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Transcribed from the 1885 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email
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The Clyde Mystery
A Study in Forgeries and Folklore

Andrew Lang, M.A. Oxford
Hon. Fellow of Merton College, LL.D. St. Andrews
D.Litt. Oxford, D.C.L. Durham

James MacLehose and Sons
Publishers to the University



The author would scarcely have penned this little specimen of what Scott
called "antiquarian old womanries," but for the interest which he takes
in the universally diffused archaic patterns on rocks and stones, which
offer a singular proof of the identity of the working of the human mind.
Anthropology and folklore are the natural companions and aids of
prehistoric and proto-historic archaeology, and suggest remarks which may
not be valueless, whatever view we may take of the disputed objects from
the Clyde sites.

While only an open verdict on these objects is at present within the
competence of science, the author, speaking for himself, must record his
private opinion that, as a rule, they are ancient though anomalous. He
cannot pretend to certainty as to whether the upper parts of the marine
structures were throughout built of stone, as in Dr. Munro's theory,
which is used as the fundamental assumption in this book; or whether they
were of wood, as in the hypothesis of Mr. Donnelly, illustrated by him in
the Glasgow _Evening Times_ (Sept. 11, 1905). The point seems
unessential. The author learns from Mr. Donnelly that experiments in
shaping piles with an ancient stone axe have been made by Mr. Joseph
Downes, of Irvine, as by Monsieur Hippolyte Muller in France, with
similar results, a fact which should have been mentioned in the book. It
appears too, that a fragment of fallow deer horn at Dumbuck, mentioned by
Dr. Munro, turned out to be "a decayed _humerus_ of the _Bos
Longifrons_," and therefore no evidence as to date, as post-Roman.

Mr. Donnelly also protests that his records of his excavations "were
exceptionally complete," and that he "took daily notes and sketches of
all features and finds with measurements." I must mention these facts,
as, in the book, I say that Mr. Donnelly "kept no minute and hourly dated
log book of his explorations, with full details as to the precise
positions of the objects discovered."

If in any respect I have misconceived the facts and arguments, I trust
that the fault will be ascribed to nothing worse than human fallibility.

I have to thank Mr. Donnelly for permission to photograph some objects
from Dumbuck and for much information.

To Dr. Munro, apart from his most valuable books of crannog lore, I owe
his kind attention to my private inquiries, and hope that I successfully
represent his position and arguments. It is quite undeniable that the
disputed objects are most anomalous as far as our present knowledge goes,
and I do not think that science can give more than all I plead for, an
open verdict. Dr. Ricardo Severe generously permitted me to reproduce a
few (by no means the most singular) of his designs and photographs of the
disputed Portuguese objects. A serious illness has prevented him from
making a visit recently to the scene of the discoveries (see his paper in
_Portugalia_, vol. ii., part 1). I trust that Dr. de Vasconcellos, from
whom I have not yet heard, will pardon the reproduction of three or four
figures from his _Religioes_, an important work on prehistoric Portugal.

To Dr. Joseph Anderson, of the National Museum, I owe much gratitude for
information, and for his great kindness in superintending the
photographing of some objects now in that Museum.

Dr. David Murray obliged me by much information as to the early
navigation of the Clyde, and the alterations made in the bed of the
river. To Mr. David Boyle, Ontario, I owe the knowledge of Red Indian
magic stones parallel to the perforated and inscribed stone from Tappock.

As I have quoted from Dr. Munro the humorous tale of the palaeolithic
designs which deceived M. Lartet and Mr. Christie, I ought to observe
that, in _L'Anthropologie_, August, 1905, a reviewer of Dr. Munro's book,
Prof. Boule, expresses some doubt as to the authenticity of the


1. Inscribed Stone, Langbank.

2. Grotesque Face on Stone, Langbank.

3. Late Celtic Comb, Langbank.

4. Bronze Brooch, Langbank.

5. _Churinga Irula_, Wooden Bull-roarers, Arunta Tribe.

6. _Churinga Nanja_, Inscribed Sacred Stone, Arunta.

7. Sacred Stone Uninscribed, Arunta.

8. Collection of Arunta Sacred Stones.

9, 10. Inscribed Perforated Stone from Tappock. Age of Iron.

11. Perforated and Inscribed Stone from Dunbuie.

12, 13. Perforated Inscribed Stones from Ontario, Canada.

14. Perforated Inscribed Stones from Portugal, Neolithic.

15. Perforated Inscribed Stones from Portugal, Neolithic.

16. Perforated "Cup and Duct" Stone, Portugal, Neolithic.

17, 18. Large Slate Spear-head, Dumbuck.

19. Stone Figurine of Woman, Dumbuck.

20, 21. Cup and Duct Stones, Portuguese, Dolmen Site, Villa d'Aguiar.

22. Stone Figurine of Woman, Portuguese, Dolmen Site, Villa d'Aguiar.

23. Heart-shaped Stone, Villa d'Aguiar.

24. Cupped Stone, Villa d'Aguiar.

25. Stone Pendant, Men in Boat, Scottish.

Figures 1-4 from _Transactions_, with permission of Glasgow
Archaeological Society. Figures 5-8, Spencer and Gillen, _Native Tribes
of Central Australia_; with permission of Messrs. Macmillan and Co. 9-11.
With permission of Scottish Society of Antiquaries. 12-13. Bulletin of
Board of Education of Ontario. 14-16. _Religioes_, etc., L. de
Vasconcellos. 17-19. With permission of Mr. W. H. Donnelly. 20-24. With
permission of Sr. Ricardo Severo. 25. With permission of Scottish
Society of Antiquarians.


The reader who desires to be hopelessly perplexed, may desert the
contemplation of the Fiscal Question, and turn his eyes upon _The Mystery
of the Clyde_. "Popular" this puzzle cannot be, for there is no "demmed
demp disagreeable body" in the Mystery. No such object was found in
Clyde, near Dumbarton, but a set of odd and inexpensive looking, yet
profoundly enigmatic scraps of stone, bone, slate, horn and so forth,
were discovered and now repose in a glass case at the National Museum in
Queen Street, Edinburgh.

There, as in the Morgue, lies awaiting explanation the _corpus delicti_
of the Clyde Mystery. We stare at it and ask what are these slate spear
heads engraved with rude ornament, and certainly never meant to be used
as "lethal weapons"? What are these many-shaped perforated plaques of
slate, shale, and schist, scratched with some of the old mysterious
patterns that, in almost every part of the world, remain inscribed on
slabs and faces of rock? Who incised similar patterns on the
oyster-shells, some old and local, some fresh - _and American_! Why did
any one scratch them? What is the meaning, if meaning there be, of the
broken figurines or stone "dolls"? They have been styled "totems" by
persons who do not know the meaning of the word "totem," which merely
denotes the _natural_ object, - usually a plant or animal, - after which
sets of kinsfolk are named among certain savage tribes. Let us call the
little figures "figurines," for that commits us to nothing.

Then there are grotesque human heads, carved in stone; bits of sandstone,
marked with patterns, and so forth. Mixed with these are the common rude
appliances, quern stones for grinding grain; stone hammers, stone
polishers, cut antlers of deer, pointed bones, such as rude peoples did
actually use, in early Britain, and may have retained into the early
middle ages, say 400-700 A.D.

This mixed set of objects, _plus_ the sites in which they were found, and
a huge canoe, 35 feet long, is the material part of the Clyde Mystery.
The querns and canoe and stone-polishers, and bones, and horns are
commonly found, we say, in dwellings of about 400-700 A.D. The peculiar
and enigmatic things are _not_ elsewhere known to Scottish antiquaries.
How did the two sets of objects come to be all mixed up together, in an
old hill fort, at Dunbuie on Clyde; and among the wooden foundations of
two mysterious structures, excavated in the mud of the Clyde estuary at
Dumbuck and Langbank, near Dumbarton? They were dug up between 1896 and

This is the question which has been debated, mainly in newspaper
controversy, for nearly ten years. A most rambling controversy it has
been, casting its feelers as far as central Australia, in space, and as
far back as, say, 1200 B.C. in time.

Either the disputed objects at the Museum are actual relics of life lived
in the Clyde basin many centuries ago; or the discoverers and excavators
of the old sites are dogged by a forger who "dumps down" false relics of
kinds unknown to Scottish antiquaries; or some of the unfamiliar objects
are really old, while others are jocose imitations of these, or - there is
some other explanation!

The modern "Clyde artists" are credited by Dr. Robert Munro with "some
practical artistic skill," and some acquaintance with the very old and
mysterious designs on great rocks among the neighbouring hills. {4} What
man of artistic skill, no conscience, and a knowledge of archaic patterns
is associated with the Clyde?

The "faker" is not the mere mischievous wag of the farm-house or the
country shop. It is possible that a few "interpolations" of false
objects have been made by another and less expert hand, but the weight of
the problem rests on these alternatives, - the disputed relics which were
found are mainly genuine, though unfamiliar; or a forger not destitute of
skill and knowledge has invented and executed them - or - there is some
other explanation.

Three paths, as usual, are open to science, in the present state of our
knowledge of the question. We may pronounce the unfamiliar relics
genuine, and prove it if we can. We may declare them to be false
objects, manufactured within the last ten years. We may possess our
souls in patience, and "put the objects to a suspense account," awaiting
the results of future researches and of new information.

This attitude of suspense is not without precedent in archaeology.
"Antiquarian lore," as Dr. Munro remarks by implication, _can_
"distinguish between true and false antiquities." {5a} But time is
needed for the verdict, as we see when Dr. Munro describes "the Breonio
Controversy" about disputed stone objects, a controversy which began in
1885, and appears to be undecided in 1905. {5b} I propose to advocate
the third course; the waiting game, and I am to analyse Dr. Munro's very
able arguments for adopting the second course, and deciding that the
unfamiliar relics are assuredly impostures of yesterday's manufacture.


Dr. Munro's acute and interesting book, _Archaeology and False
Antiquities_, {6} does not cover the whole of its amusing subject. False
gems, coins, inscriptions, statues, and pictures are scarcely touched
upon; the author is concerned chiefly with false objects of the
pre-historic and "proto-historic" periods, and with these as bearing on
the Clyde controversy of 1896-1905. Out of 292 pages, at least 130 treat
directly of that local dispute: others bear on it indirectly.

I have taken great interest in this subject since I first heard of it by
accident, in the October or November of 1898. As against Dr. Munro, from
whose opinions I provisionally dissent, I may be said to have no _locus
standi_. He is an eminent and experienced archaeologist in matters of
European pre-historic and proto-historic times. Any one is at liberty to
say of me what another celebrated archaeologist, Mr. Charles Hercules
Read, said, in a letter to Dr. Munro, on December 7, 1901, about some one
else: a person designated as " - -," and described as "a merely literary
man, who cannot understand that to practised people the antiquities are
as readable as print, and a good deal more accurate." {7} But though
"merely literary," like Mr. " - -," I have spent much time in the study of
comparative anthropology; of the manners, ideas, customs, implements, and
sacred objects of uncivilised and peasant peoples. Mr. " - -" may not
have done so, whoever he is. Again, as "practised people" often vary
widely in their estimates of antique objects, or objects professing to be
antique, I cannot agree with Mr. Read that "the antiquities" are "as
readable as print," - if by "antiquities" he means antiquities in general.
At the British Museum I can show Mr. Read several admirable specimens of
the art of faking, standing, like the Abomination of Desolation, where
they ought not. It was not by unpractised persons that they were
purchased at the national expense. We are all fallible, even the oldest
of us. I conceive Mr. Read, however, to mean the alleged and disputed
"antiquities" of the Clyde sites, and in that case, his opinion that they
are a "curious swindle" is of the most momentous weight.

But, as to practised opinion on antiquities in general, Dr. Munro and I
agree that it is really very fallible, now and again. The best
authorities, he proves, may read antiquities differently. He is not
certain that he has not himself, on occasion, taken "fakes" for true
antiques. {8a} The _savants_ of the Louvre were lately caught by the
notorious "tiara of Saitaphernes," to the pecuniary loss of France; were
caught on April 1, 1896, and were made _poissons d'Avril_, to the golden
tune of 200,000 francs (8000 pounds).

Again, M. Lartet and Mr. Christy betted a friend that he could not hoax
them with a forged palaeolithic drawing. They lost their bet, and, after
M. Lartet's death, the forged object was published, as genuine, in the
scientific journal, _Materiaux_ (1874). {8b} As M. Reinach says of
another affair, it was "a _fumisterie_." {8c} Every archaeologist may be
the victim of a _fumisterie_, few have wholly escaped, and we find Dr.
Furtwangler and Mr. Cecil Smith at odds as to whether a head of Zeus in
terra-cotta be of the fifth century B.C. or, quite the contrary, of the
nineteenth or twentieth century A.D.

Verily all "practised people" do not find "antiquities as readable as
print." On the other hand, my late friend, Dr. A. S. Murray, Keeper of
Classical Antiquities in the British Museum, "read" the Mycenaean
antiquities erroneously, placing them many centuries too late. M. de
Mortillet reckoned them forgeries, and wrote of the discoverer, Dr.
Schliemann, and even of Mrs. Schliemann, in a tone unusual in men of
science and gentlemen.

The great palaeolithic discoveries of M. Boucher de Perthes, the very
bases of our study of the most ancient men, were "read" as impostures by
many "practised people." M. Cartailhac, again, has lately, in the most
candid and honourable way, recanted his own original disbelief in certain
wall-paintings in Spanish caves, of the period called "palaeolithic," for
long suspected by him of being "clerical" impostures. {9}

Thus even the most "practised people," like General Councils, "may err
and have erred," when confronted either with forgeries, or with objects
old in fact, but new to them. They have _not_ always found antiquities
"as readable as print." Dr. Munro touches but faintly on these "follies
of the wise," but they are not unusual follies. This must never be

Where "practised people" may be mistaken through a too confirmed
scepticism, the "merely literary man" may, once in an azure moon, happen
to be right, or not demonstrably wrong; that is my excuse for differing,
provisionally, from "practised people." It is only provisionally that I
dissent from Dr. Munro as to some of the points at issue in the Clyde
controversy. I entered on it with very insufficient knowledge: I remain,
we all remain, imperfectly informed: and like people rich in
practice, - Dr. Joseph Anderson, and Sir Arthur Mitchell, - I "suspend my
judgement" for the present. {10}

This appears to me the most scientific attitude. Time is the great
revealer. But Dr. Munro, as we saw, prefers not to suspend his judgment,
and says plainly and pluckily that the disputed objects in the Clyde
controversy are "spurious"; are what the world calls "fakes," though from
a delicate sense of the proprieties of language, he will not call them
"forgeries." They are reckoned by him among "false antiquities," while,
for my part, I know not of what age they are, but incline I believe that
many of them are not of the nineteenth century. This is the extent of
our difference. On the other hand I heartily concur with Dr. Munro in
regretting that his advice, - to subject the disputed objects at the
earliest possible stage of the proceedings, to a jury of experts, - was
not accepted. {11a}

One observation must be made on Dr. Munro's logical method, as announced
by himself. "My role, on the present occasion, is to advocate the
correctness of my own views on purely archaeological grounds, without any
special effort to refute those of my opponents." {11b} As my view is
that the methods of Dr. Munro are perhaps, - and I say it with due
deference, and with doubt, - capable of modification, I shall defend my
opinions as best I may. Moreover, my views, in the course of seven long
years (1898-1905) have necessarily undergone some change, partly in
deference to the arguments of Dr. Munro, partly because much new
information has come to my knowledge since 1898-99. Moreover, on one
occasion, I misstated my own view, and, though I later made my real
opinion perfectly dear, some confusion was generated.


It is necessary, after these prefatory remarks, to give an account of the
rise of the Clyde controversy, and I may be pardoned for following the
example of Dr. Munro, who adds, and cannot but add, a pretty copious
narrative of his own share in the discussion. In 1896, the hill fort of
Dunbuie, "about a mile-and-a-half to the east of Dumbarton Castle, and
three miles to the west of the Roman Wall," {12} was discovered by Mr. W.
A. Donnelly: that is to say, Mr. Donnelly suggested that the turf might
conceal something worth excavating, and the work was undertaken, under
his auspices, by the Helensburgh Antiquarian Society.

As Mr. Donnelly's name constantly occurs in the discussion, it may be as
well to state that, by profession, he is an artist, - a painter and
designer in black and white, - and that, while keenly interested in the
pre-historic or proto-historic relics of Clydesdale, he makes no claim to
be regarded as a trained archaeologist, or widely-read student. Thus,
after Mr. Donnelly found a submarine structure at Dumbuck in the estuary
of the Clyde, Dr. Munro writes: "I sent Mr. Donnelly some literature on
crannogs." {13a} So Mr. Donnelly, it appears, had little book lore as to
crannogs. He is, in fact, a field worker in archaeology, rather than an
archaeologist of the study and of books. He is a member of a local
archaeological Society at Helensburgh on the Clyde, and, before he found
the hill fort of Dunbuie, he had discovered an interesting set of "cup
and ring" marked rocks at Auchentorlie, "only a short distance from
Dunbuie." {13b}

Mr. Donnelly's position, then, as regards archaeological research, was,
in 1896-1898, very like that of Dr. Schliemann when he explored Troy.
Like Dr. Schliemann he was no erudite savant, but an enthusiast with an
eye for likely sites. Like Dr. Schliemann he discovered certain objects
hitherto unknown to Science, (at least to Scottish science,) and, like
Dr. Schliemann, he has had to take "the consequences of being found in
such a situation."

It must be added that, again like Dr. Schliemann he was not an excavator
of trained experience. I gather that he kept no minute and hourly-dated
log-book of his explorations, with full details as to the precise
positions of the objects discovered, while, again like Dr. Schliemann, he
had theories of his own, with some of which I do not concur.

Dr. Munro justly insists on "the absolute necessity of correctly
recording the facts and relics brought to light by excavations." {14a} An
excavator should be an engineer, or be accompanied by a specialist who
can assign exact measurements for the position of every object
discovered. Thus Dr. Munro mentions the case of a man who, while digging
a drain in his garden in Scotland, found an adze of jade and a
pre-historic urn. Dr. Munro declares, with another expert, that the jade
adze is "a modern Australian implement," which is the more amazing as I
am not aware that the Australians possess any jade. The point is that
the modern Australian adze was _not_, as falsely reported, in the pre-
historic urn. {14b}

Here I cannot but remark that while Dr. Munro justly regrets the absence
of record as to precise place of certain finds, he is not more hospitable
to other finds of which the precise locality is indicated. Things are
found by Mr. Bruce as he clears out the interior of a canoe, or imbedded
in the dock on the removal of the canoe, {15} or in the "kitchen
midden" - the refuse heap - but Dr. Munro does not esteem the objects more
highly because we have a distinct record as to the precise place of their


To return to the site first found, the hill fort of Dunbuie, excavated in
1896. Dr. Munro writes:

"There is no peculiarity about the position or structure of this fort
which differentiates it from many other forts in North Britain. Before
excavation there were few indications that structural remains lay
beneath the debris, but when this was accomplished there were exposed
to view the foundations of a circular wall, 13.5 feet thick, enclosing
a space 30 to 32 feet in diameter. Through this wall there was one
entrance passage on a level with its base, 3 feet 2 inches in width,
protected by two guard chambers, one on each side, analogous to those
so frequently met with in the Brochs. The height of the remaining
part of the wall varied from 18 inches to 3 feet 6 inches. The
interior contained no dividing walls nor any indications of secondary

Thus writes Dr. Munro (pp. 130, 131), repeating his remarks on p. 181
with this addition,

"Had any remains of intra-mural chambers or of a stone stair been
detected it would unhesitatingly be pronounced a broch; nor, in the
absence of such evidence, can it be definitely dissociated from that
peculiar class of Scottish buildings, because the portion of wall then
remaining was not sufficiently high to exclude the possibility of
these broch characteristics having been present at a higher level - a
structural deviation which has occasionally been met with."

"All the brochs," Dr. Munro goes on, "hitherto investigated have shown
more or less precise evidence of a post-Roman civilisation, their range,
according to Dr. Joseph Anderson, being "not earlier than the fifth and
not later than the ninth century." {17} "Although from more recent
discoveries, as, for example, the broch of Torwodlee, Selkirkshire, there
is good reason to believe that their range might legitimately be brought
nearer to Roman times, it makes no difference in the correctness of the
statement that they all belong to the Iron Age."

So far the "broch," or hill fort, was not unlike other hill forts and
brochs, of which there are hundreds in Scotland. But many of the relics
alleged to have been found in the soil of Dunbuie were unfamiliar in
character in these islands. There was not a shard of pottery, there was
not a trace of metal, but absence of such things is no proof that they
were unknown to the inhabitants of the fort. I may go further, and say
that if any person were capable of interpolating false antiquities, they
were equally capable of concealing such real antiquities in metal or
pottery as they might find; to support their theories, or to serve other
private and obscure ends.

Thus, at Langbank, were found a bronze brooch, and a "Late Celtic" (200
B.C.? - A.D.) comb. These, of course, upset the theory held by some
inquirers, that the site was Neolithic, that is, was very much earlier
than the Christian era. If the excavators held that theory, and were
unscrupulous, was it not as easy for them to conceal the objects which
disproved the hypothesis, as to insert the disputed objects - which do not
prove it?

Of course Dr. Munro nowhere suggests that any excavator is the guilty

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