Shoreside cups, bait mortars etc


I was out doing a little beachcombing yesterday and came across these

There were quite a few of them scattered amongst the weed along the intertidal zone. My best guess is that these marks are caused by limpets, possibly aided by wave action. It got me thinking about the cups that I’d been shown at Barraglom on the Isle of Lewis by the wonderful Margaret Curtis.

I’ve also read of similar small shoreside cups being used as bait mortars. The problem I have with this is that the cups I’ve seen are quite small and would probably not be very good as mortars, plus, why would you need so many? one mortar should suffice. Larger cups or basins yes but perhaps not the little fellas.

So basically all I want to do is throw these limpet marks plus a little erosion into the arena as another possible cause of cupmarks in the intertidal zone.  Of course this theory would probably only work with sedimentary rocks. The rock in my picture is a Jurassic mudstone.




7 Responses to Shoreside cups, bait mortars etc

  1. Excellent site, keep up the good work

  2. richard kell says:

    There are cups, flat bottomed hollows and vertical drainage fissures in Northumberland that fascinate me yet others have not picked up on them …….

  3. GraemeC says:

    Mr fitz said
    ” guess I’m just muddying the waters a little…………..”

    I was going to ask how big those rings are, but i can just see a limpet hiding under the sea weed. so i guess they are the culprits – the shell rubbing against soft rock – but for how long to make rings like that?

    On the crotagan front i have kept my eyes open for anything that might relate to them, and to my mind i doubt very few of them had a ‘practical’ use.
    I would suggest instead that they were used in the past in connection with the folk customs of these areas -where people relied on the sea for their livelihood.
    Its worth noting the rock cut basin called the ‘well of the south wind’ on the island of colonsay, where it was believed that placing an offering in the basin would produce a favourable wind for a journey by sea.
    The term Bait ‘mortar’ also sounds suspiciously like the Alf-kvarnar or Elf ‘mill’ of Scandinavia and Iceland – the name given to hollows in rocks where offerings were left for the alfar spirits.

    The Saami also make offerings of fish oil on rocks, hoping to ensure a good catch of fish, with these offering take place at the good fishing locations – which ties in with the comments in Jan’s article.

    Further a field in Alaska, cup marked boulders are found on beaches and are thought to be connected with offerings and ceremonies promoting the annual migration of salmon along the coastal waters, which the native people relied heavily upon.
    (very imformative book on this, called- Spirit in the stone by joy inglis)

    My guess is the use of the Scottish crotagans span a long period and in some cases they may have been placed on rocks that were covered at high tide (to let the sea take the offerings?)
    As Ronald Morris noted -“In Argyll and its isles the pagan gods are not so long dead.”

  4. rockrich says:

    It’s probably worth throwing Pholadidae (Piddocks) into the mix also. These things gather in clusters, usually on soft-ish stone and grind their way into the rock. Depending on the species and rock hardness, they leave behind tubular holes or cup-like depressions.

  5. fitzcoraldo99 says:

    Cheers for the info Jan.
    The photo was taken on my local beach, Saltburn, where these marks are quite common along with various other types of cups of natural origin.
    I know what you mean George, I definitely believe that the hand of man is involved in many of the known examples, especially Barraglom with it’s connected cups and ‘proto pictish’ mirror motif.
    I guess I’m just muddying the waters a little and speculating on the origins of groups of small cups found within the intertidal zone.
    I’m fortunate enough to live close to a beach, rocks and a pier and I’ve never see a sea fisherman ‘grind bait’, shellfish, bait fish, lugworms and small crabs don’t really require much preparation.

  6. Geo Cur says:

    Interesting Fitz and thanks for the info Jan.
    It is a problem although must say that those I have seen do look the real thing, particularly Barraglom with it’s conjoined cups.
    BTW I thought Kirkibost is totally natural .


  7. rockartuk says:

    Hi Gavin,
    Thanks for the wake-up call with regard to the strange phenomena on our shores.
    In 2007, I prepared a paper on the bait-holes, mortars and crotagans.
    I still have to finish/edit it but there is some information there:
    BTW, where (name nearest village, gridref?) was your photo taken?

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