The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Height: 2.100 m
Gift of Colonel Lane-Fox (later known as General Pitt-Rivers)
Sandstone memorial slab carved with Ogam script
Irish, 5th century AD
From Roovesmore Rath, Aglish, County Cork, Ireland
The earliest Irish writing
This rough sandstone slab is inscribed in ogam script along the vertical edges. It reads 'VEDACUNA [MAQI] TOBIRA MUCOI SOGINI', meaning '[stone] of Vedac, son of Tob of the Sogain' in Primitive Irish. It dates from the fifth century AD, before the widespread introduction of the Latin alphabet in Ireland. It is the earliest reference to the Sogain, a people known from later records.
The basic twenty-six ogam letters are formed by groups of lines and notches cut on a stem line. It is usually read upwards, but here it runs down one side and up the other. Ogam script was invented in southern Ireland around AD 400 and was used for simple inscriptions to record names and kin-groups in early Irish. Such stones marked boundaries and burials and are the earliest local records of the language and peoples of Ireland.
This stone, together with two other large ogam stones, comes from a rath or stone-walled homestead, in County Cork. They commemorate members of local groups of peoples also known from placename and early historic evidence. The stones had all been reused, perhaps in the ninth century, as roofing slabs for an underground chamber, suggesting that even at this early date these monuments had lost their meaning in the local landscape.
In 1865 the inscriptions were noticed and the stones removed by Colonel Augustus Lane Fox, later better known as the archaeologist General Pitt Rivers. He published a detailed account with drawings of his work.
R.A.S. Macalister, Corpus inscriptionum insularum, 2nd ed. (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 1996)
D. McManus, A guide to Ogam, Maynooth Monographs 4 (Maynooth, An Sagart, 1991)
C. Thomas, And shall these mute stones sp (Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1994)
A. Lane Fox, 'Roovesmore Fort, and stones inscribed with oghams, in the Parish of Aglish, County Cork', Archaeological Journal-1, 27 (1867), pp.123-39
N. Edwards, The archaeology of early Medie (London, Batsford Ltd., 1996)