History, Legend, or Myth

As a Judge, you are expected to be knowledgeable about the history of this sport.

The Legend

Merriam-Webster defines Legend as a story from the past that is believed by many people but cannot be proved to be true.

During various times of English occupation, from before the Wars of Independence (of Scotland) to the suppression after the Jacobite wars, the men of Scotland were forbidden to bear or train with arms, in an attempt to prevent another popular Scottish uprising. Scots continued to train for war; they simply did so with the implements of war replaced with the implements of the Highland games.

The Facts

  • The modern Highland Games are largely a Victorian invention, developed after the Highland Clearances.
  • However, events contested in the modern Games are much much older than the Modern Games.
  • Unfortunately, the exact origins of these events are lost to the mists of time due to the Highland Clearances, which all but obliterated the Highland Culture.

The Stones

Stones are not thrown, they are put, which comes from the Scottish term “put”, push and thrust; Gaelic word “But” or butadh; and Middle English puten, push (1)

The Clach-neart, literally stone of strength, or the putting stone, is a favorite and ancient amusement, and consists in projecting a large round stone to the greatest possible distance. (2)

It was formerly the custom to have one of these lying at the gate of every chieftain’s house, and on the arrival of a stranger, he was asked as a compliment to throw. (2)

Indeed, when chiefs or gentlemen called on each other, their followers always diverted themselves in wrestling, fencing, putting, running, &c., and sometimes resorted to the more serious amusement of breaking each other’s heads in good earnest. (2)

(1) An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language, MacBain, Alexander, Gairm Publications, 1982

(2) The Scotish Gaël: or, Celtic manners, as preserved among the Highlanders…, S. Andrus and son, 1851

Manhood Stones

Besides putting the stone, lifting of the Manhood Stones is part of Scottish Heritage and most likely the inspiration of the Modern Day “Atlas Stone ” contested in strongman events.  Although this is not typical contested in heavy events, we need to remind the public of our heritage we have given to the world in which strength and agility is tested.

Clach cuid fir Gaelic for “Manhood Stones” is lifting a large stone two hundred pounds or more from the ground, and placing it on the top of another about four feet high. A youth that can do this is forthwith reckoned a man, whence the name of the amusement, and may then wear a bonnet (3).

(3) The Scotish Gaël: or, Celtic manners, as preserved among the Highlanders…, S. Andrus and son, 1851

Weights For Distance

It has been theorized that the implements used in the weight throws are tied to weights used for agriculture scales.  This legend further states that the weights were thrown by locals gathering around the grain store to determine who was the strongest man in the village.

Another theory, which is more of a MYTH,  was that the weights were used in blacksmith shops to tether horses, thus, 56lbweight2explaining the chain and ring handle.  However, documentation of early weights used in the games had the handle attached directly to the weight, which adds great doubt to this theory!!

The true origin of the weights and of this event is lost. 

  • “When “Throwing the Weight” event was first introduced to the Games, the ordinary block weight was used without any grip or chain.” (4)
  • Preliminary swings was allowed but judges did not sanction any foot movement. (4)
  • Over time a half turn was allowed, followed by a full turn, followed by approach not to exceed 9’ (4)
  • The weight throw was contested in the Olympics through the 1920 Games. The Olympic weight throw was a two-handed throw. Eventually, it was eliminated as it was too similar to the hammer throw.
  • Scottish Weight Throws are the origin of the NCAA Track & Field Weight Throws which is often contested during the indoor season (due to the similarity to the hammer throw, which cannot be thrown safely indoors).

(4) David Webster, Scottish Highland Games, Great Britain, Williams Collins & Sons, 1959

Hammer Throw

like other events, the exact origin of the hammer throw is lost but it is generally believed to have derive from neighboring blacksmiths testing their strengths by throwing their hammers.

An amusing myth is that this event grew from medieval mace being throwing at mounted knights.  (Why do myths surrounding these events often involve medieval knights?  Why is there a need to romanticizes the events?)

Some early references to this event:

  • In the Scottish highlands the missile took the form of a smith’s sledgehammer, and in this form the sport became popular in England in early days. Edward II is said to have fostered it, and Henry VIII is known to have been proficient. (5)

  • Although originally an ordinary blacksmith’s sledge with a handle about 3 ft. long, the form of the head was gradually modified until it acquired its present spherical shape, and the stiff wooden handle gave place to one of flexible whalebone about 5/8 in. in diameter. (5)

  • Throwing a heavy sledge hammer is a popular trial of strength, which often leads the blacksmith and his customers to forget their business for some time. (6)

(5) The Encyclopedia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information, Volume 12, At the University Press, 1910

(6) The Scotish Gaël: or, Celtic manners, as preserved among the Highlanders…, S. Andrus and son, 1851

Weight Over Bar

Two amusing myths of the origin of the Weight-Over-Bar event are:

  • Throwing weight-over-bar had its origin in wartime battle tactics, where “legend” holds it was used to take out enemy archers on castle walls.  The thrower would stand flat against the castle wall and wait until an archer or lookout peered over the wall.  At this point, the thrower would see the enemy’s position on the battlement and would hurl a weight upward, over the castle wall, and conk the enemy on the head.

  • Throwing weight-over-bar was a training method for tossing grappling hooks over the battlements for scaling tall fortifications.

Tails without the factual evidence makes for entertaining pub stories!  Like other events, the true origin of this event is lost to the mists of time.

Caber

There are no shortage of myths surrounding this event but common sense eliminates all of them as the origins of the caber toss.

  • Myth 1: The caber toss grew out of the practice of flipping a pole up against a castle wall to breach its defenses. If this was true, the practice did not last long as there would be a high mortality rate from long-bow men picking off lumbering invaders caring a tall pole across the field!
  • Myth 2: The caber toss grew out of the practice of lumber jacks launching newly harvested logs into a stream to float down river. Usable lumbering logs are much thicker and longer than the size of the biggest cabers. In addition, the weight of freshly cut logs make it impossible for a single man to lift let alone lift it in the most awkward way to throw them into a river.
  • Myth 3: The caber toss came from a military tradition where the logs where thrown to traverse a stream. This is why they are thrown for accuracy. However, if a military wanted to cross a stream, they would do it in a much less strenuous and more accurate manner such as standing the log on end and push it over.
  • Myth 4: At an end of a long hard day, a group of strapping young men were drinking whiskey in a field by a lane when a fine young lass walks by. Nature took its course with boys trying to impress the fine lass. Next thing you know, the caber toss was invented.

The last myth I invented and maybe the only plausible explanation ever heard as to the origin of this event!!!!