© Victor, S. 2006 Imvubu 18: 3, 6.
An ancient ‘ringing stone’, found at a road construction site near Lone Tree Station outside Berlin, is to become a feature in the Garden of Remembrance planned for Heroes Park on the East London beachfront. In the Border area, as well as the rest of the country, many of these bell rocks, also known as musical rocks or lithophones, dot the landscape. Bell stones have cultural significance worldwide and King William’s Town is no exception.
Situated near an old railway siding, on the old road between King William’s Town and East London near Breidbach, is a well-known six-foot boulder called Bellstone. It is a popular landmark that once used to be a stopping point for passing motorists before the national road was built. Bell stones emit a ringing sound when struck with a stone, which is audible at some distance. These protruding, split or counterpoised ironstone or dolerite boulders vibrate at a particular frequency resembling the tone of a church bell.
For the so-called coloured residents of Breidbach, Bellstone has a sacred meaning. Local church congregations would gather round the stone for prayer and gospel readings during times of drought. Mr Mike Bossr recalled that in the early 1920s the children of Breidbach would throw stones at the rock for passing tourists in exchange for pennies. The museum also found evidence of several similar, albeit significantly smaller, rocks in the area including Komgha and Kei Road
Apparently, bell rocks had ritual significance and were used by the Khoisan in rainmaking and by the Southern Nguni as mustering points for the army to facilitate doctoring before war.
According to geologists, the dolerite intrusions responsible for the formation of bell rocks in the Eastern Cape occurred during the late Jurassic 136-65 million years ago. They consisted of siliceous material at high temperature, which was extruded from a rift or fissure in the earth’s surface somewhere in the vicinity of present-day Matatiele in Transkei. The dolerite intrusions were laid under the surface of an extensive inland fresh water sea, covering most of what is now the Eastern Cape. Hence, the typically pillow or rounded shapes of the boulders so formed.
Daily Dispatch 30/01/1986 p. 3, ‘Bell Rock will ring forever’.
De Jongh, M. & R Steyn (March 2005) ‘Making Ancient Music.’ In, South African Country Life.
Photo caption: Horse-riding party at Bellstone, c. 1893.