A stone of some distinction

On many occasions I have stood there, ringing my hands and wishing from the bottom of my heart that the stones in front of me could and would speak, which, very much regretted, is not really going to happen. But, given some time spend in their company, they do tell of at least some parts of their past. And so, on revisiting a certain stone, being an enigma, since the day I found it, time was going to be the factor to be applied on the beautiful but still arctic afternoon of April 27. Cleaning the stone carefully again with an old toothbrush, I noticed that some of the apparent embellished holes produced a reddish, sand like substance, going into the stone rather deep, which appeared to form the perceived markings at my previous inspections, leaving me under the distinct impression, that they are not man made but a result of some sort of natural erosion on this particular type of stone.

Being rather unaccustomed to the world of geology, I tried some research under equally uncommon search terminologies such as ‘rocks with holes’, and so, do not necessarily stand on the most solid of grounds, but arrived nevertheless at the opinion that the rock, the stone originated from, may be some type of basalt. What I can say with more certainty is that I have found no other stone with such attributes on the hill nor in its vicinity, which would indicate that the stone was brought to this site from elsewhere, perhaps because of this unique property of forming impressions, imbedded in its surface. This type of basalt occurs in Inishowen, so the stone would not have necessarily travelled far. On the other hand, these natural markings may not be as old as I imagine, but with the help of two archaeologists from Tyrone, who happened to visit, and who, of course, I had to draw into the matter, established that the stone itself was worked into the shape of a ‘miniature’ standing stone, opening up the possibility that the stone was viewed upon as distinctive and was for this very reason brought up to this hill and placed, not very far from its current location, I would think, to serve perhaps as a marker of some description.

The stone was special after all.

This is the ‘front’, since I found the stone with this side facing up.


The ‘back’ of the stone.


Only one of the two sides shows the impressions.


Close up of the above.


From the front panel.


I received a very kind and helpful email from Robert M. Chapple

Hi there!
I saw your recent blog post about the unusual stone you encountered. I felt that what you needed was some sound geological advice. As my father-in-law is a retired geology prof., I reckoned he’d be able to help.

This is his reply:

Difficult to tell from the weathered surfaces but if the rock is a basalt the holes could be vesicles, bubbles in the molten lava which were preserved as the flow cooled to form a basalt. The holes are sometimes infilled with precipitates from the fluids which circulate in the cooling rock, forming amygdales.Basalts are usually fine-grained, with tiny crystals invisible without a hand lens. This rock appears more coarse grained, though that could be the lichen or some such thing on the weathered surface. Were the rock a limestone, another often uniform grey rock, the pits might be dolomitic alteration. The calcite, CaC03, in the limestone is locally altered to CaMg(C03)2, dolomite, after deposition. The dolomite often has a buff tinge to it as the pits appear in the photo. The calcite is comparatively soft, easily scratched by a knife. It also effervesces with a dilute acid. Basalt isn’t and doesn’t.

I hope this helps!


Robert M. Chapple, Archaeologist  – wonderful and interesting blog
The William Dunlop Archaeological Photographic Archive – many of the sites and monuments photographed have since either fallen into further dilapidation or are now gone altogether

6 thoughts

  1. We used to have two of these near our house in county Galway – one was flat topped and the other rounded. We were told that they were used to mark an entrance and the flat topped stone represented the female and the rounded one the male. They didn’t have so many of these natural marking though. I did see others in place at the entrances to farms in other parts of the county

  2. Gillian, thank you so much. I thought it may have stood on the entrance of either the outer or middle bank, sourrounding the monument, where an ancient road leads up to it. The stone lies now not far away from this location and being small, can be easy enough carried. I will keep my eyes open for the female one.

  3. Since geologists normally view outcrops from the bottom up, this next view shows the stratigraphy from within the older laminated units looking upward towards the rim. The main mystery is the nature of these lower units – are they basaltic layers, a different assemblage of sedimentary salt beds, a mix of both, or something different altogether? One now popular interpretation considers these beds to be analogous to basaltic sand, formed by mechanical disaggregation of basalt bedrock elsewher and blown over long periods to form the layers. (Note: on Earth basalt sand and sandstone is rare but the sedimentary rock type called “graywacke” [derived largely by weathering of basalt] is fairly common.) Also just beyond Endurance loose grains of basalt have been found.

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