Sunday, January 23, 2011
Petrosomatoglyphs of Scotland
A petrosomatoglyph is an indentation of parts of a human or animal body incised in rock. Feet are the most commonly found human petrosomatoglyph but knees, elbows, hands, head, and fingers are also in evidence. Early hominid footprints appear on rock beds found around the world. Footprints of Australopithecus boisei for example were discovered in Tanzania. These are thought to be 3.5 million years old. In Tchogha Zanbil, Iran at the ruins of the holy city of the Kingdom of Elam there is a stepped pyramid temple which dates back 3000 years. At the base of the steps is a child’s footprint. Many petrosomatoglyphs are natural whilst others are man-made. Although their original function is long forgotten many petrosomtoglyphs became associated with Saints, legendary figures, and fairies.
In antiquity many people carved footprints into stone including the ancient Celts. These became important symbols, used in religious and secular ceremonies, such as the crowning of kings. Sometimes petrosomatoglyphs were used by the superstitious. The Romans carved pairs of footprints in rock with the inscription ‘pro itu et reditu’, (for the journey and return). Before starting an important journey they stood in the carved footprints. Then on safe return they repeated the action as mark of thanksgiving. The same ritual was known in 6th c Wales when King Maelgwn of Gwynedd placed his feet in carved footprints to ensure his safe return from a pilgrimage to Rome.
In northern Europe, rock footprints were closely associated with Kingship or Chieftainship. Standing on a special stone was a link between the king and the land. Footprints may also have to do with the cult of the ancestors, whose spirits dwelt in the stone. The belief was the newly invested leader would received the luck (or mana) of his predecessors through contact with it. Petrosomatoglyphs used in the ordination of kings was considered a sacred place or Locus terribilis (awesome place), where only the rightful king was able to use them for the purpose that they were intended. Scottish Kings and Irish Chieftains were sworn to oath standing on footprints carved into the stone. Dunadd Hillfort is regarded as the crowning place for the original Kings of Scotland. It was the ancient capital of the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata and lay on the west coast of Scotland. Built around 500AD after Fergus MacErc led a Scottish invasion from Ireland. The inhabitants of Dál Riata are often referred to as Scots, i.e., Latin scotti, a name for the inhabitants of Ireland and refer to all Gaelic-speakers. The kingdom's independent existence ended in the Viking Age (8th to 11th centuries), as it merged with the lands of the Picts to form the Kingdom of Alba. On rocks on the edge of Crinan Moss in Argyll, near the village of Lochgilphead there is a carved human footprint used during the crowning ceremony of the Kings of Scotland. This footprint is thought to be that of Oisin or Fergus Mor Mac Erca, the first King of Dalriada, who died in AD 501. The best preserved footprint (there are two) is 27 cm long, approximately 11 cm wide, 9 cm across at the heel and 2.5 cm deep. It is large enough to accommodate a shoe or boot. The second footprint of a right foot is, incomplete and measures 24 cm long and 10 cm in width.
The spot where St. Columba (521 – 597 AD) is reputed to have first set foot in Dalriada, Scotland, is marked by two footprints carved in a crag near the chapel of Keil and St. Columba's Well, between Dunaverty Bay and Carskey in Kintyre. These are called Columba's Footprints. It appears one footprint may date to the period but the second print was carved by a local stone mason in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately he carved the wrong date for Columba's landing of 564. Other St. Columba's footprints are found at Southend in Argyll. In one of the caves on the Isle of Arran is prints of two right feet, said to be of Saint Columba. Forging links with St Columba in the 1800s was more to do with attracting tourists.
On Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, was the Stone of Inauguration which lay beside Loch Finlaggan. The stone measured seven feet square and had a footprint cut into it (size 8). It was the sacred stone of the island Lordship and is thought to have been since the time of Somerled (King of Argyll and the Isles in 1164 AD). When a chief of the Clan Donald was installed as the King of the Isles, he required to stand barefoot on the imprint whilst he swore an oath. In 1615, by the order of the Earl of Argyll the block was destroyed and the fragments dispersed. After considerable detection the footprint segment was eventually located.
Other petrosomatoglyphs in Scotland include a 2-foot-long (0.61 m) footprint on a cave side in Arran.
There is also pair of footprints carved in a stone slab in a causeway at the Broch (Tower) of Clickhimin (or Clickemin), Lerwick, in Shetland. This site was occupied from about 1000 BC to AD 500.
On neighboring Orkney, at St. Mary's Church in Burwick, South Ronaldsay, the Ladykirk Stone has two clear footprints cut into it, said to be the footprints of Saint Magnus (1075–1117). One common belief was the footprints held healing powers and were used in medicines.
At Spittal on the western end of a long ridge of natural rock outcrop near Drymen, is a footprint which may be due to natural weathering. At Craigmaddie Muir, Baldernock, East Dunbartonshire is the Auld Wives Lifts. This is a complicated assemblage of carvings on a rock platform. On the rock are serpent-like forms, crosses, cups and an impression of the right foot of an adult.
In Ayr, on the southern bank of the River Ayr is 'Wallace's Heel', a natural sandstone slab, Sir William Wallace is said to have left the imprint behind whilst rushing to escape English soldiers who were pursuing him. At Dunino Den, near St Andrews in Fife, is a footprint and a basin carved in the surface of a sandstone outcrop. A Celtic cross has been carved nearby, possibly as an attempt to make the site Christian. On a boulder at Carnasserie, two miles (3 km) from Kilmartin in Argyll, are carved a pair of feet and two other examples can also be found in Angus.