Intricately Carved Neolithic Stone Balls Discovered Around Scotland Intrigue Archaeologists

Over 500 of these mysterious stone balls have been recovered from the Orkney Islands, northeast Scotland, Ireland, and England.

Neolithic stone balls continue to puzzle archaeologists who have created 3D models of these.
Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Over 500 of these mysterious stone balls have been recovered from the Orkney Islands, northeast Scotland, Ireland, and England.

Over 500 Neolithic stone balls have been discovered at various sites around the Orkney Islands, northeast Scotland, Ireland, and England, leading archaeologists to speculate on their origin and use. These mysterious balls are roughly the size of a modern day baseball and were each carefully carved with a dazzling array of patterns decorating them.

As Live Science reported, even though these carved stone balls were originally recovered around 200 years ago, archaeologists still do not understand their purpose. They are, however, startlingly beautiful examples of Neolithic art. Because of this, archaeologists decided to create stunning 3D images of these balls, with the added bonus that these models now show patterns that were previously hidden and couldn’t be identified with the naked eye.

National Museums Scotland curator Hugo Anderson-Whymark was the man responsible for the creation of these Neolithic models and explained that numerous theories about these stone balls have emerged over the years, with some more credible than others.

“Many of the ideas you have to take with a pinch of salt, while there are others that may be plausible. What’s interesting is that people really get their imaginations captured by them — they still hold a lot of secrets.”

One of the theories that has been put forward about these balls is that they may have once been use as tools for smashing weapons. They may also have been used as rollers to help cart around the large stones that were used for massive Neolithic monuments or even constructed as standardized weights that would have helped traders immensely.

The National Museum of Scotland boasts an enormous number of these Neolithic balls with 140 carved stones originating from the Orkney Islands and Scotland, and another 60 that were discovered elsewhere. Because such a small number of these are currently on display, it was thought that creating 60 3D models and placing them online would be an invaluable tool for those wishing to study the enigmatic objects in greater detail.

A swift perusal of the online offerings shows that the Towie Ball, one of the most well known of these carved objects, can be viewed here. Discovered in northeast Scotland in 1860, this ball features intricate spiral patterns and is one of the greatest wonders of the collection. In fact, because of the complex carvings found on balls like these, earlier researchers were not entirely certain whether it was even possible to have created such works of art using only stone tools.

It was because of this that the Neolithic balls were first thought to have been designed by the Picts during the later era of the Iron Age. Once they were able to be accurately dated, archaeologists learned that they had been fashioned 5,000 years ago and could only have been made using stone tools.

Interestingly, many of the same designs on these balls, such as those carved into the Towie ball, can also be found hidden inside the burial chambers of Neolithic people.

Now that so many of these Neolithic stone balls have been resurrected with the use of 3D models, those who are interested can visit the online database to study the patterns for themselves.