Drawing the Hostage Stone

In 2008 I was lucky enough to get to illustrate the “Hostage Stone” for Chris Lowe’s Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monograph “Inchmarnock: An Early Historic Island Monastery and Its Archaeological Landscape”

The Hostage Stone© Headland Archaeology

The stone was one of many found during the Headland Archaeology Ltd Inchmarnock excavation. A mix of sculptured crosses, grave markers and etched slate.

Inchmarnock Stones
© Headland Archaeology

The stones are often a palimpsest of repeated letters, practice circles, random designs and gaming boards.

Etched stone
© Headland Archaeology

The “Hostage Stone” was unusual in that it is a single drawing showing what looks like three warriors taking a fourth character away in chains to a boat.

Only two fragments of the stone have been found. There are at least two more fragments still out there. The two fragments were found many meters apart over two different digging seasons. Plough scars hint at how the stone was broken.

Plough scars
© Headland Archaeology

The main warrior has amazing hair – Chris suggested that this could be a Celtic tonsure. All the warriors have layered armour. Notice how the headless warrior’s armour changes direction. They also have legs drawn in different patterns with one of the patterns including circles over the knees

© Headland Archaeology
More legs
© Headland Archaeology
© Headland Archaeology

The fourth character was interpreted as the “hostage”. Interestingly this character was far less defined than the warriors. To me, it looked like the features had been rubbed out.

© Headland Archaeology
© Headland Archaeology

The “hostage” was interesting as they had what looked like a handbag chained to their body. Chris interpreted this as a reliquary or a padlock. The chain/rope holding the hostage hangs down from the hostage’s hands and loops to the right into the hand of the warrior (just above the back leg).

© Headland Archaeology

The ship has two steering oars to the stern, spears at the bow and a sail/deck house amidships. I was interested in the rowing oars changing at the break and wonder if the crack was visible at the time and possibly used to distinguish between the oar in and out of the water.

© Headland Archaeology

To finish, the drawing is crossed out! 

crossed out
© Headland Archaeology

I have often wondered if the stone is telling the story of St Patrick when he was captured as a young man and taken to Ireland as a slave. Perhaps this might explain why the “hostage” has been rubbed out. Is the figure being touched for good luck or a blessing?

So is it Viking or Pictish raiders?

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