1887 had already proven to be a year for the books, and in particular, for what would become known as "Forteana" within just a few decades. Stateside in Montana that January, a snowstorm at Fort Keogh produced what still remain the largest snowflakes ever recorded, with crystallizations that were 15 inches wide, and 8 inches thick at the very largest.
Halfway across the world in Scotland, innovation was underway in the early summer months, as academic James Blyth was installing the world's first wind turbine used to produce electricity at his holiday home in Marykirk. Within months, a particular single malt Scotch whisky of renown, the Glenfiddich brand, would also be first produced during this year of renown.
However, not all of the discoveries taking place in 1887, particularly in Scotland, were innovations of the modern varieties that afford mankind its leisures. In fact, one would hint at some of the strangest mysteries of Europe's ancient past.
Two hours south of Blyth's holiday retreat in Marykirk that same summer, the Rev James Harvey had been walking along a stretch of farmland near the outskirts of modern day Clydebank when found something remarkable. More than 40 feet wide, a huge stone covered in scooped impressions lay partially hidden beneath green grass and soil that had eroded around it. It was a remarkable discovery indeed: a Bronze Age monolith covered in the ancient rock markings (petroglyphs), made by humans who had walked this very field some 5000 years earlier.
This remarkable find, dubbed the Cochno Stone, would be widely accepted by experts as one of the finest instances of prehistoric rock art ever found in Europe, bearing exquisite "cup and ring" impressions that later caught the eye of Ronald Morris, who in his book The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, ranked it as "one of Scotland's finest" among petroglyph collections.
Despite the merit and appeal the great stone boasted, it's uniqueness also drew the wrong kind of attention; curiosity seekers were prone to pilfering around the area, and by the mid 1960s, archaeologists with Glasgow University were proposing an odd solution to the potential for vandalism: the stone should be reburied under several feet of earth, so that it could be preserved and studied again at a later time.
The Cochno Stone's fate was almost immediate, and to this day, the remarkable monolith has remained buried beneath Scottish soil. However, a recent series of petitions among local academia may result in the stone being unearthed again, so long as its preservation can be maintained and ensured in a sustainable way.
The Scotsman Online reported some of the reasons, according to one researcher, that it would be of interest in modern studies, based on various interpretations of what purpose the stone actually served:
History researcher Alexander McCallum, who has lobbied to have the stone uncovered, said there were multiple interpretations for the carvings.
He said: “Some people think that the Cochno Stone is a map showing the other settlements in the Clyde Valley – that’s one of the theories. I think it was probably used for lots of things; it was never used for just one thing and over hundreds of years it changed use.
“As far as the symbolism goes, some believe it’s a portal, of life and death, rebirth, a womb and a tomb – people believed in reincarnation, so they would go into the earth and then come out again.”
The Cochno Stone, while unique among other stones in Europe, does bear an almost remarkable similarity to another famous petroglyph site, this one in America. Resting in the Tuckaseegee valley near Western Carolina University outside Sylva, North Carolina, the landscape might resemble that of the Scottish farmland around Clydebank. For years, farmers turning the soil in the fields here would uncover pottery, arrowheads, and other fragments from the existence of past peoples who lived here. And then, on a gently sloping bank leading down toward the Caney Fork River from the property of long-time resident Jerry Parker, there lays the following massive work of ancient and mysterious art:
This is Judaculla Rock, a monument which, in name, pays homage to Tsulkalu, the Cherokee god of the hunt. The large portion on the lower half of the stone where the color is noticeably brighter denotes portions of the rock which remained beneath the ground up until the last few years, when a project carried out in part with the aid of local universities and state archaeologists removed the excess soil from around its exterior, revealing portions that may not have been seen by human eyes for hundreds of years, or perhaps even longer.
Judaculla Rock's origins remain mysterious; Cherokee Indians have suggested that the stone represents a treaty between the ancient members of their tribe and another regional group, the Creeks. Others have suggested that the rock is much older, and could even predate the period when such conflicts would have occurred; some unconfirmed estimates about the stone's age date it to periods going as far back as the Cochno Stone, or even earlier.
It is indeed interesting that a number of the same sorts of "scooping" impressions are apparent on parts of Judaculla Rock, as well as that of it's sister stone in Scotland, the latter of which, at present, still remains buried until some conclusive determination about whether it can be maintained and protected is resolved. But what purpose did these petroglyph monuments serve? Are these truly evidence of ancient ritual sites, or could the petroglyphs have represented curious legends or commemoration of other things long-forgotten?
With some hope, the Cochno Stone may follow the path that Judaculla Rock has done in recent years, and with it, perhaps new insights about the ancient people who carved these mysterious stones will be gleaned as well.