These carvings represent a true mystery. More than one hundred theories regarding the reason behind cup-marks have been proposed and as Cowan
says "these include a belief in magic, in the afterlife, use as a tuning device and a plan for Megalithic structures." And as he says,
"each of these theories appears to have an element of truth in it."
From time to time, researchers are able to deliver some clues, which might lead to the rediscovery of the reason behind this very
ancient and still mysterious art, but cup-marks still remain a mystery.
Not long ago, an amazing ancient collection of 28 carved rocks has been discovered by amateur archeologist Douglas Scott, 64, from Tain.
This is the largest known concentration of cup-marked stones so far found in the north of Scotland.
The carved rocks, some almost 10 ft across have been
found in the Highlands on a remote hill overlooking the Cromarty Firth.
'Cup-marks' are simple, roughly hemispherical depressions of about 2-10 cm diameter
and up to 3 cm depth on the surface of many megaliths and on a number of separate 'cup-marked stones'.
Cup-marks often appear in groups which can consist of more than one hundred marks on a single stone.
The carvings are about 5,000 years-old and it is believed that they were part of an important ritual centre where ancient people worshipped the sun and
performed rites connected to the underworld.
In an interview with the Scotman,
Mr. Scott explains "that the first carved rocks on Swordale Hill - Druim Mor in Gaelic were discovered in 1985 by some farmers. A year later, he and and Bob Gourlay, then the Highland regional archaeologist,
scoured Swordale Hill and recorded and photographed another 14 cup-marked rocks on the ridge.
This is one of the 28 up marked stones discovered on Swordale Hill, Evanton. Some of the stones measure 10ft across. Picture: Hemedia
Mr Gourlay has since died and over the past two years, Mr Scott, has completed the task of searching the entire hilltop
and has now photographed and recorded 28 carved rocks across the site.
He said: "The finding of up to 28 cup-marked rocks on Druim Mor makes this the largest concentration of cup-marked stones so far found in the north of Scotland.
Cup-marked stones are not unique but this is the biggest concentration found in this area and that is quite significant in itself because no-one knew these
monuments were up there."
Mr Scott added: "The carvings on the rocks are anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 years old and comprise hollows, some surrounded by rings, and grooves which all
line up to where the sun rises in midwinter.
There is a concentration of them, spread across 150 metres."
There is also a chambered burial cairn and a circular ditch, possible evidence of an ancient henge, on the hill.
"From the ridge, there are wide views across the fertile lands of the Cromarty Firth, the Black Isle and the distant Cairngorms.
According to Gaelic folklore, these ancient people believed that the sun was rising and setting in the underworld.
Cup and ring petroglyph at the 'Laxe das Rodas' ('Stone of the Wheels'), Louro, Galicia. Image credit & copyright: Froaringus
"They would carve these cup marks into the rock at the times when the sun was coming up, out of what they believed was the underworld,"
Mr Scott said.
He said cup marks can be found throughout Europe, where they are associated with carvings of the sun, solar chariots and boats -
the latter believed to carry souls of the dead to the underworld.
"The position of the cup marks, between the passage cairn and the henge, suggests that this was one of the most important
ritual sites in the area," Mr Scott added.
Similar cup-marked stones have been discovered mostly mainly in Atlantic Europe (Northern England, Scotland,Ireland, Brittany, Portugal and, North West Spain and
Mediterranean Europe (North West Italy, Thessalia Central Greece, Switzerland) although similar forms are also found throughout the world including Mexico, Brazil,
Greece, and India where the oldest cup marks so far recorded are to be found in the Paeleolithic cave shelter site of Daraki-Chattan.
Cup-marked stones do generally not appear outside the distribution areas of megaliths, but when they appear on graves or stones nearby might have been signifiers
of larger cosmological interrelations between monuments, living people, the landscape, the gods and the ancestors.