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23 October 2005
Carved stone intrigues Scottish archaeologists

One of the oldest carved stones ever found in the Highlands of Scotland has given experts an intriguing mystery to solve. Archaeologists say designs on the 5000-year-old stone slab discovered inside a cairn near Beauly have only been seen before on rocks in Orkney and Ireland. Now they are researching the cultural links that could have brought this type of art to Balblair 3500 years ago when the cairn surrounding it was built.
     The sandstone slab was used to form one side of a burial chamber within the cairn, from which the body and other items had been stolen in the past. It was discovered after Highland Council ordered a quarry company to undertake an archaeological survey on the site at Balblair prior to extracting rock and gravel.
     Andrew Dutton, a senior archaeologist with Headland Archaeology, said the slab was well preserved because it had been buried for thousands of years. "It has certainly got people scratching their heads, " he admitted. "It is unique. There is a lot of rock art around here and the cup and ring symbol can be seen in the open air at several sites but the curvilinear lines on this slab are very strange. Also the cup marks have been worked through from both sides until there is a perforation that, perhaps, people could look through to see inside the kist or to let light inside."
     The stone is now is a store at Inverness Museum until more of its story can be unravelled. There, conservation officer Jeanette Pearson is making its surface stable to preserve the carvings on its surface. "It is very unusual, " she said. "I've never seen anything like it. It's certainly not Pictish so we are seeking specialist advice from the National Museum to help us identify it."

Source: The Inverness Courier (21 October 2005)

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