Teacher pulling weeds pulls up ogham-inscribed stone

A rare stone with an ancient ogham inscription was discovered by Coventry geography teacher while weeding his flowerbed. Graham Senior was digging up weeds and rocks in his garden on May 28th, 2020, when just four or five inches below the surface he encountered a quasi-rectangular stone with parallel and diagonal incisions. He washed it and sent a photograph of the stone to an archaeologist relative of his who thought it worth reporting to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The finds liaison officer sent photos to a University of Glasgow professor who confirmed that the markings were ogham script.

Ogham is an early medieval alphabet used to write the Archaic Irish language from the 4th to the 6th century and Old Irish from the 6th to the 9th century. It was the first written language in Ireland and is typically found carved on stones in Ireland, Wales and western Britain. There are about 400 inscriptions from the Archaic Irish period known, and most of them are pillars with family names that were erected to broadcast ownership of land.

The rock found in Coventry is a small rectangle of sandstone with rounded ends 110 mm (4.3 inches) long, 38 mm (1.5 inches) wide and 19 mm (.75 inches) wide. It is inscribed on three of the long sides in  early ogham. The inscription therefore dates to the 5th or 6th century, but may have been engraved as early as the 4th century. It translates to MALDUMCAIL / S / LASS. The first side is a version of the personal name Mael Dumcail, but the meaning of the S and LASS is unclear. Given the usual purpose and significance of ogham stones, it may be a location reference.


Teresa Gilmore, am archaeologist and finds liaison officer for Staffordshire and West Midlands based at Birmingham Museums, said : “This is an amazing find. The beauty of the Portable Antiquities Scheme is that people are finding stuff that keeps rewriting our history.

“This particular find has given us a new insight into early medieval activity in Coventry, which we still need to make sense of. Each find like this helps in filling in our jigsaw puzzle and gives us a bit more information.” […]

Gilmore said such stones were “very rare and have generally been found in Ireland or Scotland … so to find them in the Midlands is actually unusual.”

She suggested it could be linked to people coming over from Ireland or to early medieval monasteries in the area. “You would have had monks and clerics moving between the different monasteries.”

Senior has donated to the rock to the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry where it will go on public display on Mary 11th in the new Collecting Coventry exhibition.

One thought on “Teacher pulling weeds pulls up ogham-inscribed stone

  1. Initially, I also thought of a location reference.

    …But the *shorthand* for “i” as “|||||”? 🤔️

    The piece is rather tiny, and therefore we are possibly dealing here with some form of certificate or “tally”, presumably Maldum’s tax declaration.

    Maybe someone ordered, i.e. “owed”, 5 jars of beer.

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