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May 20, 2012

‘Cursing stone’ discovered on Isle of Canna, a new insight into religious art

London: An ancient stone that was discovered by chance on the Isle of Canna is Scotland’s first known example of a bullaun “cursing stone”, according to experts. Dating from about 800 AD, the stones are associated with early Christian crosses - of which there is one on the isle. It was found in an old graveyard by a National Trust for Scotland (NTS) farm manager. The stone about 25cm in diameter and engraved with an early Christian cross fits exactly into a large rectangular stone with a worn hole, which was located at the base of the Canna cross. NTS manager of Canna, Stewart Connor, said the importance of the stone became clear after he was notified of the discovery. “We knew of the importance of bullaun stones and that it could be a really significant find,” the BBC quoted him as saying. “Our head of archaeology confirmed a possible link to the stone at the cross and I was so excited that I went back out at 9pm that night to check whether it fitted the stone with the hole and it did,” he said. Katherine Forsyth, an expert in the history and culture of early Celtic-speaking peoples, based at the University of Glasgow, described it as an “amazing find”. “Stones like this are found in Ireland, where they are known as ‘cursing stones’, but this is the first to be discovered in Scotland ,” she said. “They date from the early Christian period but have continued to be used by pilgrims up to modern times. “Traditionally, the pilgrim would recite a prayer while turning the stone clockwise, wearing a depression or hole in the stone underneath,” she said. Dr Forsyth said bowl-shaped lower stones had been found elsewhere in Scotland, including on Canna, but this was the first discovery of a top stone. “This exciting find provides important new insight into religious art and practice in early Scotland and demonstrates just how much there is still to be discovered out there,” she added.

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