By Iain Ross Wallace
Having come to archaeology rather late in life, I have just completed a degree at Glasgow and am about to embark on a Research Masters, examining the stonemason’s marks of buildings in the early medieval period.
My interest in this was started by Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeology at NTS, who suggested “have a look for some stonemasons marks” whilst on a visit to Crookston Castle about 2 years ago. The smouldering fire soon burst into flame and the idea of expanding the investigation across Scotland was born.
Masons marks are probably the only thing that can help us to identify individual masons working on buildings such as Paisley Abbey and Glasgow Cathedral. Whilst we cannot put a name to an individual mark, we can see patterns emerging. For instance, of more than 300 marks so far identified at the Abbey and the Cathedral, about 12 appear at both places, suggesting the same masons worked on both. The marks themselves had several purposes during construction, from the quarry the stone came from, to the mason who carved it on the bench, to the position in which it was to be set. Marks can be elusive, however, as they served no purpose after the construction was completed and were often hidden on inside faces of the stone, or under plaster on a finished surface.
Image credit: Crookston Castle by Paradasos