Rock Art

Passage-grave-style rock art of the Neolithic period, incised on the east face on Long Meg
Neolithic rock art, of the passage-grave tradition, incised on the east face on Long Meg

The east face of Long Meg is decorated with several curvilinear motifs which can be hard to see in poor light but become clear when sunlight is shining obliquely across the face of the stone. It is not clear whether these were added prior to the quarrying of the stone, at the time of its erection, or at a later date, but they probably date from around 3000BC, about the same time as the construction of the stone circle.

These should not be confused with the ‘cup-and-ring marks’ found in numerous places in Northumberland and other parts of the British Isles, some of which could be of similar date. They belong to an Irish tradition of decorated passage graves, and consequently are often termed ‘Irish passage grave art’. This is found almost exclusively on vertical surfaces, and includes many spirals, whereas cup-and-ring art is usually found on near-horizontal panels and only very rarely includes spirals. Another splendid example of this Irish art can be seen in the central Lake District at Copt Howe, Langdale. Although further motifs have been claimed on some of Long Meg’s Daughters, none are very convincing and (with the exception of a single cupmark on Stone ??, found during excavation in 2015) they may all result from natural weathering.

Detail of rock art on Long Meg

The meaning of the motifs is unknown, and it may be missing the point to search for a ‘meaning’ in terms of our modern way of thinking. They may relate in some way to the sun, perhaps in particular to the winter solstice sunset with which Long Meg is aligned when seen from the centre of the stone circle. Whatever they meant to the people who made and saw them in Neolithic times, these motifs are undeniably fascinating for us to look at and think about today.

< Back to Archaeology