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Stone is turned in search for the truth

SOMETIMES, you really do have to check a paper's date to make sure it isn't April 1.

And, of course, you can triple-check stuff online to make sure you're not being drawn into an elaborate hoax.

Can it really be true that there are nearly 90 Bronze Age (5,000-years-old) fantastic, mysterious rock carvings on a stone measuring 42ft by 26ft (55ft by 35ft on some counts) in a field on the edge of Clydebank and that these have been deliberately hidden under the soil by "the authorities", so to speak, since 1964?

You. Are. Having. A. Laugh. Why was I not informed of this? Did I miss the memo? What in the name of the small man is the Cochno Stone? Even the name doesn't sound right. Back when I was a reporter, one of my best ever contacts would only refer to himself cryptically as "Mr Arbuthnot". Took me several months to realise he meant: Mr Arbuth Not.

Is this Coch No Stone? I'm getting into the realms of fantasy now, as top expert Captain Mainwaring might say. There is a stone, though not as we know it. From old photographs, taken before soil was heaped on it and vegetation subsequently grew, it's actually a flat rock. And it's covered in what are thought to be the finest collection of "cup and ring" carvings in Europe.

There are also spirals, a circled cross and two four-toed feet. Discovered by the Reverend James Harvey in 1887, it's an incredible array of ancient art, also sometimes known as the Druid Stone.

Cochno is the name of a historic estate where the noble Hamilton family had their seat. Today, the estate, and with it Cochno House (built in 1757 to a John Adam design), is owned by Glasgow University's School of Veterinary medicine. The stone lies off the Cochno Road near Clydebank's Faifley housing estate on land half owned privately and half by West Dunbartonshire Council.

In 1964, on the recommendation of Glasgow University archaeologists, the stone was buried under several feet of soil to protect it from vandalism which, in those relatively innocent times, appeared to consist of people adding their initials to the rock.

After that, the Cochno Stone and its carvings disappeared from view. May Miles Thomas, a film-maker who highlighted the stone in her feature The Devil's Plantation, about ancient landmarks in and around Glasgow, described the overgrown site in her blog as "a tangle of chain-link fencing, scaffold poles and dry stone wall".

The Cochno Stone also featured in Ronald Morris's The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland (1981) and Harry Bell's Glasgow's Secret Geometry (3rd edition,1993). Both are hard to obtain now.But curiosity and surprise about the site are growing. History researcher Alexander McCallum is lobbying to have the stone uncovered.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for West Dunbartonshire Council was quoted saying the authority would "seek professional advice on the implications of uncovering the area". A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland said it too would be "happy to support any considered and adequately resourced proposals to uncover it, in conjunction with the local authority and the landowner".

Meanwhile, the nation said: "Well, get on with it." It seems beyond absurd that these ancient carvings were buried under the soil and forgotten about. It's like a kind of reverse archaeology. They're the carvings that time, or somebody, forgot. As to what they mean, examine the evidence and let your imagination roam free. Theories advanced hitherto include a map of Clyde Valley settlements, symbolic portals of reincarnation, astronomical constellations, and ceremonial markers for human or animal sacrifice.

If only the Cochno Stone could speak. It would probably say: "Please do not cover me in soil." According to Mr McCallum, meanwhile, similar carvings can be found in Hawaii, India and Africa, which hints at a mind-boggling coincidence of cultural expression.

Given western Scotland's relatively rich collection of prehistoric sites, leylines and geographical geometry have also been adduced. You pays your money and you takes your choice; which would be a lot easier to do if we could actually see the carvings.

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