J a n e t M c E w a n
Selected from a body of work mostly produced between 2000 - 02 Aberdeenshire , Scotland.
I find it quite difficult to pinpoint exactly when I saw my first Neolithic carved stone ball, but I do remember being completely enchanted by these charming objects, found mainly in the NE of Scotland and dating from the late Neolithic/Bronze Age, around 4000 years ago. The greatest concentration of the 400 or so balls found so far, has been in Aberdeenshire ,and while I lived there, I embarked upon some research to try and find out more about them.
In archaeological terms, Carved Stone Balls are ‘petrospheres’, which is the name given to any spherical man-made object which is composed of stone of any size. These mainly prehistoric artefacts may have been created and/or selected, but altered in some way to perform their specific function, including carving and painting and are usually round and rarely oval. They have from 3 to 160 protruding knobs on the surface and their size is fairly uniform. They range from no ornamentation (apart from the knobs) to extensive and highly varied engravings.
I arranged a to meet one of the curators at the Marischal Museum in Aberdeen which has a permanent exhibition of artefacts devoted to the North East of Scotland, including a significant number of carved stone balls. To my surprise I was allowed to handle a couple of these, and it was a magical experience. The balls seemed to fit perfectly into the palm my hand, and the density of the material gave a weight that lent incredible substance to the form, which I could not help but feel and explore, turning around: noticing how it absorbed my body heat.
The wonderful tactility of the experience was compounded by the mystery that surround these objects: no-one knows why they were made: for weapons..? games...?"currency."....? or even exactly how they were made, though contemporary experiments by archaeologists have proved that they could have been made without metal tools, with techniques such as pecking and grinding.
In the hope that I might get closer to the spirit of original Neolithic makers, I decided to try and carve some myself, though I did take advantage of current available technology and used power tools, top of the range tungsten tipped stone chisels, and grinding materials. Even then it was a significant challenge to achieve a satisfying design. I made a quite a number of small balls using different and sometimes imported stone, and experimented with a variety of designs, before (almost inevitably ) moving up in scale, to larger spheres in a similar style, which were rolled around when they needed to be moved.
Even after carving the stone balls, I still don’t know what they were made for and was left to contemplate the obsession with needing to find a function for these balls, which may exist like small worlds outwith our current cultural paradigm. It seems we will never know for sure. Perhaps, however, this not knowing is an opportunity for the free play of cognitive powers which Kant asserts is fundamental to the aesthetic experience, which he contends presents the calculating and defensive individual with the chance to develop their capacity to become more open and receptive, and to view the world, not as a resource to be exploited but as an arena for experimentation and self transformation.
Through the stones is there an opportunity to experience the 'universal'?
Are these in fact Neolithic artworks?