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Towie Ball The Mysterious Neolithic Carved Stone

The Towie Ball has baffled archaeologists for the last 150 years. This small, sphere-shaped stones date back 5,000 years to the Neolithic period. They are typically about three inches in diameter. Most have been unearthed in Aberdeenshire.

Made of a black, fine-grained stone, it has an average diameter of 73mm. One of the finest examples is weighing just over 500g. It has four discs over its surface. Three of these are intricately carved while the fourth is blank.

Towie Ball. Image Credit: Amusing Planet

The Towie ball was discovered when a drain was cut several feet underground on the slopes of Glaschul Hill, Towie, in or before 1860, and was acquired in 1860 by the then-named National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, from James Kesson, the farmer at Drumellachay, via the local minister Rev. John Christie of Kildrummy.

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.

Interestingly, the spiral symbol on the ball resemble those carved into the stones of a faraway passage tomb at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley of eastern Ireland.

Giant Boulders with Spiral motif at the entrance of Newgrange. Image credit: Sacred Places Around The World: "108 Destinations" by Brad Olsen page 244


Various possibilities have been put forward to explain the function of these meticulously crafted spheres: as measures of weight, for throwing contests, or, attached to a stick.

One theory is that the knobs on many of the carved stone balls were wound with twine or sinew, which allowed them to be thrown like slings or South American bolas. Other theories describe the balls as objects of religious devotion or symbols of social status.

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 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.

Archaeologists still don't know the original purpose or meaning of the Neolithic stone balls, which are recognized as some of the finest examples of Neolithic art found anywhere in the world. But now, they've created virtual 3D models of the gorgeous balls, primarily to share with the public. In addition, the models have revealed some new details, including once-hidden patterns in the carvings on the balls.

The online 3D models were created with photogrammetry, which involves uniting detailed photographs of the surface textures and colors of the objects with precise data about their size and shape.

The photogrammetry process has revealed new information about some of the balls, by revealing underlying patterns of carved and chipped markings on some of them that otherwise could not be clearly seen, said Hugo Anderson-Whymark, a curator at National Museums Scotland who created the online models.

Creating one of the carved stone balls must have been a lengthy process — several of them show signs that their design evolved as they were worked on, perhaps over many years or even across generations, he said.

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