For the last 150 years archeologists have been digging up a peculiar class of objects in north-east Scotland. They are small carved stone balls of a relative similar size and decorated with carved evenly-spaced patterns of circular bosses or knobs around the surface of the sphere. Some balls have as few as three knobs, while some have up to one hundred-sixty, but mostly they have six knobs. Some of the knobs are further decorated with spirals or concentric circles and some have patterns of straight incised lines and hatchings.
The absence of damage or any sign of use on these carved balls or the context in which they have been found have been baffling archeologists because they are unable to tie these objects to a specific function. Some believe these carved balls served simply as totems of power and prestige, yet their precise symmetrical form cannot be ignored. So far over 400 stone balls have been discovered and nearly all of them conform to a type of geometrical form known as Platonic solid, suggesting that the knowledge of geometry prevailed as early as the Neolithic age.
The Towie ball.
The Platonic solids are prominent in the philosophy of Plato. He taught that these five solids were the core patterns of physical creation, associating each form to the four classical elements (earth, air, water, and fire), while the fifth one was held to be the building block of heaven itself. Examples of Platonic solids in nature are plenty —crystal structures, many viruses, and the arrangement of atoms in a molecule.
One of the most outstanding specimen is the so called “Towie ball”, so named because it was found in Towie, in Aberdeenshire. It is believed to date from about 2500 BC. This carved stone ball is about three inch in diameter and has four knobs, three of them decorated with spirals or dots and rings. The designs closely resemble those pecked into the stones of the passage mound at Newgrange in Ireland.
“In my view, these Neolithic people were experimenting with solid geometry and making wonderful finds,” writes Ian Begg, a retired Scottish architect, who is currently designing a planetarium whose structure will be based on these mysterious carved stones.
“These stone balls are very important and shows what we’ve seen demonstrated by Pythagorus nearly 2,000 years after the Scots,” he said.
Not everyone believes the stones were created specifically to study geometry. Some say the balls were used as bolas —a kind of trap made of weights on the ends of interconnected cords, designed to capture animals by entangling their legs, while others suggest they served as movable poises on a primitive weighing machine, or in the working of hides.
The purpose of the balls are still a mystery.
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