In February 2007 we received an e-mail from Ben Burville. Here’s an abstract:
The really interesting thing is that this rock is 20ft (7m) underwater off the Farne Islands, Northumberland! I am a medical doctor with a passion for diving with marine mammals, notably seals. I was diving off the Farnes with seals and after about an hour in one place (!) “playing” with seals I noticed a rock on the sea floor. The rock had a grid type pattern carved into it (to a depth of 1-2mm) and this grid pattern caught my eye as something man-made and not a natural feature. I took a photo at a later date and sent it to a local archaeology department who are interested and at the same time I feel somewhat unsure of exactly what it is! The site is a few miles off shore, there are certainly no signs of human activity in the area (eg builings / light houses etc). It is at the base of a rock formation that forms part of the outer Farnes. The rock seems to be the same as the local rock in the same vacinity. The lines are etched to a depth of approximately 1-2mm.
I saw no other markings. I have tried to be very objective and indeed have seen linear lines occurring in nature in some of the underwater rocks off the Farne Islands, but not with the right angles / grid pattern, which does appear very unnatural. This short underwater video clip useful:
The “find” stands approximately 25cms proud of the sea-bed. It is buried to an unknown depth.
I would “guesstimate” the depth to be approximately another 20-25cms – As I can move it slightly. The rock itself has been subject to erosion (sea worn edges) but perhaps escaped a prolonged period in the “break / surf” zone having broken off from the rock above?
Have a chat with your colleague and let me know what you think. Speak soon. Ben.
I e-mailed the rock art group and asked for their opinions. Here are their responses:
Stan Beckensall said:
1. Some thoughts about this. It does look like a gaming board. The position is close to where the monks of Farne
would have had a secondary home in Anglian times. Is it whinstone, as that is what the Farnes are made of? As it is not in situ, might it have come off a ship?
2. Another thought is that the lines look as though they have been incised and not pecked. Sailors used this
technique in their art to draw ships. I can’t help feeling (totally subjective) that we are dealing with something fairly recent. Not prehistoric.
Brian Kerr said:
Just been looking at the underwater rocks, I am not too convinced. I do not think the scratches or marks have any age to them. I would not expect to see the lighter coloured marks standing out from the main rock surface, they, if having any age at all, would be weathered with the same colour as the rest of the rock surface. So I am not keen, perhaps a fake, someone dumping rocks, who knows, but i am not convinced they have any life about them.
Jan Brouwer said:
It looks like a gaming board but its hard to tell because its the first time I see something like this. Although man-made, it does not match any know grid patterns associated with prehistoric rock art.
Ian Hobson said:
They’re artificial, but they’ve no patina in the marks. Surely they must be modern? But I can’t think what would prompt someone to do this.
Outer Farne would have been above land in the mesolithic, indeed there are flint scatters in situ below the water off Tynemouth that have been found by diving archaeologists. But surely there’d be patination on the grooves since then, even if they’d been covered by sand for most of that time. And to be honest, if they were all that old, I’d think the sand may have scoured the stone, though you never know, those flint scatters survived, and if the marks had
been buried in enough sand, it might have stopped oxygen getting to the stone to cause patination.
But if they are ancient, they are very ancient. Much older than the Cup-and-Ring stuff.
George Currie said:
I didn’t get back to you on the Lindisfarne underwater chess board as I don’t have a clue , not a fake as far as the diver was concerned but what it is?
Paul Bennett said:
The only thing this reminds me of is what archaeologists tentatively described as a “gaming board” that was found in the outer walling of Dun Chonallaich, the Iron Age hillfort in Argyll (NM 854036). Understandably, they found it difficult to date with any accuracy and simply said it was of an “early historic date” – whatever that means! Chonallaich was used up until the 10th century and it seems likely – to me at least – that the linear carved stone is closer to that date than anything prehistoric. (Ref.: Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll, volume 6, HMSO 1988, pp.160-61.)
I stuck an entry of it on TMA a few years back – http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/6226 .
As you’ll see, the linear carved rock isn’t exactly like the underwater one, but it’s all I could think of. The erosion on the underwater one seems less than this probable 10th century carving. So I couldn’t be of any more help.
Les Knight said:
During glacial episodes sea levels were up to more than 130 m below present day sea level. Most of the southern North Sea was dry land so it is feasible that rock art could have been done on land and now be below sea level. It will all depends on the date of the work.
I thought it would be good to have this inquiry filed on the blog just in case other examples show up. Thanks for your efforts to react.