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The disappearing stone art

Summer 2010, County Kilkenny Ireland —

I was on the River Nore with some friends, downstream from Kilkenny city. We had a bit of beer, and we built a fire.

I was walking around the rocky strand at the bend in the river where we had settled in for the evening when I found an odd piece of stone.

This area, known as Maddoxtown, was an industrial zone before the Industrial Revolution. The strand was on the inward shore of a bow, and appears to have been partly induced by the remnant of a weir. There are several dilapidated weirs along that part of the river, where they diverted flow into canals for the supply of mechanical force in the factories.

One of the factories was the so-called "marble works," an important milling factory for the famous local black limestone.

The piece of stone that I found was a palm-sized near-triangle of limestone that was certainly cut — it is clearly a piece of a slab, of the same thickness (2.5 cm) typical of numerous pieces that are strewn around the area near the factory and mixed in amongst the river-rocks there on the strand.

But, unusually, this piece had superficial markings on it.


I showed one of my friends, just as he was heading back to the river. (So I have a witness.) I did not take a photo of it, because I didn't think that was necessary at the moment. I put it into the pocket of my hoodie.

The pattern was composed of dark lines and dots, all about 1.5 mm in width. Two lines in parallel described what looked to me like a primitive design of the tail of a fish. Between curved lines was a row of dots, and surrounding the pattern again was another row of the dots.

When I got home, the design was gone.

There was a slight trace of it. Maybe the dampness by the river had made it visible, for some reason, I thought. With no better hypothesis, I held it under the tap and dabbed it dry. Now the design was completely gone.

So, it's a mystery.

The strand where I found the stone is not frequented by people. Nobody had disturbed the firepit, for example, that I'd made the previous week. My friends had never seen anybody down there — it's isolated from the trail by pretty thick undergrowth. The strand, in fact, is only rarely above water.

I don't see any possibility that this design could have gotten there, lasted until I found the stone, and then rubbed off during a couple of hours in a loose cotton pocket.

But that's what happened.