This pebble with engraved circle and cross design is from Stranraer, Scotland. It likely dates to the Medieval period, ca. 800-1100 BP.
Water-rolled pebbles, both engraved and plain, were associated with Christian pilgrimage particularly in Ireland, but also in Scotland. These objects have various names, such at ‘pilgrims stone’ or ‘turning stone’. This one has a small amount of hammerstone wear on the ends.
The artefact is curated by the Hunt Museum, Limerick, registration number HCA195.
Archaeological excavations at the Medieval pilgrimage shrine of Clochán Congleo on Inishark Island, Ireland, recovered 8000 unmodified water-rolled beach pebbles scattered over the top and between flagstone pavers. The context and nature of the finds may provide insight into this engraved pebble from Scotland. Folklore around journeys and pilgrimages in Ireland associated decorated or unusually shaped stones with ritual oath-taking or cursing. Stones were turned clockwise to denote a blessing, or counterclockwise to enact a curse, and in this way the stones were used to invoke divine agency. Water-rolled pebbles may have been selected because water was important in perceptions of sanctity and spiritual power. In Christian belief, water can be a salvation (e.g., the ritual of baptism) or a punishment (e.g., Noah’s flood). The water-rolled pebble was therefore a symbol of the divine, transformative power of water. The engraved cross linked or invoked this power to the Christian god, although aspects of these beliefs likely preceded Christianity in this region. Water-rolled pebbles were often left by Medieval pilgrims as a symbolic, ritualised act at pilgrimage sites in Ireland and Scotland.