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One of Scotland’s great mysteries: the 5,200 years old carved stone balls

David Goran

The Carved Stone Balls are mysterious objects and they have been the subject of much speculation by scientists over the years.

Over 400 of these unique objects have been found, nearly all of them in the Scotland, with the majority found in Aberdeenshire, however, some samples were also discovered in Britain and Ireland. The stone balls date from about 3500 to 1500 BC, a period spanning between the later Neolithic era and the Bronze Age.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Photo Credit

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Photo Credit

 

Coming from the late Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Photo Credit

Coming from the late Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Photo Credit

Almost all come from Scotland. A few have been found in northern England and Ireland. Photo Credit

Almost all come from Scotland. A few have been found in northern England and Ireland. Photo Credit

All the stones are made of various different materials ranging from sandstone to granite and they are all decorated with knobs around the surface. The numbers of knobs range from between three and 160 but the most common ones are those with six projecting knobs.

Some carved balls have additional decoration, such as in the spaces between the knobs which are decorated with hatchings, incised lines, spirals and concentric circles. Most of the stones are of a similar size with a diameter of 3 inches, although some larger ones were found, ranging from 3.5 and 4.5 inches.

Over 400 examples of these balls are known. Photo Credit

Over 400 examples of these balls are known. Photo Credit

 

A Carved Stone Ball petrosphere. This example is made from pottery but has the appropriate characteristics of the authentic artifacts. Photo Credit

A Carved Stone Ball petrosphere. This example is made from pottery but has the appropriate characteristics of the authentic artifacts. Photo Credit

 

A pair of carved stone balls from the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum. Photo Credit

A pair of carved stone balls from the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum. Photo Credit

The symmetrical patterns engraved all over the surface on some of the objects suggests that the Neolithic people were experimenting with solid geometry, a type of geometrical form known as Platonic solid. The ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Plato was the first to mention these solids as the core patterns of physical creation.

Intriguingly, the Scottish stones are dated a millennium before Plato’s time, which is what makes them so fascinating for mathematicians. They believe that there is a possibility that these stones are the earliest examples of experiments in solid geometry anywhere in the world.

Possible relationship to the Platonic Solids of the Greek mathematicians. Glasgow example. Photo Credit

Possible relationship to the Platonic Solids of the Greek mathematicians. Glasgow example. Photo Credit

 

A Carved Stone Ball from Towie in Aberdeenshire. Photo Credit

A Carved Stone Ball from Towie in Aberdeenshire. Photo Credit

 

For now, their true purpose remains a mystery. Photo Credit

For now, their true purpose remains a mystery. Photo Credit

Various theories have been put forward to explain their use or significance. Many researchers suggest that the balls were actually used as weapons, and others think that they were used as weights for fishing nets; some suggested they were used as totems of power and prestige, while some speculated that the objects had a ceremonial role in various rituals.

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None of these theories gained wide acceptance, however, and the function of these special, carved stone objects from the Late-Neolithic-Scotland era remains unknown to this day.