Ancient Monuments

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Ringing Stone, cup marked boulder, Balephetrish, Tiree.

A Scheduled Monument in Oban South and the Isles, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 56.5359 / 56°32'9"N

Longitude: -6.838 / 6°50'16"W

OS Eastings: 102683

OS Northings: 748698

OS Grid: NM026486

Mapcode National: GBR 9CHF.YHS

Mapcode Global: WGX9Q.YZ0C

Entry Name: Ringing Stone, cup marked boulder, Balephetrish, Tiree.

Scheduled Date: 1 March 2017

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13666

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: cupmarks or cup-and-ring marks and similar rock art

Location: Tiree

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Oban South and the Isles

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument is a large cup marked boulder known as the 'Ringing Stone', probably dating to the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age period. On its sides and upper surface the boulder bears at least 53 circular or oval depressions or cups, of which 20 are large and, in most cases, oval in shape.  The boulder is located on the north coast of Tiree.

This boulder is located on a rocky surface close to the shore and measures 2.2m in length by 2m in width, standing up to 1.5m high.  53 carved cups have been recorded and these can be found on all sides of the stone.  The cups range in size from 6cm to 10cm in diameter and between 8cm to 15cm deep.  The stone lies at sea level between the shore and an encroaching inlet and is almost cut off from the mainland at high tide.

The area to be scheduled is circular on plan with a diameter of 5m, centred on the boulder, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence for the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is a significant example of a form of prehistoric rock art found in western Scotland and more widely in Britain and Ireland, dating to the Neolithic or early Bronze Age.  53 single cups of differing size and depth are clearly visible on the conspicuous erratic boulder, which is located to the north side of a small coastal inlet on the north shore of Tiree. Some of the larger cups may have been re-used in more recent times to grind bait for fishing.

The choice of this stone to be marked in the prehistoric period is likely to have been significant.  The choice of this stone to be marked in the prehistoric period is likely to have been significant.  The boulder has a coastal location and is a glacial erratic, markedly different from the surrounding metamorphic rocks.  It is said that when struck, the stone emits a deep ringing sound and causes an echo to reverberate around the surrounding rock faces.  For this reason it has been traditionally known as the 'Ringing Stone'.  It is said that when struck, the stone emits a deep ringing sound and causes an echo to reverberate around the surrounding rock faces.  For this reason it has been traditionally known as the 'Ringing Stone'.

Excavation at other rock art sites has uncovered associated buried remains in the immediate vicinity, including artefacts and environmental evidence.  Such remains can enhance our understanding of the techniques of production, purpose and meaning of the carvings and the activities which took place in the vicinity of the monument.  No development sequence of the carvings can be discerned here as most of the cup marks respect each other spatially.  Overall, this monument represents a significant undertaking by the person or people who created the cup marks.

Contextual Characteristics

The rock art of Scotland can be found both on open-air rock surfaces and as elements of upstanding monuments such as stone circles or chambered cairns.  In this respect they share a similarity to rock art found throughout Britain and Ireland and Galicia (Atlantic Iberia) and southern Scandinavia.  This example is one of nine possible examples which form a local/ regional group on the Isle of Tiree. Of the nine, the Ringing Stone is the most extensive and best preserved.  It is part of a wider group of similar sites in Western Scotland, with clusters in mainland Argyll and its off-lying islands. 

Analysis of the landscape location of rock art in Britain and Ireland suggests an important relationship between rock art and routeways and viewpoints.  The 'Ringing Stone' has a coastal location, near to where the land meets the sea, which may be of significance. Such locations have been interpreted as the boundary between the mundane and supernatural and an important location for rituals of engagement within prehistoric communities. The study of the relationship between the Ringing Stone and its landscape may aid our understanding of the prehistoric peoples that inhabited Tiree and our understanding of the distribution of such sites within the landscape, how they relate to one another and to other contemporary monuments.

Associative Characteristics

The 'Ringing Stone' has acquired a place in the wider consciousness of Scotland and abroad, particularly through social media, for instance there are a large number of internet videos showing the stone "ringing".

Statement of National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it is a well-preserved example of prehistoric rock art, which makes a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular our understanding of ritual monuments of the Neolithic or early Bronze Age in Tiree. Specifically it has the capacity to further our understanding of the construction, function, location and symbolic meaning of such ritual monuments on Tiree and across Scotland, as well as inform our knowledge of the landscape in which the monument was constructed. The loss of this monument would significantly impair our ability to understand the ritual landscape and the lives of the inhabitants of late Neolithic/early Bronze Age Tiree.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 21529 (accessed on 23/11/2016).

West of Scotland Archaeology Service HER/SMR Reference 123 (accessed on 23/11/2016).

Cochrane A, Meirion Jones A and Sognnes K 2014. 'Rock Art and Rock Surface: Neolithic Rock Traditions of Britain, Ireland and Northern Most Europe'; Oxford Handbook of Neolithic Europe. Oxford University Press.

Mann, L M 1922. Ancient sculpturings in Tiree', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 56, 1921-2. Page(s): 122.

Morris, R W B 1969. The cup-and-ring marks and similar sculptures of Scotland: a survey of the southern Counties, part II', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 100, 1967-8. Page(s): 65.

RCAHMS 1980. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the monuments volume 3: Mull, Tiree, Coll and Northern Argyll (excluding the early medieval and later monuments of Iona). Edinburgh. Page(s): 10.

Varner, G R 2012. Portals to Other Realms; Cup-Marked Stones and Pre-Historic Rock Carvings. Lulu Press, North Carolina.


HER/SMR Reference

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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