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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

Thurso “Spoked Wheels” Stone (by Geoff Leet)

The Stone
Opposite 14 St Andrews Drive, Thurso, at ND 1143 6758, west of the road fence in the shadow of a tree, lies a stone about 1.2 M long and 0.7M wide with 0.3M showing above the ground. To one side of the rough top face are inscribed two spoked wheels with rough markings above, and were noticed by Sinclair Houston in 1925 when this was a green field. Each wheel has about 12 spokes. The wheels look like perfect 8 cm diameter circles but actually vary from 79 to 83 mm in one and 77 to 81 mm in the other so are clearly hand inscribed without mechanical assistance. George Watson's rubbing of the stone is reproduced here, and the probable date of the inscription is discussed below.

A Modern Bicycle Wheel?
Starley's ROVER safety bicycle with chain drive and equal sized wheels brought in the modern bicycle in 1885, so this would appear to be the earliest model available to a bicycle artist. The two wheels on the stone are too close together to correctly depict a bicycle. If a bicycle has been portrayed the date of carving must probably lie between 1885 and 1925.

A Pictish Symbol Stone?
Wheels are very rare in Pictish art. A two horse, two wheel cart, carrying a driver with two passengers under a roof, appeared on Meigle No 10 in Perthshire, now lost. It was a conventional side view and the wheel is 12 spoked. It may be a Biblical scene.
At Alyth, also in Perthshire, a surviving part of a double disk is decorated by 15 radial lines from an offset hub. (Ref 1)

Chariot Wheels?
Carvings at Frannarp, south Sweeden, 1500-1300BC, showed several chariots depicted from above with the chassis as it would appear in an aerial photograph, but with the wheels and the horses laid flat on the ground alongside. One chariot is reproduced here, and the wheel placing is similar to the Thurso stone.
These wheels were the 4 spoke light bentwood and rawhide Ancient Egyptian type. These could be made without metal but could not survive well in damp northern Europe where wheels like light cart wheels came to be favoured. (Ref 2). The Romans invading Britain were surprised to be attacked by chariots that had fallen out of use elswhere.

Another Spoked Wheel Stone
Outside Tain Museum stands the Ardjachie Stone with cup marks (probably Bronze Age), an "L" shape, and a single 12 spoke wheel reproduced here. The features may not be of the same date and Picts have been known to reuse existing stones. (Ref 3)

1. The Art of the Picts by George & IsobelHenderson, page 220.
2. British Archaeology, Sept/Oct 2005, page 41
3. Pictish Stones of Easter Ross by Ellen MacNamara, page 13.

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