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No. 50: Mar-Apr 1987

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Hardball For Keeps

"Archeologists call them "balls" for want of a better word; but, after several centuries of intensive collection, scrutiny and study, nobody really knows what they are.

"Imagine, if you will, a spherical piece of carved rock a little smaller than a baseball. The shape bespeaks artifice. Something -- somebody -- made it.

"More than 500 of these objects have been found in Great Britain and Ireland, most of them in Scotland, near prehistoric dwelling places, passage graves and the mysterious rings of standing stones whose specific purpose also eludes the experts."

Archeologists believe the balls are more than 4,000 years old. All are different; all are symmetrical with projecting knobs, six in most cases.

So much for the basic data. Now let us progress (?) to theory. D.B. Wilson suggests that the balls were really hand-thrown missiles used in bloody games played at standing-stone sites during astronomically decreed rites. (Remember the Maya had their grisly ballgames, too!) The stone balls are indeed perfectly weighted, shaped and textured for throwing at the heads of opposing players. Perhaps, says Wilson, the games had rules such that you were safe when touching a standing stone, but to score you had to run to another standing stone while fair game for the first IPMs (Interpersonal Missiles). And so on and so on. You now get the gist of this clever little piece.

(Wilson, David B.; "Hardball for Keeps," Boston Globe, October 12, 1986.)

Comment. Tongue-in-cheek is fun, but the stone balls remain anomalous.

Reference. Our handbook Ancient Man contains more information on these curious artifacts. Book information at: here.

Typical stone balls from megalithic sites A few typical stone balls from megalithic sites. Illustration from Ancient Man.

From Science Frontiers #50, MAR-APR 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss