Farne Islands Underwater Rock Art?


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.




9 Responses to Farne Islands Underwater Rock Art?

  1. Derek says:


    Is there any pictures of the rock online – since it was removed from the underwater site

    Also you mentioned that there is a number of underwater lines in the vicinity of the rock that could be natural formations

    Did anyone make a survey of these lines?

    The square block pattern is a petroglyph seen in the southwest USA, Irkutsk in Russia and also in Tasmania.

    The specific feature that links the three sites is the square patterns in the petroglyphs are irregular with the direction of the lines constantly changing.

  2. Derek says:

    In the underwater video…there seems to be a drawing of a birdman?

    Is the “drawing” an underwater plant?

    It seems I cannot upload the picture….but the video link is

    The figure appears in the second half of the video

  3. Hi Hobsonish,

    No problem, we are a public museum not a secret service! Give me a ring on 0191 2225946 or email g.t.goodrick@ncl.ac.uk. Anyone else is obviously welcome too.

    No convincing parallels have been identified so far. The grooves are incised, one following a natural fault plane. The stone is local whinstone, very hard (and very heavy!)

    I was sceptical of how white the lines where, but this appears to be encrustation, not present on the more exposed surfaces. I am convinced it is not a hoax, it has been in the sea a long time, and the chance of it’s accidental discovery in its remote location must have been incredibly small, you could swim 30cm away and not see it.

    If it is a gaming board it must have been used with the stone set in the ground or a structure as it is impossible to stand it up independently. I don’t think this would have been the first choice of stone for a gaming board.

    Any suggestion gratefully received.

    Glyn Goodrick

  4. hobsonish says:

    It made it into the local newspaper.

    I might get time to try and go have a look if Mr Goodrick lets the hoi polloi have a gander.

  5. Ben Burville says:

    Well. I have to say that having spoken to Chris Burgess the Northumberland County Archaeologist the rock has presented something of a mystery.
    The general thoughts are along the lines of something old. Possibly notb prehistoric as they think the lines must have been etched with a metal implement ??
    As yet no-one seems to know and other experts are looking.

  6. GraemeC says:

    ………….Shows what i know 🙂

  7. rockartuk says:

    On 24th May, I received the following e-mail from Ben Burville:

    Dear All,
    Apologies for the group email.
    Yesterday afternoon the “mysterious stone” was raised from the seabed off the Farne Islands, Northumberland.
    Prior to lifting it was seen “in-situ” by Glyn Goodrick, archaeologist (& diver) at Newcastle university.

    For anyone wishing to see it or liaise with Glyn the stone has been taken today to the Museum at Newcastle.

    It looks very old indeed! – Definitely NOT a ballast stone or a gaming board and definitely man-made!

    Best regards,
    Ben Burville.


  8. rockartuk says:

    Hi Greame,
    I agree with you but since this was the first “underwater” experience, I thought it was worthwhile to keep the responses of the rock art group.
    More for the record and not because this “pattern” had anything to do with the rock art tradition as we know it.
    So I’ll follow your suggestion and put that ? in the title.
    With wet greetings,

  9. GraemeC says:

    is it worth putting a question mark at the end of the title for this post.

    If its not a hoax (it looks a bit ‘fresh’ to me) then i cannot see it being of any great age as the lines would not be visible after a short time on the sea bed.
    I doesn’t look like prehistoric rockart ?

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