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  • Carved Stone Balls are some of the most enigmatic artefacts that we have in Scottish prehistory.

  • There used to be a lot of debate about how old they were - some people thought they were

  • Bronze Age, many people thought they were Iron Age and some people even thought they

  • were early Christian. But it was only with Radiocarbon Dating of sites like Skara Brae

  • that we realised that these were in fact Neolithic objects.

  • To make a Carved Stone Ball you don't need very many techniques and they are techniques

  • that most Neolithic stone workers would be very familiar with. Sort of pecking and grinding.

  • But the actual process requires quite a few stages to go through.

  • At the start you have to take a raw lump of material - it might be a beach cobble, it

  • might be a lump of raw rock - and peck that into a sphere.

  • One of the biggest mysteries around Carved Stone Balls is what they were actually used

  • for. Over the last 200 years there have been almost as many theories about how they were

  • used as there are Carved Stone Balls. Were they used for divination? Were they part of

  • a game? Some people have suggested weights, but that theory didn't hold much water because

  • they weigh a huge range of different weights.

  • More recently we've seen all sorts of suggestions that they somehow relate to mathematics, representations

  • of platonic solids. We see them suggested that they could be memory devices as well,

  • things that hold stories within them - so that as you tell the story you rotate it and

  • the lines and the nobbles on the surface help you recount that oral history of your society.

  • So there are many different explanations for these objects and the truth is it could be

  • any one of them.

  • Today we've been making a replica Carved Stone Ball. This is a type of object that comes

  • from Scotland. And usually found in sites that are dated to the late Neolithic, so the

  • same time that Stonehenge is being built. But these are not objects that are found here

  • at Stonehenge, they only have a distribution in Scotland. But what he's making for us is

  • showing the techniques and the tools and the artwork and decoration that links this Carved

  • Stone Ball to all the other parts of Britain at that time.

  • As a second stage you have to grind that to make it a smoother surface. In Orkney a number

  • have actually been found in Neolithic context, at Skara Brae they were found on the floor

  • of Neolithic buildings which dates them very firmly to the late Neolithic. Recently in

  • 2013 one was found at the Ness of Brogdar buried under one of the buttresses within

  • one of the buildings, one of the largest buildings onsite.

  • The Carved Stone Ball sits in part of the exhibition that talks about the late Neolithic,

  • so the time Stonehenge is being built. At this particular time we have types of pottery,

  • types of objects and styles of building monuments that are really only found in the British

  • Isle. They are not found at all on continental Europe. This is a time when people are making

  • Grooved Ware Pottery that is found all across the British Isle. But they are also doing

  • regional things, so Carved Stone Balls in particular are only found really in a small

  • part of Scotland. So they've got shared ideas, shared religious ideas, building similar types

  • of monuments such as stone circles, but there are also still regional traditions and regional

  • trends.

  • Now the next stage is marking out the individual knobs on the surface. Here you have to make

  • a choice about what sort of Carved Stone Ball you're going to make. Most Carved Stone Balls

  • will have 6 symmetrical knobs, but they come in a wide range of different sizes, different

  • shapes, from having as few as 3 knobs to having over 200 knobs.

  • So once you've marked out your knobs you can begin to peck around those areas and actually

  • define the shape of your Carved Stone Ball. And you can keep working it until those knobs

  • are quite different shapes, some Carved Stone Balls have very shallow flat discs, other

  • ones have quite deep, rounded knobs. So you have a lot of working to do with pecking,

  • very delicate working on that surface.

  • This was something that stone workers potentially did over series of years, potentially generations

  • as you pass these balls from one generation to the other people might have added to the

  • design, reworked them, enhanced them in different ways. You realise it was a time consuming

  • process but something that the individual stone worker was really engaging with and

  • something that with each successive generation these objects became of more significance

  • to the actual person who held them and the person who was working them. A treasured biographies

  • of those generations that have passed before you.

  • Seeing someone actually make one of these objects and being able to handle a replica

  • in your hands gives you a much better insight into how special and how much time and energy

  • went into making these particular items. We're showing some really precious objects here

  • in the exhibition and they've been polished for hours on end, or they've been carefully

  • constructed from really thin pieces of sheet gold, or cast in bronze and seeing an insight

  • into that craftsmanship and the amount of skill and techniques that people had is really

  • eye opening and it brings a whole new dimension to seeing the actual objects.

  • Once you've achieved the basic shape you then have to return to grinding it again, and again

  • very difficult to sort of grind into all those crevices, but you'd probably take a very small

  • piece of sandstone and just work around those bosses and those knobs to grind that surface

  • smooth. And that's generally the finish we see, they didn't go to polish the surface

  • like we see with polished stone axes, they just ground it to a smooth finish.

  • And the very final stage is decorating the surface. And only about 40 Carved Stone Balls

  • out of 500 have decorated surfaces. And this involved the very fine incision of lines over

  • the surfaces. We see spiral designs, we see chevrons, we see concentric circles - we see

  • sort of Neolithic designs which are reminiscent of Passage Grave art that we typically find

  • in Ireland and up the West Coast of Britain into Orkney.

  • The Carved Stone Ball that's being recreated today is based on an example found at Old

  • Deer in Aberdeenshire, which is the real centre of the distributions of Carved Stone Balls.

  • Most of them come from the North East of Scotland, and this one is a particularly stunning example

  • because of the decoration on its surface. But we know very little about its discovery.

  • It was found, allegedly, in a Cairn and it first sort of came to the attention of antiquarians

  • in 1874 when it was shown to the Society of Antiquities of Scotland in Edinburgh and it

  • was published the following year. It wasn't until 1930 that it was donated to the British

  • Museum.

  • Seeing a Carved Stone Ball recreated really helps me understand that process of manufacturing

  • a Carved Stone Ball a little bit more. It really brings out the number of decisions

  • you have to make during that process of manufacturing it. And how slow that process is. And if we

  • think back to the past they weren't necessarily manufacturing Carved Stone Balls in one go,

  • this was potentially a process that was drawn out over many years potentially decades. It

  • might even be that things were decorated over generations where you began to change and

  • decorate that Carved Stone Ball in different ways. But what you realise is that the level

  • of detail and precision of thought that has to go into that process and that's what really

  • is just wonderful to see someone actually making a Carved Stone Ball.

  • If this film has piqued your interest about Carved Stone Balls you can come along and

  • see it and lots of other amazing objects at the British Museum exhibition here at Stonehenge

  • which runs until 21st April 2019. You can also click on the British Museum video to

  • find out more about the Carved Stone Ball.

Carved Stone Balls are some of the most enigmatic artefacts that we have in Scottish prehistory.

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How To Make A Carved Stone Ball | Stone Age Technology

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    Summer posted on 2020/10/27
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