I WAS surprised to read about the Govan Stones.

Surprised because I, considered by many to be one of the most intelligent people in my single-person household, had never heard of them.

You will forgive my ignorance. I am from Edinburgh, and all we were taught about Glasgow as children was that it was always raining while people stabbed you and asked your religion.

As I grew to man's estate and came to love Glasgow, I learned that only one of the above three claims was true. And yes, madam, slash it how you will, your meteorological precipitation is deplorable, but somehow also comforting in its own way. Better wet than a desert, I always say.

Having paraded my ignorance, and agreed that it is considerable, I proceed now to boast that I knew fine well that the folk of ancient Govan spoke Welsh. Here are some names to conjure with: Ceredig, Rhydderch Hael, and Hen Ogledd.

Good Welsh boys all, though I jest about the last, who was not an ancestor of Hen Broon, but another name for the Kingdom of Strathclyde, also at times known as Alclud. This is worse than reading Tolkien, where everything and half the folk have three different names.

Consulting my old trusted colleague, Professor Wikipedia, only confuses matters further and so, turning our backs on the tyranny of toponymy, we elect to focus instead on our main theme (if you're not fraying at the themes already): to wit, that the past is a complicated place.

But first the news: the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded £1.8 million to showcase a collection of early medieval carvings known as the Govan Stones.

These are housed in Govan Old Parish Church and - no kidding - I do remember them now, and in particular the Viking Hogback stones, because I recall thinking: "I had no idea the ghastly Norse terrorists had gotten as far as Govan. Was nowhere safe?"

The centrepiece of the collection, though, is the Govan Sarcophagus, which is thought to commemorate St Constantine. Hmm, is that correct? Several carvings on the stone depict animals trampling another animal. Fair enough, if Constantine is the patron saint of trampling.

There are also Pictish derived depictions of stag-mangling, thought to be the royal hobby, and Norse-derived snakes, which tells you all you need to know about them.

As for the Hogback stones, I have already demonstrated authoritatively that these marked the graves of Vikings, whose muddy boots only enhanced the confusing mire of ancient Strathclyde history further.

On the credit side, ancient Strathclyde society was all very multi-cultural. On the debit side, your peasant woke up in his hay every day wondering who was ruling him noo. At various times, Britons, Northumbrians, Picts, Scots and Vikings were stravaiging aboot the place, acting all hard. Who was in charge? You pays your money and you takes your Pict.

The Welsh-speaking Britons seem to have been first, at least in the post-Flintstone era, and they ruled from Dumbarton Rock, presumably because of the views. In 870, the Vikings chased them off that, and the palace relocated to Partick, which was handy for nipping over the river to the church at Govan.

Various other chaps - Norse-Gaels, Northumbrians and so forth - fetched up from time to time, but by the 11th century at the latest, Strathclyde had become part of the Scottish kingdom, and the rulers' names change to the likes of Mac Bethad mac Findlaich (Macbeth) and Mael Coluim mac Donnchada.

These big macs don't put much meat on the stones, but we do know that the latter were carved during the 9th to 11th centuries and depict Christian motifs as well as all the animal-mangling and trampling.

There are 31 sculptures in all, and it's great news that the Old Parish Church is to be transformed into a visitor centre to display them and bring them the international prominence they deserve.

Rather than never having heard of the stones, I think I'd merely forgotten them. It's true: the finest brain of Leith Walk Primary School, circa 1968AD, is today a palace complex of echoing, cobwebbed halls and musty libraries of dusty tomes last read long ago.

Fortunately, today, there's a fabulous website called The Govan Stones, which includes a timeline and educational aids for small citizens. There's a lot to learn from the Govan Stones, and a lot to bamboozle us too. But what's history without the mystery?