Chapter III


"It is provoking to have an inscription in our own country of unquestionable genuineness and antiquity, which seems to have baffled all attempts to decipher it ; and that, too, in an age when Egyptian hieroglyphs and the cuneative characters of Persepolis and Babylon and Nineveh have been forced to reveal their secrets to laborious scholars."-
THE inscriptions on the Newton Stone pillar, of which the one in "unknown" script referred to in the heading has still remained hitherto undeciphered, are two in number, and in different scripts. That in the "unknown" script, also often and rightly so called the "main" inscription, is engraved on the upper half of the flattish face of the boulder pillar (see Frontispiece a and Fig. 6). It is boldly and deeply incised in six lines of forty-eight characters, with the old Swastika Sun-Cross exactly in the centre-twenty-four of the letters, including dots, being on either side of it. The other inscription is incised along the left-hand border of the pillar and overruns part of the flat face below (see Frontispiece c, also Fig. 7); and is in the old "Ogam" linear characters, the cumbrous sacred script of the Irish Scots and early Britons.

On the publication of a reproduction of these inscriptions about a century ago, some time after the monument first

1 P.S.A.S. v. 224.



attracted modern notice,1 innumerable attempts were made to decipher and translate them, with the most conflicting and fantastically varied results.

As the traditional key to the Ogam script has been preserved in the Book of Ballymote and in several bi-lingual Ogam-Roman inscriptions, and as it was surmised that the Ogam was presumably contemporary with and was a bi-lingual version of the "unknown" script, it was hoped that the Ogam version might afford a clue to the reading of that main script. But this expectation was admittedly not realized by the more authoritative experts.

Even respecting the Ogam inscription no two of the essaying translators were agreed in their readings. The disagreement between the various attempted interpretations of the Ogam version was owing to the unusual absence of divisions or spaces between most of its series of strokes, owing to their overcrowding through want of space; for different numerical groupings of these Ogam letter-strokes yield totally different letters. Indeed the prime authority on Ogam script, Mr. Brash, in publishing his final careful study of that version,2 deliberately refrains from giving any translation of it, saying "I have no translation to give of it"3; because the letters, as tentatively read by him without any clues to the names therein, made up no words or sentences which seemed to him intelligible or to yield any sense.

The attempts at deciphering and translating the main or central inscription in the unknown script were even much more widely diverse. Some writers surmised that this unknown script was Celtic and the language Gaelic or Pictish, or Erse or Irish; others thought it was Hebrew or Greek or Latin, others Anglo-Saxon or Coptic or Palmyrene, and one suggested that it was "possibly Phoenician," that is the Semitic Phoenician, and attempted to read it back-

1. An early engraving of the Stone and its inscriptions appeared in Pinkerton's Inquiry into the History of Scotland, 1814; and another by Prof. Stuart in 1821 in Archaeologia Scotica (ii, 134); and a more careful lithographic copy in Plate I of SSS. above cited.
2. B.O.I., 359-362.         3. Ibid.362.


wards. But all of them totally disagreed in their readings and translations, which most of them candidly admitted were mere "guesses," till at last its decipherment was thrown up in despair by the less rash antiquaries and paleographers.

The chief later attempts at deciphering this central inscription, since those made by Lord Southesk in 1882-5,1 Sir W. Ramsay in 1892,2 Whitley Stokes,3 and Professor J. Rhys4 in the same year, have been by Dr. Bannerman in 19075 and Mr. Diack in 1922.6 These attempts, like most of the earlier ones, were on the assumption that the script and language were "Pictish" or "Celtic," although Dr. Stuart, a chief specialist in "Pictish" or "Celtic" script who edited one of the oldest real Picto-Celtic manuscripts,7 confessed his inability to recognize the script as such, and expressly refrained from proposing the decipherment of a single letter. Professor Rhys, also an authority on Celtic script, similarly confessed his inability to decipher this inscription as he "cannot claim to have had any success," though he nevertheless ventured to hazard "a translation of part of both it and the Ogam script"-which latter he calls "non-Aryan Pictish"-with the apology that it was "purely a guess" and a mere "picking from previous attempts by others and by myself."8 Yet this final attempt does not carry him beyond three words in the former and five in the latter.

The totally different results of these latest conjectural readings and "translations" will be evident when the readings are here placed alongside, and makes it difficult

1 P.S.A.S., 1882, 21f ; 1884, 191f; 1865, 30f.
2 Academy, Sept. 1892 240-1.
3 Ibid. June 4, and July 12, 1892.
4 P.S. A.S., 1891-2, 280f.
5 Ibid. 1907-8, 56f.
6 Newton Stone and other Pictish Inscriptions, 1922. He surmises that the main inscription is in "Old Gaelic" language in "Roman" script, and construes it after the opening sentence still altogether different from previous attempts, and makes it the epitaph of two persons Ette and Elisios; and that the Ogam is not bi-lingual but added later as epitaph of a third person.
7 Adamnan Book of Deer with life of St. Columba, edited and translated by J. Stuart.
8 P.S.A.S., 1892-3, loc cit., and 1898, 361f.


to believe that the writers are dealing with the self-same inscriptions:-

   Lord Southesk
    Ogam  Aiddai qiin forrerr iph      "Ete Forar's daughter of
         ua iossn.                     the race of the sons of Uos
    Main Aittai/furur/ingin sucl       "Ete Forar's daughter of
         o uose urchn elisi/           the race of the sons of Uos,
         maqqi logon-patr              disciple of Eliseus, son of the
                                       priest of Hu (or Logh Fire-
   Sir W. Ramsay:
    Main Edde/ecnunvaur              ..................................

   Whitley Stokes
    Ogam eddar Acnn vor renni        ..................................
         Pui h Iosir
    Main edde/Ecnunuar hu-

   Sir J. Rhys
    Ogam Idda rhe/iq nnn vorrem       "Lies here Vorr's offspring Iosif"
           u      io
        ip --- a --- iosir
           o      i
    Main  Aettae/Accnun var          "Lies here Vorr's ....."
          svoho coto/caaelisi           
   Dr. Bannerman
     Hain: Ette/cum-anmain          "Draw near to the soul of
      Maolouoeg un rofiis:          Moluag from whom came
      I h-inssi/Loaoaruin           knowledge. He was of the
                                    island of Lorn."
   Mr. Diack:2
    Ogam Iddaiqnnn  vor-renni       "Iddaiqnnn son of Vor-
      ci Osist.                     enni here Osist."
    Main Ette Evagainnias           "Ette son of Evagainnias
      Cigonovocoi Uraelisi           descendant of Ci(n)go here.
      Maqqi Noviogruta               The grave of Elisios son of
                                     New Grus."

1 The locations of these readings are already cited.
2 Op. cit., pp. 9, 12, 14, and 16.


As a consequence of such irreconcilable attempts at deciphering and translating these inscriptions, and as at the same time their supposed contents were conjectured to be of little or no historical importance or significance, this ancient inscribed monument of such unique importance for Early British History has fallen practically into oblivion.1

1 Thus it is not mentioned in the text of "The County Histories of Scotland" for Aberdeenshire, nor in "Early Britain" in The Story of the Nations series, nor in "Celtic Britain" by Rhys, nor in the modern county and district manuals for Aberdeenshire, except in Ward's popular "Aberdeen" book where the fact of its existence is noted in four lines with the remark that the inscription is "in Greek-varied and conflicting are the attempted readings."
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