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Newton Stone
Illustration of the Newton Stone from John Stuart's Sculptured Stones of Scotland (1856).
Country: Scotland
Region: Newton House, Culsalmond, Aberdeenshire
City/Village: Originally plantation near Shevock toll-bar, currently East side of Newton House.
Produced: Late antiquity
Dimensions: 2.09 × 0.70 × 0.40 m.
Ogham letters:
 ᚔᚇᚇᚐᚏᚏᚅᚅᚅᚃᚑᚏᚏᚓᚅᚅᚔᚕᚑᚈᚉ  (left edge, top-to-bottom)
 ᚏᚑᚄᚏᚏ  (artificial stemline, top-to-bottom)
Text - Native:
Text - English:
Other resources:
  • Ogham
  • Ogham inscription

The Newton Stone is a pillar stone, found in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The stone contains two inscriptions: one is written in Ogham, but the second script has never been positively identified and many different decipherments or theories have been proposed since the 1860s.

The second script may have been added to the stone as recently as the late 18th or beginning of the 19th century.

Discovery and relocation

The Newton Stone has been known since 1804 when the Earl of Aberdeen George Hamilton-Gordon discovered the stone by the opening up of a new road near Pitmachie Farm, Aberdeenshire, after local shepherds told him of a "curious monument" that sat there.

The stone was later taken and planted in the garden of Newton House, in the Parish of Culsamond about a mile north of Pitmachie Farm by the antiquarian Alexander Gordon.

Gordon was later indebted by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for writing a letter describing the original position of the Newton Stone. His letter reads:

"I think it was in the year 1804 that I first saw the Newton Stone, the inscription on which I believe had been discovered by some shepherd boys in the preceding year. The stone, at that time, was situated in a fir plantation, a few paces distant from the high road, and near to the Pitmachie Turnpike. The trees have since been cut down, and the stone removed to the House of Newton."

In 1883, James Carnegie clarified that the stone was "moved to a site [garden] behind Newton House about 1837".


The Newton Stone contains two inscriptions. The first is an Ogham script possibly containing personal names, while the second has never been identified and became known from the early 19th century as the "unknown script". The Ogham script is engraved down the left-hand side of the stone and runs across part of its face. There are two rows of Ogham, a long and a short row. Across the top third of the stone, roughly central, is the unidentified script which contains 6 lines comprising 48 characters and symbols, including a swastika.


The Ogham inscription is ancient, but dates to Late Antiquity. Scholars have considered the possibility the unknown inscription was added a century or more after the Ogham.

William Forbes Skene dated the unknown inscription to the 9th century. It has also been proposed the "unknown script" is a modern forgery.

Decipherment theories

John Pinkerton first published the engravings of the Newton Stone in his Inquiry into the History of Scotland (1814) yet made no attempt to decipher the "unknown script". In 1821-1822, John Stuart, Professor of Greek at Marischal College, discussed the stone in his paper entitled "Sculpture Pillars in the Northern Part of Scotland" addressed to the Edinburgh Society of Antiquaries. According to Stuart, the first attempt at translation was by Charles Vallancey who fancied resemblance of the characters to Latin. In 1856, Stuart published Sculptured Stones of Scotland which mentions that William Mill from Cambridge University proposed the script was Phoenician. No other theories had been proposed at that time.

It was apparently George Hamilton-Gordon's son Arthur who first took drawings of the stone to Cambridge, where Mill studied them:

"A full discussion of it [Newton Stone] took place at the meeting of the British Association at Cambridge in 1862, when I was still living in Perthshire. The Hon. Arthur Gordon, afterwards Lord Stanmore, being a Cambridge man, had brought the subject before the authorities at Cambridge, and Dr Mill and others had studied the minuscules. My friend George Williams read to the Association Dr Mill's opinion, Dr Mill having died some time before. He held the inscription to be Phoenician, and read it as an address to the Syrian Esculapius. Mr Thomas Wright maintained that it was debased Latin; he read the first two lines hie iacet Constantinus, and later on he saw filius and the name of Constantine's father Constantius Chlorus in the genitive. Simonides at the same meeting said it was Greek, but gave it the same meaning as Mr Wright. Dr. Davis, the explorer of Carthage, said it was Phoenician, and made it mean a great deal. A learned Celtic scholar made it mean, among other things, the boundary of the royal field. Mr Vaux of the British Museum declared it to be mediaeval Latin. Professor Aufrecht believed it to be Phoenician."

Therefore, a heated debate at Cambridge took place in 1862 regarding the decipherment, when Thomas Wright criticized Mill's Phoenician theory, for a more simple Latin translation: "Here lies Constantinus, the son of". Wright's translation was supported by the palaeographer Simonides but who substituted the Latin for Greek. Dr. Mill had died in 1853, but his paper "On the Decipherment of the Phoenician Inscription on the Newton Stone discovered in Aberdeenshire" was read out during the debate. His translation was:

"To Eshmun, God of Health, by this monumental stone, may the wandering Exile of me, thy servant, go up in never-ceasing memorial, even the record of Han Thanet Zenaniah, Magistrate, who is saturated with sorrow."

In 1865 the antiquarian Alexander Thomson read a paper to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland addressing five decipherment theories:

  • Phoenician (Nathan Davis, Theodor Aufrecht, William Mill)
  • Gaelic (an unnamed correspondent of Thomson's)
  • Latin (Thomas Wright, William Vaux)
  • Greek (Constantine Simonides)
  • Gnostic symbolism (John O. Westwood)

Additionally, George Moore proposed a Hebrew-Bactrian translation, while Thomson mentions another scholar who likened the unknown inscription to Sinaitic.

The more eccentric or fanciful decipherments such as Phoenician or Hebrew were soon rejected for Latin or Gaelic:

"I find a difficulty in reconciling to my mind the probability of Buddhist priests coming from the far east to the far west, to the cold and then almost uninhabited wastes of the north of Scotland, and inscribing Hebrew words in the Ogham character of the Gaedhil of Erinn. Dr Moore's copy of the inscription is not correct."

According to the Scottish historian William Forbes Skene:

"It will be seen how closely the Ogham corresponds with the main [unknown] inscription. The language is nearly the same. The word Josa is a Gaelic form. Jesw, the corresponding Welsh and also Latin form. Gor is the Gaelic form; Guor the early Welsh."

In 1907, William Bannerman, developed Skene's theory that the inscription contains Old Irish:

"It is the Old Gaelic, the language of the Book of Deer and of the Celtic manuscripts on which Zeuss based his analysis in the Grammatica Celtica."

Laurence Waddell however as late as 1924 offered another radical decipherment as Hitto-Phoenician. His work was strongly criticized.

Possible forgery

In 1935, R. A. Stewart Macalister, while accepting the Ogham as ancient, considered the "unknown script" a modern forgery:

"The long line of Ogham writing is ancient: but I have not the slightest doubt that the shorter line, as well as the six lines of alphabetic signs and wonders on the face of the stone, are recent, and that they were executed while it was under cover of the plantation."

He also wrote:

"There has never been a ‘Newton Stone’ controversy; the literature of the subject, like that of the ‘Number of the Beast’, resembles a series of disconnected runaway knocks, inflicted by street urchins on the door of a tempting corner house."

The archaeologist C. A. Gordon however in 1956 disputed Macalister's claim:

"Convinced at first by Macalister's article, I visited the stone expecting to be confirmed in the belief that the incomprehensibility of the inscription was due to its being a forgery perpetrated in the early years of the nineteenth century and inspired by the then recent discovery of the Rosetta Stone. After deliberate examination I changed my mind, and now feel sure that the inscription is genuine ancient work [...] On the whole the evidence, both technical and petrological, seems to be so clearly in favor of the authenticity of the inscription that it can be confidently handed back to the consideration of scholars."

W. Douglas Simpson also rejected Macalister's assertion the unknown inscription was modern.

Numerical theory

In 1984, Anthony Jackson, a Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at Edinburgh University, called to abandon the linguistic approach for a numerical interpretation:

"...there is some advantage in abandoning a strictly linguistic approach to the Newton stone in favour of a numerical solution. Naturally this method cannot produce a translation of the unknown script any more than it can with the Oghams or symbol stones, but it does more than hint that the Picts were keenly aware of the property of numbers, especially if they had mystical significance."

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