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No. 62: Mar-Apr 1989

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The cup-and-ring motif in america

Cup-and-rings motifs from Ireland
Typical cup-and-rings from Ireland. Drawing from Ancient Man.
The 1988 volume of the Occasional Papers of the Epigraphic Society is at hand. As usual, it is chock full of ancient symbols, motifs, and writings, many of which come from anomalous times and/or places. R.W.B. Morris, an authority on prehistoric rock art, has contributed an article comparing the cup-and-ring motif, as found in Great Britain, with that found in North America. Since this stereotype motif decorates the rocks of all continents, save Antarctica, and since the hey-day of cup-and-ring engraving was 3-5 millennia ago, this unique design suggests the worldwide diffusion of culture thousands of years ago.

A cup-and-ring engraving consists of a hollow or cup anywhere from 4 to 30 inches in diameter, surrounded by 1 to 9 rings. The rings may be gapped, with a narrow groove running through the gaps from the outside. (See the illustration,) Cups-and-rings have been found at over 700 sites in Great Britain. Most date between 2200 and 1600 B.C.

The cup-and-ring is much rarer in the States. A few are known from Alabama, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Texas, and doubtless other states. In contrast to the British cups-and-rings, the American ones are upgapped, though otherwise indistinguishable.

What is the significance of the motif? Of course, no one can say for sure. Many in Britain are near copper and gold workings. Other are associated with burials and astronomical alignments. Some European archeologists think they represent the sun or sun god. For the anomalist, the cups-and-rings hint at an ancient worldwide culture that left its signature on rocks just about everywhere.

(Morris, Ronald W.B.; "The Cup-andRing Motif in the Rock Art of the British Isles and in America," Occasional Papers, Epigraphic Society, 17:19, 1988.)

From Science Frontiers #62, MAR-APR 1989. 1989-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987