Antiquaries (also reproduced by Dr. Munro), is a much better piece of work, as I saw when it reached me, than most of the Clyde things. "The Clyde amulets are," says Dr. Munro, "neither strictly oval," (nor are very many Australian samples,) "nor well finished, nor symmetrical, being generally water-worn fragments of shale or clay slate. . . ."  They thus resemble ancient Red Indian pendants.

As to the art of the patterns, the Australians have a considerable artistic gift; as Grosse remarks, {85a} while either the Clyde folk had less, or the modern artists had not "some practical artistic skill." But Dr. Munro has said that any one with "some practical artistic skill" could whittle the Clyde objects. {85b} He also thinks that in one case they "disclose the hand of one not altogether ignorant of art" (p. 231).

Let me put a crucial question. Are the archaic markings on the disputed objects better, or worse, or much on a level with the general run of such undisputably ancient markings on large rocks, cists, and cairns in Scotland?  I think the art in both cases is on the same low level. When the art on the disputed objects is more formal and precise, as on some shivered stones at Dunbuie, "the stiffness of the lines and figures reminds one more of rule and compass than of the free-hand work of prehistoric artists." {85c} The modern faker sometimes drew his marks "free-hand," and carelessly; sometimes his regularities suggest line and compass.

Now, as to the use of compasses, a small pair were found with Late Celtic remains, at Lough Crew, and plaques of bone decorated by aid of such compasses, were also found, {85d} in a cairn of a set adorned with the archaic markings, cup and ring, concentric circles, medial lines with shorter lines sloping from them on either side, and a design representing, apparently, an early mono-cycle!

For all that I know, a dweller in Dunbuie might have compasses, like the Lough Crew cairn artist.

If I have established the parallelism between Arunta churinga nanja and the disputed Clyde "pendants," which Dr. Munro denies, we are reduced to one of two theories. Either the Picts of Clyde, or whoever they were, repeated on stones, usually small, some of the patterns on the neighbouring rocks; or the modern faker, for unknown reasons, repeated these and other archaic patterns on smaller stones. His motive is inscrutable: the Australian parallels were unknown to European science,--but he may have used European analogues. On the other hand, while Dr. Munro admits that the early Clyde people might have repeated the rock decorations "on small objects of slate and shale," he says that the objects "would have been, even then, as much out of place as surviving remains of the earlier Scottish civilisation as they are at the present day." {86}

How can we assert that magic stones, or any such stone objects, perforated or not, were necessarily incongruous with "the earlier Scottish civilisation?"  No civilisation, old or new, is incapable of possessing such stones; even Scotland, as I shall show, can boast two or three samples, such as the stone of the Keiss broch, a perfect circle, engraved with what looks like an attempt at a Runic inscription; and another in a kind of cursive characters.

XXII--Survival of Magic of Stones - Footnotes


Copyright Scotland from the Roadside 2019