Orthostat, Mound of Hostages

Hi Folks,

I have been exchanging emails with Sean Keir Moriarty, he asked for some information on the project he was working on, and asked if he could use some of my images to perhaps link to his theories. His theory is an interesting one, i guess it is one that you have all thought about at previous times. I am not up on all things Irish, but i wondered if any of you have any ideas?., ie the carvings relate to the land , and are more of a map of how the area used to look with all the various burial mounds etc in place.

After looking at lots of my images he is wondering if there is a similar relationship to the carvings we all look at on the mainland and can we use the same ideas as he as used on Tara?. I told Sean that if anyone could add anything on the ideas then you guys are probably the best ones to ask..

Take a read at the PDF file Sean has put together, i guess a few might alreay have read it..

Orthostat, The Mound of the Hostages

Cheers Brian.


29 Responses to Orthostat, Mound of Hostages

  1. rockartuk says:

    When it comes to chronology of prehistoric rock art, I found Clive Waddington’s article on the Hunterheugh excavation in 2004 very useful:

  2. rockartuk says:

    Hi Mascot,
    Welcome to the bog!
    I support your multi-meaning theory.
    Stan Beckensall and many others have always argued that the meaning of the motifs could have changed over time.
    As a Dutch strip hero said to his clever friend Tom Poes (Cat): “The best thing to do is to enlarge the riddle!”

  3. Mascot says:

    Newbie on the site so treat me gentle 🙂

    Re the whole thing on Cups, can’t see why both/many theories may be right.

    I have a tea cup and home and there is a silver cup in the local church.

    Both are cups but the last time I checked my tea cup wasn’t being used in rituals (mind you one of my kids friends is a goth so it is possible…….).

    On the cognitive stuff “cup” can generate a tree of meanings from one root word.


  4. Geo Cur says:

    Hi Graeme ,
    earliest dates appear to be Lower Paleolithic. e.g. Chattan India .

  5. Graemec says:

    Think yer right hob, probably hasn’t been what Sean was looking for, but it also
    shows theres no easy answer to what cup and ring carvings are about.

    Perhaps more relevant might be the native Ozy dot paintings (originally
    ceremonial sand paintings?) with cup and ring like motifs, which have been
    described as mythological maps. On one level the motifs represent actual
    locations where important dreamtime events occurred. However they cannot be
    regard as geographical maps as the layout of the motifs on the paintings do not
    match the geographical location of the sites. so its more of a ‘mental map’ condensed to portray the key elements in the story. Tara?…who knows ?

    Btw hob i wasn’t disagreeing with you over the neurological origins/aspect to rock art, the native american ethnography stuff shows this clearly and details how they got
    into altered states through fasting and exhaustion etc.
    However the humble cup mark looks to go way back (cups on a slab over a neanderthal burial in France?) and it would not suprise me if it turns out the blighters walked out of africa with the folks on one of the waves of migrations!

  6. Hob says:

    Bugger. Thought I was logged in there. Obviously not.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wey Bri, if he was unsure about making comments, I dunno if after reading the splurbling about ritual, perceptions and cultural developments etc here, he might be more aversive or less. If the former, then here I go digging the hole a bit deeper:

    Graeme, you’ve a valid point, (I’ll never willingly miss up an opportunity to overintellectualise owt, I can easy go on for half an hour on the implications of stirring a cup of tea. ..) but I can’t help but think that there’s something about the shared aspects of human brains present in RA. I suspect there’s more to it than the similarities twixt the passage grave art and entoptics (Be they trance induced, migraine induced or whatever). I reckon most, if not all, human behaviour is ultimately the result of neurons doing what neurons do. I can’t help it, I was brainwashed by Scientists.

    I don’t see that the idea of ritualist ancestor orientated underworldy convo needs to be mutually exclusive with the neuro/socio angles. Like Rich’s raising of the gratuitously abstract nature of the stuff that we think of as ‘proper’ rock art (you know, CnRs, none of that suspicious rupestran malarky). I’m comfy with the idea that the cup predates the more complex stuff. That the cup may have been contemporary with the Cresswellian stuff, but that there was a howking great gap between the first appearance of cups and the first appearance of the complex stuff. With cup production surviving in the record after the figurative stuff escaped the caves onto wood/skin/etc. It’s also a bit wierd that the ceramics are pretty much deviod of the abstract style CnR motifs and the figurative stuff. I have no evidence to base this on whatsoever, and refuse to even start to try and wangle the availble facts to fit the hypothesis. I reckon as long as I can stay free of the ratchet effect in my thinking, I’ll not succumb to Aspinalite tendencies.

    Right. I’ll shut me trap for now, as I’m quite aware that I’m not really making all that much sense, but I do so enjoy waffling about this stuff , please feel free to tell me if I’m making a tit of myself 🙂

  8. rockartwolf says:

    Hi George,

    To be honest i did invite Sean along before i posted, but he was a little unsure about making any comments.

  9. rockrich says:

    Heck Suz you’re right…on reading my post back, its up there with David Aspinalls best efforts 🙂

  10. Geo Cur says:

    Does Sean have anything to say re comments ?

  11. Pebs says:


  12. rockrich says:

    Rr Rrrii rrriii riitt riiitttuua….rrriiittuuuaaatradition – can’t do it, soz Graeme!

    Can I invent a new word ‘traditual’ which is a mixture of ‘ritual’, but has a smattering of ‘tradition’ (not sure how it’ll differ from ritual in this context) and ‘practical’ thrown in? Here’s the complication though, depending where and when the carvings were made, there’s a weighting system applied to how much sway ‘ritual’ ‘tradition’ (still muddied with ‘ritual’) and ‘practical’ have, which nobody actually knows…but the underlying theory still pushes towards ‘ritual’ on the probability factor applied from the only likely comparators we have – ethnographic evidence. Done deal? 😉

    Joking aside, I’m with you all the way. Most of my wayward theories and hypothesising smack of ritualistic activities i.e. incomplete rings and fissures, randomly placed cups, cists covers faced down, solution holes and cups…on and on

    Interesting Hob sir, although quite difficult for a thick Yorkshire get like misen to comprehend, but are you suggesting the use of cups, possibly – could – might have developed at a certain point of comparative advancement (probably wrong word) in particular cultures…or stick wrong end of, me has 🙂

    The stylistic transition from the representational art of the Upper Paleothic – Mesolithic (or equivalent of) to the stylised efforts, which usually coincide with yon pastoralists appearing is something that intrigues me greatly. There seems to be a collective change in thought process in cultures around the world of, ‘right, now I’m growing, gathering crops / fruits and me cows are outside……where’s me brush, I’ll draw myself with a triangular head, a massive hand and nadger, plus I might daub a cross between a stag and Bella Emburg, where’s our shaman b*ggered off to’.

    I often find myself contemplating the in-betweeny bits of Cresswell Crags and the accepted periods of CnR scribings – didn’t they bother drawing/carving, was it wood only, hasn’t it been found yet??

    Doubt I’ve painted myself in glory, but not for the first time eh 🙂

  13. Graemec says:

    Rich, Rich, Rich, take a deep breath and repeat after me …..ritual, ritual, ritual, ritual, ritual, rit………
    You have to embrace the word, savour it. 🙂
    How about – Rock markings made during some form of ceremony or ritual?
    I have a fiver riding on this, betting that eventually this is the conclusion the archaeologists will come up with and it will be based on analogy with practices in other cultures.

  14. Graemec says:

    Hell teeth Mr Hob – your on form there, but that was way over my head (i think?) and possibly in danger of over intellectualising something that was perhaps quite a simple concept – cutting the rock.
    All I’m doing is reading a few books which have details about why other cultures make rock carvings and pictographs, and it seems the basic idea/belief behind it is always the same – contact with the spirit world or tapping the supernatural potency of a sacred site.
    I’m betting my fiver that’s what was going on at Britain’s petroglyph sites, but its only a hypothesis and it needs testing. I think with the right approach there maybe aspects about the sites that could lend support to this interpretation.

    Sounds like Rich was nearly sick when I mentioned the ‘R’ word

  15. rockrich says:

    Tee hee Mr C, me bait, surely not….I’d take your fiver, and throw in a packet of tomato flavoured Snaps and a Bazooka Joe on you being right.

    As much as I hate the terms ‘ritual’ and ‘ritualistic’ due to their ‘we don’t really know’ connotations, I’m sure they’ll be valid for some – most rock art. I’ll continue to use ‘tradition’ for everything relating to rock arty though 😉

  16. Hobsonish says:

    PS, ‘Form ground’ should be ‘figure ground’, like in those optical illusions where the silhouette of a candlestick is also two opposing human faces in profile.

  17. Hobsonish says:

    Eyup Graeme, that’s the closest thing I’ve seen in a while to someone actually sticking their head up above the parapet regarding the meaning of the CnRs. And I’m just in the mood for a bit of pontification, so:

    Have you ever gone down the cognitive archaeology route of theorising? I’m thinking there’s something in what you say, at least as far as the form (specifically the simple cup). My half baked idea for this week is one that harkens back to Jan’s old ‘Cup or Bub’ page on RABL. In the sense that whatever the common cultural currency was, it will have had a shared neurological basis. What I’m getting at is that I think they represent the recogntion/emergence of a particular way of thinking that involved a sort of cognitive fluidity that could be achieved with the use of a hemispherical depression to illustrate the form-ground phenomenon that the ‘cup or bub’ concept has at it’s root. Almost related to Rene Magritte’s ‘the Human condition’. Alternatively described as an awareness that the reality fed to us by our senses is not the objective nature of the world around us, but just an artefact of our thought processes. Whether or not this would involve ‘ritual’ is another thing altogether. But for my mind, I’ll be uncharacteristically unverbose, and say ‘Probably’ 🙂

    And before you mention it Rich, that’s over 160 words 😉

  18. rockartuk says:

    Hey guys….cheer-up! This quest is as old as the recognition that the motifs were ‘ancient sculpturings’ around 1850.
    ‘Meaning’ as much as ‘function’ (chicken and egg) will remain a challenge!
    For a modest historical overview, see the following rockart-icle:

  19. Graemec says:

    Hey rich – stop baiting me 🙂
    50 words – no chance – Its way too big a topic.

    But i would bet a fiver (wow) that Britains cup and ring rock carvings were just an expression of the same ancient cultural beliefs that have been recorded around the world in connection with this form of rock marking.
    And in that sense its not so much what they mean as what function did they serve.

    Would you agree with calling them (prechristian) ritual markings?

  20. Geo Cur says:

    Buttony is obviously related to Milton Keynes and taking the third turn off at the fifth roundabout .

  21. rockrich says:

    so Mr C, what do the carvings mean then – in less then 50 words 😉

  22. Graemec says:

    ………..cup-cakes maybe? 🙂

  23. Pebs says:

    ……did someone mention baking? No? Oh.

  24. Cupstones says:

    ………did someone mention half baked theories? 🙂
    As i tried to point out in the PRANYM book, there’s enough detailed and mutually supportive information about cup and ring rock carvings, as a global phenomena (with its origins in hunter gatherer beliefs) to dispell any real mystery about them.
    Using that information as a ‘lens’ through which to view British and Irish sites would perhaps be a more useful exercise.
    Then again, maybe some people prefer to keep the ‘mystery of the carvings’ and call it ‘ART’ rather than research the subject in depth?

  25. rockartwolf says:

    Like i said Hob….i can take a decent photo…i am crap at Knapping…so i might just leave the half baked theories to everyone else.lol

  26. Hob says:

    Looking at Mr Moriarty’s overlays, he seems to be making quite a few leaps of faith. Like picking up on a pennanular as an alleged representation of a causeway in ramparts. The other ramparts had causeways, so why aren’t all of the rings on the carved stone possessed of gaps? Other bits and bobs just don’t seem to match up either, monumenta that have rings are represented as cups and monuments without concentric features have them on the carved stone. Plus in the same carved feature, the bit meant to be An Forradh has all these rings for the ramparts, whilst Tech Cormaic has just a measley bump on a ring.

    I’m sceptical Brian. Been on many similar lines of thought with the Northumbrian stuff, and none of them have sttod up to srutiny. But that’s half the fun for me, means you have to come up with another half-baked theory to replace the ones which fall by the wayside 🙂

  27. rockartwolf says:

    Thanks guys,
    i was correct when i said i didn’t know alot about the irish subject matter..

    i’ll stick to my camera and my flash..lol

  28. Geo Cur says:

    Hi Brian , I have seen Sean’s stuff on MoH before and don’t think it stands up at all . The motifs are common currency (with the exception of the X ) of passage grave rock art you would expect that the meanings attached to those motifs would be applicable elsewhere and ultimately many other maps might be “deciphered ” but luckily it’s only one for the moment , I look forward to the contortions of landscape , prehistoric periods and monuments that will be needed to make them fit .
    There is a huge amount of global rock art some of which does represent sites and paths connecting them but there is nothing that I have seen of european abstract rock art that has convincingly been shown to be a map of the local topography or sky . In those areas where there are more than one marked rock the similarities between motifs would show a “mapping ” , if they were maps ,this hasn’t been noted either . I have avoided a critique of the ” MoH stone as map ” as that is not what Sean is asking about , but would be glad to give one if need be .

    cheerie George

  29. rockartuk says:

    Thanks for posting Brian!
    For those of you who like endless unguided discussions it might be good to take a look at the arguments exchanged between Sean and Mr Fourwinds on the Stonepages forum:
    I’m not prepared to join!

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