The Carved Stone Ball

About carved stone balls

Molly Bond with the carved stone ball she found in Structure Ten in August 2013. (Sigurd Towrie)
2013: Molly Bond with the carved stone ball she found in Structure Ten. (📷 Sigurd Towrie)

Over 500 carved stone balls have been found in Scotland. Roughly the size of an orange and each distinctively decorated, they were made in the Neolithic and no one knows why.

There have been many suggestions over the years – weapons, projectiles, weights – but the problem is they are comparatively rare and you don’t find them at all sites – settlement or otherwise.

If they had a purely practical function we’d expect to be finding them in the same quantities as other tools. They are usually in very good condition so clearly have not been used for anything that would inflict wear and tear.

Although many are plain, a few are extremely ornate, perhaps the finest example being the Towie Ball from Aberdeenshire.

Although we can’t fathom out their function, one thing is abundantly clear – they were made with considerable skill and patience. They sit beautifully in the hand. A portal to the past.

The Ness ball

The Ness carved stone ball is significant because it was found in a secure archaeological context. The vast majority recovered to date were found by chance as dislocated finds across Britain, but with an apparent concentration in north-east Scotland.

The Ness carved stone ball in situ within Structure Ten. (ORCA)
2013: The Ness carved stone ball in situ within Structure Ten. (📷 ORCA)

Our carved stone ball was found on August 7, 2013, under the north-east buttress of Structure Ten.

It was one of four objects placed under the buttresses added during the remodelling of the building’s central chamber.

These had been deliberately placed so their inclusion has to have been deemed significant in some way.

What that significance was is now lost to us, although it may be that they might constitute something like foundation deposits for the rebuilt structure.

The Ness ball is heavy and made from camptonite, from one of Orkney’s igneous rock dykes. Because camptonite is very hard, it would have taken some time, and a great deal of patience, to carve.

The ball has six projections and one of the pleasures in handling it is deciding whether it is formed of three groups of two or two groups of three! It is truly a delight to behold.


Further reading