WORK OF SOCIETIES, &c., Various Contributors (Feb., 1895), pp.116-120.

SOCIETY OF ANTIQUARIES OF SCOTLAND (15th January). – Mr. F. R. Coles read a record of incised cup and ring sculptures in Kirkcudbrightshire, with illustrations drawn to actual size of several of the more complicated and interesting examples. In all, he said, there were thirteen groups of these markings, comprising 49 separate surfaces. The largest circle yet found was 27 inches in diameter. Mr. D. Haggart, Killin, communicated a note on and sketches of similar markings at Duncrosk, Glenlochy, found on a rock surface, and having many cups and few rings. The Rev. J. B. Mackenzie, Kenmore, also sent a notice, wi th photographs, of a similarly sculptured boulder on the Braes of Balloch, near Taymouth Castle, about 1000 feet above sea-level. It had about 15 cup and ring marks. Dr. Joseph Anderson, in course of a survey of the question of these cup and ring marks, referred to a paper in the Smithsonian publications in 1884 as containing an excellent summary of all the knowledge existing on the subject. An artificial origin ought not to be accepted unless clearly indicated. It was unwise to limit nature; and there were numerous very extraordinary formations. Some markings, very like cup markings, on rocks by the sea shore were holes for keeping bait! Others, on hillsides, near old dwellings, characterised by the straightness of the sides and the roundness of the bottoms, were, in his opinion, stationary knocking stones in which the Highlanders prepared their barley. There were traditional explanations in Sweden of the putting of fat into these cups, but that only showed that the meaning of the thing was unknown. Cup marks were found in all kinds of places; in Prussia, on the walls of churches; in Scotland, on tombstones, on boulders, in stone circles and earth houses. They appeared to have been in use until after the Roman times, however long before. On the whole matter, no clear conclusion was yet possible; there was nothing for us to do but to go on collecting examples and bide our time until, with the discovery of some decisive clue, the light comes. Dr. Munro mentioned that in Brittany, near Carnac, he had seen a grave slab with 70 cup markings on its underside. The fourth paper was by Mr. McCombie Smith, on Recent Antiquarian Research in Glenshee. It was an account of the examination of a mound on the farm of Tomb, Glenbeg, Glenshee*, the reputed grave of Diarmid the Fingalian hero. No signs of any interment were found. The meeting was perilously near hilarity over Dr. Anderson’s drily humorous description of his finding, on a hot summer day, Mr. Smith and an antiquarian colleague, with their coats off, hard at work, in an excavation 15 feet deep, of their own cutting, into the bowels of the alleged grave. The last contribution was by Dr. William Frazer, Dublin, being a note on a bronze medallion portrait of Oliver Cromwell similar to the bust of the Dunbar medal, struck by order of Parliament by Thomas Simon early in 1651. The medallion was exhibited, but the meeting regarded with considerable doubt Dr. Frazer’s opinion that it was Simon’s work, there being marked differences in its design as contrasted with the Dunbar medal.”

* Location of the farm of Tomb from www.heritagepaths.co.uk, Map option: Historic – OS One Inch, 1885-1900, beside a contemporary GoogleMaps image of the same location. 

Tomb Farm

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“DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY NATURAL HISTORY AND ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY (10th January). – The Rev. James Fraser communicated an instalment of his memories of Colvend, touching on the introduction of railways, shipbuilding at the Scaur, hand-loom weaving, and the moral province of the Kirk Session. The paper, however, of widest interest was that of James Macdonald, LL.D., Glasgow, on the camps at Birrens and Birrenswark. Archaeologically discovered by “Sandy” Gordon, they had been unhesitatingly set down by him as Roman, and his view had been accepted practically without dissent ever since. Re-examining the matter, Dr. Macdonald agreed that Birrens, as shown by the inscribed stones found there, had almost to a certainty been a Roman settlement, and its existing earthworks might also be Roman. This, however, could not be assumed as proved. Successive peoples might have occupied the place fortifying suo more [and more] the position. Besides, Roman camp defences were often imitated by native tribes, and modified to suit their ideas of fortification. At Birrenswark again the form of the camps, though irregular, favoured a Roman origin, but the arguments for it, whilst ingenious, were by no means satisfactory when under criticism. Further evidence was necessary at both places – the evidence of the mounds themselves – obtainable only by careful circumspect excavation. Thus only could the secret of their origin be scientifically disclosed.”

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“GLASGOW ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY (17th January). – Mr. W. Anderson Smith communicated a note regarding a cave recently opened up on blasting a piece of rock behind some new houses on the ground to the north of St. Columba’s Church, Oban, where a primitive “kitchen” midden was revealed. Lying on the surface some yards into the cave a skull, evidently of a woman, was found in good preservation, and a great quantity of bones had been excavated. The animal bones were almost invariably broken for the marrow. Masses of shells were frequently cemented together by the lime drip from the roof, but below this they were in loose masses as thrown. For the most part they were limpets; but razor shells, scallop shells, a few mussels, some cockles, &c. – all edible – were grouped together. Further back in the cave, but at a lower level, a second skull was found, and several human jaw-bones were discovered. To the left hand of the cave, near the surface, a skeleton was discovered, but the skull was in fragments. At 4ft. 6in. below the surface, below the shells, a fine bone harpoon was found, and shortly afterwards a portion of a second. The various bones seemed to include, so far, deer, ox, and swine. Bones of birds were also present. It was clear that these cave-dwellers used fire, evidence of a mass of ashes, with surrounding calcined shells, having been obtained at 24 feet from the original mouth of the cave, while burnt pieces of wood were found amidst the shell masses. No reliable celts were found, and these bone implements were the only examples as yet obtained of articles of manufacture. The upper skeleton might have been that of a man who had crept in there to die, as there was no evidence of any sepulchral arrangements whatever. The woman’s skull was dolico-cephalic, upwards of 2 inches greater in length than in width. There was in it no sign of low or degraded type, and although the jaw bones were absent others subsequently found in the vicinity and of similar character pointed to anything but a prognathous jaw. The teeth were sound and good, and the surfaces did not show the grinding action that so commonly accompanies savage teeth and was notable in those found in the cave behind the distillery. The other skull was altogether ruder, more robust, probably more mature, but of a similar type, and 2½ inches greater in length than in width. The finding of good Troglodyte skulls was of much importance considering their non-Celtic character and yet good type. The elegant make of the bone harpoons at the lowest level was evidence of a certain advance in structural skill. The bones of deer would suggest a hunting as well as a fishing existence. Yet domestic animals were also present, but the bones would have to pass through the hands of an expert before any theory can be based on them; and any negative evidence must count for little. No prehistoric find in the West promised more fruitful results. 

Mr. Thomas Whitelaw read a paper din a Walk along the Roman Wall, in the discussion of which Dr. James Macdonald suggested the probability that the Roman stations may in post-Roman times have been occupied by native chiefs. It was conceivable that the term Chapelhill found (as at Old Kilpatrick and elsewhere) on the site of a Roman camp might be due to some early Scottish missionary finding permanent quarters within such a fortification, just as was commonly done in the raths of Ireland.” 

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“GLASGOW PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, Architectural Section (22nd January). – Mr. S. H. Capper, architect, lectured on the “Monks and their Abbeys in Olden Days,” illustrating his theme with lantern views. He showed the similarity in plan and design between the ninth century Benedictine type of monastery, as seen at St. Gall in Switzerland, and corresponding examples in Britain, notably at Durham, where the whole arrangement was closely analogous. In tracing the development of monachism and the rise of successive orders aiming at particular reforms, he showed how their ideals and their work tended to modify the respective characters of their abbeys. His Scottish examples were not numerous, but in one of them, a view of Sweetheart Abbey on the Solway, he very successfully demonstrated the spirit of the Cistercians in their revolt against extravagance and return to simplicity – admirably typified by the modest church tower in the valley.” 

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“GLASGOW ECCLESIOLOGICAL SOCIETY (21st January). – The Rev. John Hunter, D.D., read a paper on “The Problem of Public Worship in non-Episcopal Churches.” He said that in the non-Episcopal Churches the least developed function hitherto had been the function of worship. One great failure of Protestantism had been due to its over-intellectuality. Roman Catholicism, it had been said, brought men to their knees. Protestantism had brought them to their feet. But both attitudes were true and necessary to humanity. To unite devoutness and reasonableness in the service of God was the supreme characteristic of the reconciling Church which this modern time so urgently required. Protests, however true and earnest, never expressed the whole truth on any subject. In all sections of the Christian Church things were working toward reconstruction, and in the non-Episcopal Churches they were taking up gratefully and reverently things which their fathers had put aside. Their offices of worship had been too one-sided and individualistic. In their zeal against excess of ritual and against the magical action of the Holy Sacraments non-Episcopalians had been betrayed into faults of an exactly opposite character. There was a natural as well as an artificial ritual of worship. Let them not raise the foolish cry of Popery when nothing more was suggested than a return to practices which the universal Church had sanctioned, and Knox and Luther had approved. Places could aid worship. The Church was the natural home of art, of sacred painting, as of sacred music. The power of association might become tyrannical, but in regard to sacred buildings they in Scotland were not in the least danger. The liturgical and spontaneous methods of prayer had both again and again been justified of their children, and by both methods at their best the ends of public worship might be reached and its dignity preserved. In true and complete congregational worship there must be, he believed, a large liturgical element, but the best order was that which combined what was best in the Episcopal and Puritan order. The present has its rights as well as the past, and he was reluctant to believe that Christianity could only have one order of public worship. While learning from every side, they must avoid mere imitations, which would fail, and ought to fail, because they led to unreality. They must beware of attempting to force upon the spirit of the modern Church forms of outward expression which might prove unfit. They must not confound what was merely mediaeval with what was truly Catholic. But it was possible to welcome all the new light, and yet keep the old reverence for worshipful observances and ways.” 

3 thoughts on “WORK OF SOCIETIES, &c., Various Contributors (Feb., 1895), pp.116-120.

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