May 25, 2024


A geography teacher was cleaning up his overgrown garden at his house Coventry when he tripped over a rock with mysterious incisions. Intrigued, he sent photos to a local archaeologist and was amazed to learn that the marks were created more than 1,600 years ago and that the artifact is worthy of a museum.

The rectangular sandstone rock discovered by Graham Senior is inscribed in ogham, an alphabet used primarily to write the Irish language in the early medieval period.

Before the people of Ireland When manuscripts of vellum began to be used, they used the ogham writing system, which consists of parallel lines in groups on materials such as stone. Rare examples of such stones offer an insight into the Irish language before the use of the Latin insular script.

Senior (55) said: “I was just clearing a flower bed of weeds and stones when I saw this thing and thought, it’s not natural, it’s not the scratch of an animal. It couldn’t have been more than four or five inches below the surface.”

He washed it and consulted a relative who was an archaeologist, who suggested he contact the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which encourages the recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public.

Graham Senior, finder of the stone, with Ali Wells, exhibition curator at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry. Photo: The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.

Teresa Gilmore, an archaeologist and liaison officer for Staffordshire and West Midlands based at Birmingham Museums, said: “This is an amazing find. The beauty of the Portable Antiquities scheme is that people are finding things that continue to rewrite our history.

“This particular find has given us a new insight into early medieval activity in Coventry, which we have yet to make sense of. Every find like this helps fill in our puzzle and gives us a little more information.”

When Senior sent her some photos, she immediately saw their potential. She contacted Katherine Forsyth, Professor of Celtic Studies at the University of Glasgow, who confirmed that it was an ogham script, that of an early style, most likely dating from the fifth to sixth century but possibly as early as the fourth century.

Gilmore said such stones are “very rare and have generally been found in Ireland or Scotland … so to find them in the Midlands is actually unusual.”

She suggested that it could be linked to people coming from Ireland or to early medieval monasteries in the area. “You would have had monks and clergy moving between the different monasteries.”

The stone, which is 11 cm long and weighs 139 g, is engraved on three of its four sides.

Its purpose is unclear, Gilmore said, adding: “It could have been a portable memorial item. We don’t know. It’s a wonderful little thing.”

Gilmore explained the inscription, “Maldumcail/ S/ Lass”: “The first part relates to a person’s name, Mael Dumcail. The second part is less certain. We are not sure where the S/ Lass comes from. It’s probably a location. Something like ‘made me make’.”

Senior said it was exciting to hear that the artefact was significant, adding: “We are not far from the river Sowe. My thoughts are that it must have been a major transport route.”

The rock will be displayed at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, to which Senior has permanently donated it.

It will feature in the forthcoming Collecting Coventry exhibition, which opens on 11 May.

Ali Wells, a curator at the museum, said: “It’s quite amazing really. The language comes from Ireland. So to find it in Coventry was an exciting mystery. Coventry has been excavated over the years, particularly the downtown, so there aren’t that many new finds. It was quite unexpected.”



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