Within the rolling green hills of Scotland lie thousands of ancient stones covered with mysterious glyphs. And, somehow, a near identical stone can be found hidden in the great Appalachians of North Carolina in the United States, near a mountain summit.
How can it be that the same symbols appear in both Prehistoric Scotland and North Carolina ? These symbols whisper a cryptic message to us from a forgotten time. Scholars and amateurs alike can only stare in wonder, scratching their heads and sputter myths and contradictory theories none of which have been satisfactorily explained.
Native Americans, Vikings, vanished races of giants, and early Christian explorers have all been proposed and rejected. But the fact remains, somebody in the distant past carved the same motifs into stone on separate continents.
The Judaculla Rock
The Judaculla Rock is the name locals give to an archaeological site in Jackson County, North Carolina. The stone itself is a massive boulder of soapstone, and is covered in petroglyphs.
The symbols are tightly packed together and include many stick-like figures, two strange seven-digit hand/claw prints, thousands of “cup marks,” as well as many other carvings. Soapstone has been utilized by humans for thousands of years across many cultures due to its softness, the fact it is not porous, and its heat absorption.
Soapstone absorbs heat, then radiates it slowly. Combined with the ease with which the stone can be worked, this makes it ideal for making pipes, cooking vessels , and hearth liners. The ancient Egyptians often made their precious scarab beetle amulets out of steatite, which is closely related to soapstone.
The Judaculla Rock. Note the cupmarks, the “boundary line” bottom right, and the two claw prints top left (QueenOfFrogs / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
The Legend Of Judaculla
The Judaculla Rock and surrounding area was considered sacred to the Cherokee Native Americans before their displacement. According to their oral tradition, Judaculla was a slant-eyed giant with seven fingers who lived in the area, and the stone was his territorial marker.
They believed the seven-digit claw marks are his hand prints and a long, straight line drawn on the rock was a boundary: cross that, and they were impeding onto his hunting territory. The Cherokee attributed him with superhuman strength and capabilities like flying or teleporting from mountaintop to mountaintop.
Scholars insist the Cherokee made the petroglyphs, and add that to suggest otherwise is offensive. However, the Cherokee themselves do not claim to have made the symbols. This academic contradiction crops up time and time again regarding anomalous megaliths and prehistoric cultures.
Indigenous people who have ancestral ties to a certain region have only myths and legends regarding their holy places , attributing them to fantastical creatures. Yet secular experts, looking at the situation with a pragmatic eye, will conclude otherwise: the ancestors of the indigenous people built these sites themselves.
The Stone Symbols of Scotland
Across the Atlantic, many more of these strange stone symbols can be found. Scotland contains a wealth of prehistoric stonework. Menhirs, dolmens, henges and cromlechs dot the landscape. And hundreds, if not thousands, of stones can be found engraved with identical cupmarks and cup and ring motifs to the Judaculla Rock.
Cupmarks in Scotland, very similar to Judaculla Rock ( George Currie )
Unlike in North Carolina, these symbols are plentiful, and new engravings are being discovered frequently. The Judaculla Rock on the other hand seems to be an isolated cultural motif. But something the Judaculla Rock and the Scottish stones have in common is the fact that their engravers are a mystery.
The same mistake in interpretation crops up in Scotland as North Carolina. Many researchers seek to associate the carvings with the medieval Picts, a cultural group who inhabited the region much later. As it was with the Cherokee, so it is with the Picts – these stones are much older than either culture.
The Pictish Stones
Who were the Picts? That unfortunately is not an easy question to answer. The problem arises from decades of inaccurate lumping together of two distinct cultures which, in recent decades, have been determined to be radically different and distant in time.
Edinburgh University researcher Gilbert Markus, an expert in Celtic and Gaelic Cultures, tackles this issue in what he coins the “Ethnic Fallacy.” In brief, this land was originally inhabited by a culture that far predates the Picts, but who have not been considered separate until recently.
The term Pict itself is an exonym (meaning a name that was given to a culture from external sources) and this came from the Romans as a derogatory term for the people living in the region around the third century AD. But the many megalithic structures and most importantly, the strange cupmarks and cup and ring symbols, are as much as 3,000 to 5,000 years old.
And it has been definitively established by mainstream scholars that the later culture did not stem from the earlier. The earlier culture, contemporaneous with the thousands of carvings, remains very mysterious. But we do know that this civilization’s heart was in Orkney.
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney is a World Heritage Site, a wonderous cluster of archaeological sites dating from 3180 BC to 2500 BC. These sites, especially Skara Brae , are peculiar due to the proportions of some of the buildings. Eight subterranean dwellings have been discovered at the site with doorways, beds, and ceilings apparently designed for some very little people.
Interior of a dwelling at Skara Brae (Daniel Bordeleau / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
The doorways and beds barely reach 4 feet (1.2 meters), and so it seems that the inhabitants were diminutive in stature. In other words, these were little folk living underground.
The Standing Stones of Stenness are a nearby collection of twelve enormous standing stones reaching nearly 20 feet (6 meters) tall, around a central hearth stone. This ancient henge predates Stonehenge, and there is a growing consensus amongst scholars that this may be the oldest henge in Britain.
The Ring of Brodgar is another spellbinding site within this Neolithic cluster, containing an astonishing thirteen artificial mounds (not properly excavated) alongside thirty to sixty more gigantic standing stones, all astronomically aligned.
The final site in this collection is Maeshowe, a supposed burial chamber or burial mound, containing massive stones and prehistoric runic inscriptions. All these sites are connected by a series of “low roads.” Could they have been built by the same dwarfish people who inhabited Skara Brae?
Trows, Trolls, Dwarves, And The Clurichauns
Cultural beliefs in ancient races of little people are reasonably common and widespread. Such people often possess supernatural abilities, a mischievous disposition, and guard hoards of treasure. Neighboring Ireland (which also contains similar megalithic mysteries) has probably the most well-known example of this with its Leprechauns.
Close behind is Iceland, whose modern citizens are often ridiculed for their persistent beliefs in the existence of little elves living in the countryside. In Scotland, the Trow are said to be a nocturnal race of diminutive, hairy, and generally malevolent hominids. They are fond of music, have a bad habit of kidnapping people, and live in “trowie knowes” which are dwellings beneath earthen mounds.
There are also the Scottish Clurichaun, essentially the same as the Irish Leprechaun. Indeed, there is much overlap between these various traditions, and the general Scandinavian tales of dwarves, trolls, or elves. They are all little folk, they steal treasure, and they like a drink. And they did find processed barley within the ruins of Skara Brae.
Another puzzling feature of this Orkney site is the structure known as Maeshowe. There is little consensus on what this structure is: a chambered cairn, a cromlech, or a tomb? Besides the surprising precision of design and astronomical alignment , Maeshowe is renowned for the thirty or so runic inscriptions in its interior chamber.
Maeshowe (Fantoman400 / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
These runic symbols are known to be Nordic in origin. But strangely, they are found nowhere else in as dense a concentration as at this site in Scotland. These were discovered in 1861, during the haphazard excavations by the Parliament Member and antiquarian, James Farrer.
The prevailing belief is that these runic inscriptions are “ Viking graffiti ” dating from the 12th century AD, when Vikings allegedly raided the chamber for treasure. As a theory it does not stand much scrutiny.
If Maeshowe is a tomb (and it may very well have been), where are the human remains? How can it even be determined that Vikings were responsible for these inscriptions? And if they plundered Maeshowe, why did they opt to leave so many other structures of Neolithic Orkney undisturbed? This theory asks us to believe that Viking raiders attacked the site, looted and vandalized Maeshowe, and then left without checking the other structures.
Could it be more likely that a culture out of the Norse tradition established themselves in Orkney, and they were responsible for all the Neolithic stonework, including the thousands of enigmatic cupmarks and cup and ring symbols?
Gaelic traditions of both Ireland and Scotland make references to the original settlers of the islands. who are identified as the “Fomorians.” The etymology of this word is fairly uncertain, but in Old Irish “fo” means below, or under, or nether, and the Old Irish “mor” means enormous or great.
The Fomorians, John Duncan, 1912 (John Duncan / Public Domain )
This has led to the interpretation that the Fomorians were underworld giants. This name also fits with the mythology, as in the tales they are regarded as giants that live in the nether realms beneath the land and or the sea.
In later texts they are often depicted as oceanic voyagers who conduct malevolent seafaring raids. They are also portrayed as having anthropomorphic features like the head of a goat, or in other instances, they are described as having only one eye .
Anyone with a passing interest in Norse mythology will see the parallel between these Fomorians and the Jotunn of Norse mythology, enemies of the Aesir of Asgard. But there are other, perhaps more tenuous theories. For example the seventeenth century Catholic priest, poet, and historian Geoffrey Keating, in his work The History of Ireland , claimed that the Fomorians were Eurasian seafarers descended from Ham, the son of Noah in the Bible.
More Norse Parallels
The Fomorians are almost always mentioned in direct connection to another group, the “Tuatha De Danann.” This phrase translates to “the folk of the goddess Danu,” and they are also referred to as the “Tuath De” meaning, “the tribe of the gods.”
The Tuatha De Danann are certainly mythological. Like the Fomorians, they are believed to live underground in the subterranean realm , although they do breach the surface occasionally to interact with regular mortals. They were said to have immortal lifespans, perform heroic deeds, and were regarded as royalty on account of their divine ancestry.
Of most interesting note is that they were closely associated with the megalithic structures of Ireland and Gaelic Scotland – the menhirs, dolmens, henges, cromlechs, and passage tombs. According to tradition they used these as portals into other realms.
They feuded with the Fomorians, but also interbred with them, another clear echo of the Norse tradition of the Aesir and the Jotunn. Could these heroic, immortal, magical people be the Neolithic Orkney interpretation of the gods of Asgard?
Tantalizing Clues But Nothing More
As usual, free-thinking researchers are left with more questions than answers. Could it be that some archaic Neolithic culture emanated from Scandinavia, radiating south in waves of migration, taking their stone carving symbolism with them?
Why are such ancient carvings so similar across the world? ( George Currie )
Why is it that, time and again, this most ancient stonework is said to have not been built by men? Whether it’s a seven-fingered giant in North Carolina, or little people in Scotland, these ancient structures are held in the oral tradition to be the work of fantastical creatures.
Such races often possess extraordinary capabilities, and in the case of Orkney, this seems to be validated by the genius of construction and astronomical alignment. Are all of these races myths?
It is tempting to dismiss such notions, concluding instead that because the stonework is so ancient it inspires fanciful tales. Similarly you could conclude that the cupmarks and cup and ring symbols found in wildly differing locations are somehow universal human expressions.
But these explanations, neat as they may be, do not hold water scientifically. We would do better to look at what is known – that in various, seemingly unrelated, cultures across the planet we find unexpected parallels in these mysterious stone carvings. And these come with similar stories of the people who carved them, fantastical races now lost to time.
At the very least this provides us with anthropological clues of cultural diffusion in the distant past. But to go further, we could ask the question: why is the traditional explanation for such sites treated so lightly?
Top image: Petroglyphs of Scotland, found in Lurgan by George Currie. Source: George Currie
By Mark A. Carpenter
Carey, John. “Fomoiri”, The Celts: History, Life, and Culture. Edited by John T. Koch. ABC-CLIO, 2012. p.355
Carey, John. “Tuath Dé”, The Celts: History, Life, and Culture. Edited by John T. Koch. ABC-CLIO, 2012. pp.751-753
Childe, V.; Paterson, J.; Thomas, Bryce (30 November 1929). “ Provisional Report on the Excavations at Skara Brae, and on Finds from the 1927 and 1928 Campaigns. With a Report on Bones “. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
MacCulloch, John Arnott. The Religion of the Ancient Celts. The Floating Press, 2009. pp.80, 89, 91.
Smith, Nicole; Gareth Beale; Julian Richards; Nela Scholma-Mason (2018). ” Maeshowe: The Application of RTI to Norse Runes “. Internet Archaeology. 47.