The Other Clare, Volume 30, 2006.
By Michael O'Grady
North Clare is an area usually associated with the rocky landscape of the Burren. It is therefore not unusual to find stones of various shapes and sizes scattered throughout the region which are most unlikely to attract the interest of anyone but the most inquisitive. In the business of farming such stones are seen as a nuisance and more likely to be thrown aside so as not to damage machinery while working on the land. It was on such an occasion as this that one particularly interesting stone was picked up from the ground. Churned up by cattle hooves and exposed to the light of day, this stone was unusual and had clearly been shaped by human hands. An object such as this will raise many questions – what was it used for and when was it produced?
The stone itself was found in the townland of Leana in Killinaboy within a few metres from where a spring emerges from the ground and where a fulacht fiadh is located on the Ordnance Survey map.
The stone is a flattened sandstone disc, slightly elongated, and measures 9.3cm long x 7.9cm wide x 4.1cm deep. The main feature is a shallow indentation on each face which appears to have been made by a pecking action. These are approximately 2.5cm in diameter and 0.25cm deep.
It was first thought that the stone may have had some purpose related to the location where it was found – a tool of some kind of the early 20th century perhaps. One idea was an edging stone for sharpening a scythe. It was only when viewed through the eyes of an archaeologist that the stone was considered to be something dating from much earlier times.
Similar stone objects have been found on early Neolithic and Mesolithic sites. Suggestions for the possible use of the stone as a hand tool come from various sources. The hollows on both faces of the stone may indicate a method of gripping for use as a hammer stone. According to one source – Barlow & Mithen, such stones may have been used to crack hazel nuts. Hazel is a dominant form of local vegetation. A further suggestion by Susan Palmer is that the countersunk depressions may show it to be an incomplete mace head.
A similar stone has also been found at a megalithic tomb in Carrowmore, Co. Sligo, excavated by Goran Burenhult. Papers from his work refer to a pounding stone with similar features to this stone including what is referred to as a cup mark on one side. Other archaeological evidence can also help to suggest a period in which artefacts such as this were used. In Mesolithic Scotland & its neighbours, Alan Saville refers to countersunk pebbles as potentially dating from the Mesolithic period.
From the foregoing we see that an ordinary looking stone may turn out to be an actual hand tool used in antiquity. Being made from stone enabled it to survive the ravages of time and reveal itself at a later date. It is for this reason that stone tools are often the only evidence available to aid the study of prehistoric human activity.
Curator’s Note: The Kilnaboy
Stone has been donated to Clare Museum where it has been claimed for the state
under the National Monuments (Amendement) Act, 1994.