Carved stone balls from Scotland are an enigmatic class of objects and they have been the subject of much speculation by scientists over the years.
Mysterious artefacts seem to date mainly to the Late Neolithic period (c. 3000 – 2500 BC), and are made of various stones ranging from sandstone to granite. They are all of a relative similar size and are decorated with carved evenly-spaced patterns of circular bosses or knobs around the surface of the sphere. The designs vary with the majority being based around a series of six bosses, but the number of bosses varies from 3-160. Some carved balls are more skilfully manufactured than others, and a rare few have additional decoration. All show an appreciation for symmetry in the design.
Over 400 of these unique objects have been found, nearly all of them in the Scotland, with the majority found in Aberdeenshire, however, some samples were also discovered in Britain and Ireland.
Various theories have been put forward to explain their use or significance.
They are presumed to have been non-utilitarian objects with a symbolic or social significance to communities, and are most frequently interpreted as being indicators of power or prestige. In 2013 a carved stone ball with six bosses was found under a buttress of a Late Neolithic structure during excavations at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney. The find location suggesting to the excavators that it might have been a special deposit perhaps associated with the construction of the building.
Many researchers suggest that the balls were actually used as weapons, and others think that they were used as weights for fishing nets; some suggested that the objects had a ceremonial role in various rituals.
However, none of these theories gained wide acceptance, and the function of these special, carved stone objects from the Late-Neolithic-Scotland era remains unknown to this day.