• Patrick Phillips

Part I: "Cup and ring marks"...why not "Sun and ring marks"?

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

It's quite confusing at first when you hear, or read the title, "Cup and ring marks" to describe an art form of rock carvings from 4,500 years ago. Therefore, I think it was lazy of art historians (and academics) to have done so, why? Because it lacks imagination. Why not "Sun and ring marks" instead? It would make a lot more sense. It was too easy to say "cup" and "ring" when the time came for them to be named. Furthermore, it is to blur this precious, and unique art into something of a novelty. And, also not to appreciate the delicate transition between the Paleolithic and Neolithic period. For example, how can we know for sure that "cups" were actually used during this period? If so, that would mean a lot of cups having to be placed onto one rock (let alone the weight of them to create such markings). No unity has been given, no collaboration, between the sight of what one is looking at, and the name given to these so-called marks. Rather, the term "marks" is to instil the idea, that they were made by mistake (uncoordinated), a kind of illogical accident. Rather, than through the intrinsic human need to express. It also takes away a sense of discovery at the time they were made. Hence, why I think, they still remain a mystery. Hundreds, maybe thousands of theories to explain the unexplainable. But are they really that difficult to cipher, understand? They are not codes, why then the persistent mystery given to them?

What about the significance of the rock itself? Shouldn't that be included within these masterpieces? Rock for them, was essentially their canvas. Or possibly if not, what about the uniqueness and beauty of how the artist combined sculpture and carving into one?

If you look at the above photograph again, you can see that it looks to be something of a step, hence why this particular rock may have been chosen. Not just because of it's natural elevation, but most definitely because of it's shape. If this rock was to be dug out, and placed in a museum today, stood up - it's meaning would be lossed. For myself, the rings are traces. Traces of what has either been seen, or possibly imagined, or both. What then did they see? I think they are closer to the representation of a Sun dog (a bright spot that appears in the sky on either side of the sun). Which would have been a powerful moment, and of conscience, between what was happening in the natural world of appearances, and the feelings of pleasure evoked from such a surprise. Moment of genuine unity between being, and becoming. They are a message of hope. Once again, to name them as cup marks was to immediately reduce these carvings into that of functionality only. And, therefore inconsequence their aesthetic value also. Leaving everything else to remain a relentless mystery (almost mystical), rather than knowing their true meaning.

What if the carvings also represent the rippling effect created by rain drops?

The intricate (and intimate) beauty of these carvings, whether on a summer or winter's day is something of a real joy to look at. What this art, and their chosen rock represents, is an expression of gratitude. Gratitude in the fact of how beautiful life is, and most importantly to affirm that life is - a gift.

The human need to have our chosen expression of gratitude, realised in the here, and now is fundamental to our existence. Realised, in the sense that it must be seen by others, and confirmed consciously (therefore publicly) as an eternal expression. Eternal to what you might now think? To that of Nature, for everything in Nature (in form and appearance) is already eternal in expression. Therefore, I think today we can say and confirm that this art form was (and still is) an expression made eternal, and that the artist had fulfilled what they set out to achieve. How? Well, firstly their gratitude has survived long enough for us to still see the rock carvings today. And secondly, that the carvings have retained their unique beauty, and critically - authenticity. From those facts alone, this is why they continue to intrigue us, regardless of how many mysteries we continue to conjure upon them.

Seeing them is important, because you are one to bear witness, and thus contributing not only to the quality of your life (in that precise moment) but essentially your becoming. What these carvings also represent is that he and she existed (without names), through the tracing out of their existence, for us to admire, and love. Their traces, also represent the beginning of a possible new civilisation (in their dreams awake), which I believe is still yet to be known and fully realised, in all it's colour. Therefore, I think it is critical, that we try not to see such an art (in expression) as having come to an end, from the moment they were made, and when the artist passed away. Their carvings are still becoming... (including the rock) from what the artist's original dream intended them to be. Once again, we must learn how to show real love for these carvings, firstly, by showing them more attention. Only then will we truly know their full meaning.

Part II coming soon...

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Patrick Phillips ©2019 Ink drawing of Meall nan Tarmachan & Ben Lawers.