It takes the form of the letters "LV" next to what looks like a question mark, as this rubbing (done by George E. Robinson in about 1880) shows.
John Thurnam wrote a short paper about this carving and read it at the Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society's annual meeting on November 24th 1864. I've reproduced his report here followed by a letter to The Daily Graphic of Saturday Oct 12 1901.
On an Incised Marking on the Impost of the Great Trilithon, at Stonehenge.
By John Thurnam, M.D., F.S.A.
Of late years, attention has been much directed to certain curious incised markings on the surfaces of rocks, adjacent to ancient British camps and earthworks. There is great variety in their form and arrangement, but they principally consist of concentric circles surrounding a central dot or cup, from which a line more or less straight extends outwards, bisecting one half of the circles and reaching some distance beyond it; and so producing a figure somewhat resembling the small Greek φ. These peculiar emblems or symbols of totally unknown import, are clearly the work and device of man, and the common thought of some one people.
Fig. 1. - Principal Varieties of Ancient Incised Markings on Rocks or Stones in Northumberland.
They are particularly numerous in the more northern parts of England, and in Scotland; and especially in the counties of Northumberland and Argyle.
Fig. 2. - Ancient Incised Markings on Rocks near the Crinan Moss, Argyleshire.
From Drawings by Mr. Henry Davenport Graham.
(Diameter of the largest circle about 36 inches.)
They are not confined to the surfaces of undisturbed rocks near ancient British sites; but in one instance at least they have been found on a large menhir, or standing stone. This is the celebrated ortholith, connected with the well-known sacred circle near Penrith, called "Long Meg and her Daughters:" indeed it seems that it was on this stone that these curious designs were first observed in the year 1835, by Sir Gardner Wilkinson.(1)
(1) Journ. Brit. Arch. Assoc. 1860, vol. xii, p. 118 where a full account of these curious incised markings will be found. They had been previously and apparently for the first time publicly described by the Rev. W. Greenwell of Durham, in 1852, at the meeting of the Archaeological Institute at Newcastle; but it is only during the last two or three years that they have attracted much notice. Now, scarcely a month passes, without fresh discoveries of them. In the County of Northumberland alone, it is said that Mr. Tate of Alnwick, has seen and counted about three hundred and fifty of these lapidary concentric rock-cuttings. Amongst other notices of them, see those in the Archaeological Journal, vol. xxi, 1863, p. 87, 103, 163, 267. -Since this was written, a separate monograph on the subject has been published by Mr. Tate; "The ancient Sculptured Rocks of Northumberland and the Eastern Borders. By George Tate, F.G.S., 1865. Fig. 1 in this paper, p. 268, is a woodcut copied from one in Mr. Tate's book in the Archaeological Review, for October 1865, p. 294. In this cut, examples are given of as many as thirteen varieties of these curious incised markings, each of which is described and defined by Mr. Tate.There can be little doubt that "Long Meg and her Daughters" formed a consecrated site or place of assembly for the northern tribe of Brigantes, just as the circles of Avebury and Stonehenge did for the southern tribes of Dobuni and Belgae.(2)
(2) This monument of the "unknown past," has been described by the poet Wordsworth, in a foot note to the Sonnet, written in 1833, in which he tells us the effect which the first view of it excited in his mind:-
"Speak Thou whose massy strength and stature scorn
The power of years - pre-eminent and placed
Apart, to overlook the circle vast-
Speak, Giant-mother! Tell it to the Morn
While she dispels the cumbrous shades of Night;
Let the Moon hear, emerging from a cloud;
At whose behest uprose on British ground
The grand old Laureate was pre-eminent as an observer, and his description of this celebrated spot deserves to be transferred from the pages of his poems to those of the antiquary. It is as follows:- "The daughters of Long Meg, placed as a perfect circle eighty yards in diameter, are seventy-two in number above ground; a little way out of the circle stands Long Meg herself, a single stone, eighteen feet high. When I first saw this monument, as I came upon it by surprise, I might over-rate its importance as an object; but, though it will not bear a comparison with Stonehenge, I must say, I have not seen any other relique of those dark ages, which can pretend to rival it in singularity and dignity of appearance." Wordsworth had not seen the remains of our Avebury Circles.It was therefore not unreasonable to search on the stones of the most remarkable and celebrated of these monuments - Stonehenge, for traces of the same or of analogous symbols or sculpturings. There was the more reason for such a search from the fact, that although no marks precisely similar to those found on the rocks near the British camps of Northumberland, and on the celebrated standing stones near the Eden, had been observed in the south of England or in France, yet that incised marks, perhaps intended only for ornament, but certainly archaic, though in some cases probably of the nature of symbols, and engraved at great expenditure of time and labour, are found on the inner surfaces of the stones of cromlechs, sepulchral chambers, and cists, in England, France, and Ireland. The only instance, to the best of my knowledge, in which such markings have been found in the south of England, is on two covering stones in a large barrow at Came in Dorsetshire, which was opened by Mr. Charles Warne, F.S.A., nearly twenty years ago.(1)
(1) Journ. Brit. Arch. Assoc. vol. iii, p, 51. Celtic Tumuli of Dorsetshire. By Charles Warne, F.S.A. p.37; where see a cut of the concentric circles.This case is important, as showing that such graffiti are not confined to North Britain, but may be expected to reward the search for them on megalithic monuments and on rocks in the south of the island.
It was in February, 1861, that Dr. G. R. Tate, M.D., of the Royal Artillery, visited Stonehenge as he informs us,(2)
(2) Proceedings at Meetings of the Archaeological Institute, December 6, 1861, Arch. Journ. vol. xix, 1862, p. 78. It is stated in the Archaeological Journal, that "one of the stones of this trilith and the impost fell about one hundred years ago." This is incorrect. We are told expressly by John Aubrey, that it had fallen before his time, nearly two centuries and a half since. From the pages of his Monumenta Britannica, we learn that in the year 1620, when James the First was at Wilton, the Favourite Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, "did cause the middle of Stonehenge to be digged, and this under-digging was the cause of the falling downe or recumbeney of the great stone there, twenty-one foote long." Hoare, Ancient Wilts, vol. i. p. 174.with a principal object of looking for incised markings such as he was familiar with on the rocks near the British earthworks, on the Cheviots. "After long examination, I was delighted," says Dr. Tate, "to catch a glimpse of some symbol or character on the under surface of the fallen impost of one of the great triliths of the inner circle. The inscription is on the under surface of the impost, and occupies a position midway between the mortices. It is about 9 inches in length, and is (sharply) incised, but being encrusted with lichens and weather-worn, it must be viewed in a particular light to trace its form; which, however, under favourable circumstances is distinct enought, to an eye accustomed to read water-worn sculpturings. Its form is here shown (see woodcut).
Fig. 3. - Incised Marking on the Impost of the Great Trilithon at Stonehenge.
From a sketch by Dr. Tate, January, 1861.
About 3 inches from it is a hollow 3/4 of an inch in diameter, similar to those which are seen associated with the remarkable markings on rocks in Northumberland. I believe this incised character to be archaic, probably coeval with the erection of the Stonehenge circle; it has the same weather-worn appearance as the Northumberland sculpturings, which doubtless were the work of ancient British people. Beyond generally expressing an opinion as the to the antiquity of the curious mark or symbol, now first noticed at Stonehenge, I do not attempt to speculate on its origin or meaning."
On hearing of this discovery, and being furnished through the kindness of Mr. Albert Way, with a copy of Dr. Tate's sketch, I felt much interest in the matter, which seemed to be one of considerable importance. Here, on the under surface of the impost of the great central trilith, on the centre of what may be regarded as the key-stone of the whole structure, was a mark, which according to the sketch of it, looked very much like a sort of astronomical symbol, or if not that, seemed not unlike some of the ancient masons' marks. It was clearly an object to establish the accuracy of Dr. Tate's description and drawing, to look for marks in other parts of the structure, and to obtain as much information on the subject as possible. I was therefore glad of the opportunity which an attendance at the Salisbury Sessions in April 1862, gave me, of visiting Stonehenge by the way. On examination, I found that the markings did not exactly correspond with Dr. Tate's drawing; in which the peculiar sickle-shaped device was combined with what I at once saw were two Roman capital letters into a single figure. The letters, however, were found to be quite separate from the other part of the mark. The Roman V was very distinct, and the L only somewhat less so. The device and characters were comparatively sharply cut, and well covered with time-stains and lichens.
Fig. 4. - Incised Marking on the Impost of the Great Trilithon at Stonehenge.
From a rubbing by Dr. Thurnam, July 1862.
(One fifth the actual size.)
There were no markings of any kind in the corresponding position, on the under surface of the impost of the adjoining trilith which fell in 1797. My conclusion on the whole matter was that the marks "had been made in modern times, since the fall of the stone." I further expressed the opinion that "the whole was the work of some casual visitor to the spot, who however (from the hardness of the sarsen stone) must have spent considerable time in the operation."(1)
(1) Arch. Journ. vol. xix, p. 79. The opinion that the markings were made, "possibly soon after the fall of the stones," about 1620, is the only one not verified by the evidence subsequently obtained. The woodcut in the text (Fig. 4), being reduced from my careful rubbing of the stone, is in some particulars, more exact that that given by me in the Archaeological Journal. For the two woodcuts (Figs. 2,3,) I am indebted to the Council of the Archaeological Institute.The suggestion of the modern character of the marking was not received with much favour, and in the number of the Archaeological Journal in which these observations were published, it was remarked, "It is scarcely needful to point out how strong an argument in favor of the more remote antiquity of the markings may, as we apprehend, be drawn not less from their having become so thickly encrusted with lichen as to have escaped the notice of many keen observers, but also from the improbability that characters could have been thus carefully incised on so hard a material by any 'casual visitor.'"
On the occasion of the visit of the British Association to Stonehenge, in September 1864, the Rev. H. M. Scarth drew the attention of the meeting to these marks, and expressed himself altogether in favour of their remote antiquity, in terms similar to those previously employed in the Archaeological Journal.
Somewhat less than a year ago, I received a letter from the Rev. Canon Jackson F.S.A., drawing my attention to certain lapidary inscriptions found at Carthage in peculiar characters hitherto undeciphered, but called Lybian or Berber, which were collected by M. De Falbe, and are published in the thirtieth vol. of the Archaeologia,(2)
(2) Arch. vol. xxx, p. 112. Other inscriptions from the same necropolis at Makther are in the proper Phoenician characters.In one of these inscriptions, as Mr. Jackson pointed out to me, are "the capital letters V L, with sundry unintelligible devices. There may be nothing in it, but it is odd that V L should be on the trilithon very much like these in shape."
Here was curious matter for speculation; and it became a question whether those who since the time of Aylett Sammes(1)
(1) "Britannia Antiqua, The Antiquities of Britain, Derived from the Phoenicians," 1676, Stonehenge, p. 395-402.have very improbably maintained the Phoenician origin of Stonehenge, might not find a fresh argument in favour of their views, in the similarity of the characters on the impost, and those on the monuments found at Carthage. I was hence glad of the opportunity presented by the meeting at Stonehenge, to request the opinion of any learned persons who might be present, as to these characters. Professor Rawlinson favoured us with some observations, denying, as was to have been expected, their claim to be anything else than Roman. He expressed no decided opinion as to their ancient or modern date; and said he should at least not think it necessary to conclude that Stonehenge was erected in times subsequent to the Roman invasion. As to the emblem, - a sort of double sickle - he said that the sickle was a not uncommon symbol in ancient times. A single sickle was the emblem of the Italian town Arpi; and three sickles conjoined formed the triquetra , which was the national emblem of the Lycians in Asia Minor. This symbol might have been a sacred character in the British religious system; and some Roman coming to the spot, might have added his own initials. Mr. O'Callaghan suggested that a Roman soldier from Italy might have added the letters L V, signifying Legio Victrix, the honorary designation of his legion. But after all, he said, some Irish reaper may have cut the figure of his own sickle, and added the initial letters of his name (say Larry Varity,) to record a visit made not many years ago.(2)
(2) This report of the discussion on the incised marks, has been compiled from several reports; viz. those in the Wilts County Mirror, Sept. 28, 1864; Bath Chronicle Report of the Meeting of the British Association at Bath, 8vo, p. 271; Reader, Oct. 8, 15, 22, 1864; and from my own MS. notes.Had the conclusion as to the antiquity of these incised marks being well-founded, it would have been an object of much importance that they should have been religiously preserved. It seems however that in no long time after attention had been called to them, they became the object of wanton mischief from visitors. It might have been two years or more since I had previously seen them; but at the time of the meeting in September, not only had the lichens been scratched off the markings, but their edges and surfaces had been hacked and hewn with a knife or chisel, so that the aspect of age such as they had possessed was quite lost, and a completely different character given to them. Hence it was not surprising that there was much division of opinion as to their age, and that the majority of those present on this occasion appeared in favour of their modern date. All doubt on this head was soon to be dispelled.
In the following week, a letter dated Amesbury, September 28th appeared in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal, with the offer of evidence as to the modern character of the markings. This was written by a resident of this small town, which is distant about two miles from Stonehenge. All real antiquaries must feel indebted to Mr. W.C. Kemm, for his exertions in successfully dispelling a notion, which as he expressed it was "more likely to mislead than to throw any light on the origin of Stonehenge." Mr. Kemm subsequently informed me, that in consequence of the discussion which had taken place, he had been induced to make inquiries of his neighbours respecting the markings on the stone. The first person who could give him any information he says was Mr. John Zillwood, who is the schoolmaster of the place, a respected and intelligent person, 64 years old, well acquainted with Stonehenge from his boyhood. He says he distinctly remembers the time when he first saw the marks in question, when they were evidently fresh and newly made. His impression, when first spoken to, was that this happened about 45 years ago, in or about 1819. It was soon found that there was other evidence, in addition to that of the schoolmaster. John Pike, a shepherd, aged 62, whose early life was passed on the very farm of West Amesbury on which Stonehenge is situated, on being applied to, stated that he well remembered, about the time named by Mr. Zillwood, seeing two men, as he approached it, walk away from Stonehenge where, when he arrived, he for the first time saw the marks, newly cut, as he believed, by the very men who had just left the spot. This evidence, circumstantial though it be, appeared conclusive enough. Direct testimony was however soon obtained in the person of an eye witness of the proceedings. Joseph Spreadbury, a hedger and ditcher on the same farm, of the age of about 45 years, remembers as a little boy being at Stonehenge, having been sent there with his father's breakfast or dinner, and actually seeing these marks cut in the stone, by a man who appeared to be a mechanic; he having a hand basket with him, from which he took the chisels with which he cut the marks; soon after doing which he walked off in the direction of Salisbury. He does not remember there being another man with him, but says he may have been joined by a companion soon after leaving the stones. Spreadbury's evidence shows that the marks were cut some years later than supposed by Mr. Zillwood, the schoolmaster, and by Pike the shepherd, and probably not earlier than the year 1827 or 1828.
Such is all the history which can now be obtained of the markings by which the curious and the learned were in danger of being led astray. What can have been the motives which could have induced any man to take the labour of cutting a complex mark of this kind on so hard a stone as silicious-grit, cannot easily be determined. It may have been only that common but reprehensible vanity, which every day leads people to deface monuments of all sorts, by leaving on them a record of their visit. Whether, in this instance, there was any more deep laid scheme to mislead and deceive, can only be conjectured.
Every reader of the novels of Scott can hardly fail to have been reminded by my narrative, of the stone which Monkbarns dug up; and on which he found, as he thought, "the figure of a sacrificing vessel and the letters A.D.L.L.," which he translated Agricola Dicavit Libens Lubens. Who does not remember the passage where Edie Ochiltree bursting rudely on the Antiquary, undeceived him with the assurance, not only of "Praetorian here, Praetorian there, I mind the bigging o't;" - but also, that "ane o' the Mason-lads that built the lang dyke, at auld Aiken Drums bridal, about twenty years syne, cut a ladle on the stane, and put four letters on't, that's A.D.L.L. - Aiken Drum's Long Ladle - for Aiken was ane o' the Kale-suppers o' Fife."
Letter to The Daily Graphic, Saturday, October 12, 1901
AN UNOBSERVED SYMBOL AT STONEHENGE.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY GRAPHIC.
SIR, - In looking over a number of rubbings made by Mr. G.E. Robinson, formerly honorary secretary of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, and a well-known authority upon early monuments, I found a rubbing of an unpublished "sqraffito" from one of the fallen lintel stones of one of the large inner triliths. It appears to be of special interest, especially now that so many authorities incline to the opinion that the period of the monument is somewhat late. Mr. Robinson's letter will explain his own views. - Yours faithfully, T.H. THOMAS. Cardiff.
You remind me that Stonehenge is about to be re-edified in some way, and you suggest that my rubbing of a sculptured symbol and letters upon one of the fallen stones might interest the public. With this object I enclose the rubbing, to tell as much of its history and meaning as it can - for of this I have no theory, and can only suggest that possibly it may be a zodiacal sign in cryptic form; and if one, why not more? From old experience I know how difficult it is to see sculptures and inscriptions upon ancient monuments; letters and lines which at first are wholly invisible only begin to be revealed when some inspiration or slant of light gives the clue. My remembrance of this symbol is that it was incised upon the under side of the lintel of a fallen trilith - and it is quite possible a careful observation of other lintels may be rewarded by other discoveries. I am not aware if this has been noticed by any other observer and described; if so, I should like to see what has been written. But there is a certain resemblance to what our immortal friend Edie Ochiltree calls "Aiken Deans' lang ladle" which has kept me silent these long years.
I think it is coeval with the monument, but after twenty years my memory of it is not clear enough to be assured on this point. Such as the rubbing is I send it to you. - GEORGE E. ROBINSON.