The mystery of the Neolithic stone balls.

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One of the things I love about the Neolithic is the number of totally weird things that have been found. And for most of these we have absolutely  no idea at all what they were used for. Like stone circles, man made hills, deer skulls that might have been worn as masks, and knobbly stone balls. Yes, knobbly stone balls. Look at  this beautiful example from 3200 – 2500BC which was found in Aberdeenshire.

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You can also see some real ones at the British Museum.

Almost 400 of these balls have been found, most of them in Scotland, including five from Skara Brae. Most of them are around 7cm in diameter and almost half of them have six knobs, though some have less and some have more. The are all symmetrical and some were decorated with spirals and other patterns.

No-one really has any clue as to what these balls are all about, but here are some of the ideas that archaeologists have had:

  1. they were used as weapons – maybe swung round in a leather strap then flung
  2. they were used as balls in a game
  3. they were weights
  4. they were used to help in the construction of stone circles somehow
  5. they were used in rituals of some sort

They must have taken a very long time to make, and some were incredibly beautiful, which makes me think they must have been precious objects. Very few of them are damaged or chipped which makes it less likely that they were chucked about. We thought we would try and made some of our own to see if that would give us any ideas.

Make your own Neolithic stone balls

Take a lump of air drying clay about the size of a tennis ball and roll in into a sphere.

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Next, work out where your knobs will be. If you are making a six knob one, you will need three pairs of knobs, with one knob on either side of the sphere, like sides of a dice. Now you can carve out the knobs using a modelling tool (or your fingers).

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Once your knobs have been carved you can smooth them out bit with a finger dipped in water and then decorate them.  You could make spirals, or use something else to make a pattern. My daughter rolled hers around on a cheese grater (as you do.)

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There, your balls are finished. They are lovely to hold in your hand, and it is very tempting to roll them along the ground or play bowls with them. What do you think? Do you have any other ideas? You never know – maybe you could be right!