19 February 2020

S5M-20055 Prehistoric Rock Art

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20055, in the name of Gil Paterson, on the Cochno stone and the social value of Scotland’s prehistoric rock art. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates Dr Kenny Brophy of the University of Glasgow Archaeology Department on the extensive work on prehistoric rock art throughout a wide expanse of West Dunbartonshire; notes that this includes numerous excavations in the Faifley area of Clydebank, including, in particular, the Cochno Stone; understands that this is one of Europe’s most important examples of rock carvings, and that this was entirely uncovered and intricately documented, including a full digital scan and recording; notes that this important work by Dr Brophy and his university team was assisted over many months by volunteers from far and wide, including local people and school pupils, and considers that this project is a model for collaboration between experts, well-practised helpers and a very supportive, well-informed community that wants to bring to the wider world the iconic art that is there to be exposed, enjoyed and celebrated by all.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I, too, thank Gil Paterson for giving us the opportunity to debate this interesting subject. We are talking about something that is very old, so it is entirely appropriate that the four oldest members of this Parliament are all present. I note that I am the fourth oldest of those four, but we are all of an age at which antiquity is of particular interest to us. [Laughter.]

The Cochno stone is of uncertain age. Some of my research says that it is 5,000 years since it was produced and other research says that it dates from the third millennium BC and, thus, is perhaps not quite as old.

Gil Paterson is ahead of me, as he has converted to the metric system. He said that the stone is 100m2, while my notes say that it is 42 feet by 26 feet. I am a mathematician so I had to do the arithmetic, and he is absolutely spot on: 42 feet by 26 feet is 100m2. I am glad that Gil got that right.

Something as old as the Cochno stone is always fascinating. People of all ages can realistically engage with anything that throws us back to a previous age and which has mystery around it. One of the first things that I wondered was where this name came from. It appears that it is from cauchanach, which is the Gaelic for “place of little cups”. When we look at what is on the stone, that is a credible explanation, although it is not a certain one; we will probably never have that. We know that the stone is named after a Cochnol house that was on the site before we found the stone, but that is not to say that the house was there before the stone. The stone was almost certainly there before the house was built by the Hamiltons, some 100 years ago.

Although the stone was buried, the locals continued to remember it over a long period of time and it was a source of stories and inspiration for stories, like many such ancient artefacts. The fact that it has been dug up, reburied and dug up again provides an interesting comparison with China, on which Gil Paterson, with his passion for all things from the east, threw light when he talked about it.

To come up to date, the University of Glasgow, Factum Arte and the local community are now involved in engaging with and protecting the stone, and in cleaning the area in which it stood and removing the ground around it so that we can actually see it. The fact that Gil Paterson could not find the stone, because of overgrowth on the site, tells us everything that we need to know about the previous neglect of the stone.

It is great that the modern technology in a 50 megapixel camera has been used to create 3D images, but in our modern arrogance, we must remember that the electronic world is quite an ephemeral one; the electronic images might vanish quickly and become inaccessible to us. However, the stone will probably outlive any of the technology that is being used—excellent as it is as a way of reaching out across the world to tell the story of this archaeological endeavour and creating a database that allows people across the world to study the carvings from the Cochno stone and see echoes of them in other areas.

It is interesting. I thought that the word “Cochno” came from cochlea, the Greek word for snail, because I had not properly looked at the stone. I then realised that the carvings were not snails and were much more like cups.

We have had an interesting short debate and it is tremendous to see so many of those who have been involved in the project in the public gallery. Just as I, in primary school, was given a little ammonite—a fossil that was billions of years old—that inspired me, I hope that this project will inspire many in the area where the stone is located. For Dr Kenny Brophy and his team, the schoolchildren who have been involved and the community, this is an important part of their history but it will also be part of their future.


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