In early September 2015, Factum Foundation and the University of Glasgow archaeology department undertook a test excavation of the Cochno Stone. The aim of this test was to assess its current state before planning a full excavation. The findings were that the sandstone was in good condition and under less earth than expected.
In addition to this, in the area revealed by the 4m x 1m trench was evidence of the graffiti that led to its original burial, indicating that there will be considerably more. This is, of course, tragic that such an ancient monument should have been treated so negatively. However, with respect to the broader implications of the Cochno Stone project, this recent history of interaction takes on a new light. The majority of images that we have of the Cochno Stone originate from the 1937 visit of the archaeologist Ludovic Maclellan Mann, who strikingly painted in the markings to illustrate his ‘archaeo-astronomical’ theories of their meaning. Needless to say, this is not practice that would be acceptable today! In addition to this, in the absence of consensus among experts as to what they actually mean, the cup-and-ring markings are arguably (as much as anything else) examples of Neolithic graffiti. These factors of the story pose fascinating questions about the contemporary worlds relationship to its ancient past and who it belongs to. As a result of the test, Historic Scotland and West Dunbartonshire Council have both given permission for Factum Foundation to begin to search for the requisite funding.
Plan of the Cochno Stone with the excavated area highlighted.
Map showing the location of the Cochno Stone in West Dunbartonshire.
Ludovic Maclellan Mann painting in the markings in 1937.
The test excavation also had the result of deepening Factum Foundation’s understanding of the significance of the distinct biography of the Cochno Stone in relationship to its local context. Over the three days of the excavation a large number of people from the local community, from primary school children to people with childhood memories of the Cochno Stone, came to visit the revealed section. The level of feeling was extremely poignant - both in terms of excitement for the proposal and in the sadness that it had been buried as a result of the council’s lack of trust of local people. Intriguing recollections came to light, such as that Mann’s markings (that Factum had assumed to be all in white from the photographic records) had included red and blue - and even green to colour-in the strange four-toed feet marks. The Factum Foundation is currently considering what would be the most successful method of communicating the visual impact of the stone; one idea that we are exploring would be to produce the facsimile with Mann’s markings from a combination of local people’s memories and the existing photographs.
A video by May Miles Thomas on the test excavation of the Cochno Stone
The four-toed feet markings, according to one visitors memory these were painted in green.
Kenneth Brophy (Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Glasgow) explaining to school children the history of the Cochno Stone and the Factum Foundation's aims for the future.
Most memorable of all was the visit of a man who had grown up in the estates nearby and was a mine of information about the stone and its surroundings. According to him, children used to play games on it that included setting off gunpowder in the cups and, apparently, competitive urination in as many of them as possible! He left saying: ‘I came up here to find the past, and I found the future’. It is Factum Foundation’s hope that the Cochno Stone project will do exactly this by using cutting-edge technology to bring back the ancient past: making a positive contribution to the community by both securing the safe future of this extraordinary monument and making it accessible to Scotland and the world.
The team celebrating after having backfilled the excavated area.
Read here the full Cochno Stone proposal
Read the archaeological report on the test excavation of the Cochno Stone here
Read film-maker May Miles Thomas on the test excavation here
Read the local newspaper's report on the test excavation here