In secluded fields, on the walls of churches, and beneath construction sites, stones have been found with intricate markings that rise from the lower left up to the center and then down to the lower right.
This is the ancient Celtic Tree Alphabet known as Ogham (pronounced owam). Archaeological linguists have managed to translate the symbols, yet no one knows for certain how or why this language came into existence. Efforts are being made to preserve the relics, however, the stones are weathering and crumbling at an alarming rate.
Attempts to Preserve the Unique Inscriptions
There are roughly 400 stones known to contain Ogham markings, 360 of which are in Ireland. The rest have been discovered scattered across Wales, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. The oldest relic is believed to date back to the 4th century AD, but one must assume that earlier examples existed on perishable mediums, such as wood, possibly as far back as the 1st century AD.
For the most part, the messages contain names of people and places, perhaps to demarcate boundaries and property. These old, weathered rocks are covered with lines and slashes, cut directly into the stone. Before the realization that Ogham was a distinct language, many believed the cuts to be merely decorative.
One of the major problems facing archaeologists in their attempts to preserve Ogham stones is the unique physical style of the inscriptions. “Most inscriptions on stone are in the face of the stone,” said Nora White, an archaeological linguist studying Ogham. “But with Ogham, it wraps around the angled edge of the stone.”
This unique reading experience is part of the allure of the Ogham writings, however, it makes it very difficult to capture the inscriptions for posterity – an ordinary photograph or drawing cannot capture an entire passage.
Fortunately, recent technological advances have allowed researchers like White to create three-dimensional scans of the stone pillars. 3-D models of the known stones are quickly being captured and preserved as part of the ‘Ogham in 3-D Project,’ an initiative sponsored by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies’ School of Celtic Studies.
Read More: Here