Archive

Monthly Archives: December 2014

Thus the chant went out early in the morning at Woodstock as the somnolent – LSD weary –  space cadets arose, drawn from their slumbers by the mantra; it was Sly and the Family Stone getting funky. This was recently recalled in a BBC documentary and although never a great funkster myself the pounding rhythm that drives the music many find irresistible and the suggestion was that this was because of its rhythm that mimics the human heartbeat. So of course rock art in high places came to mind…

sly_live

Well, despite the apparent nonexistent relationship between “Funkadelia” and rock art, it’s all about making human connections and this one concerns the auditory element in the creation of rock art. It can’t be avoided, anyone who has bashed two rocks together knows it makes quite a noise, outdoors with an amphitheatre of mountains the sound is amplified and  echoes too, adding to the effect. In a world free of sound pollution this would make a strong impact on people.

Lakes, castlerigg, stanbury, g rock g 050

So the remote Weather Stones on top of Boulsworth Hill came to mind, where I had found an eroded cup-and-ring, cups and grooves on a slab and at an altitude of over 500m this must surely be a candidate for the highest rock art in England!

rock , rock, rock 032

Here on the wild East Lancs moors the wind and water eroded gritstone blocks endow an otherworldly feeling to the place, it is transformative, liminal, between earth and sky;

Saucer Stones

Pike o Stickle 085

the sun begins to set – a crack between the worlds

Pike o Stickle 063

Cold water glows gold

Pike o Stickle 073

The pointing finger

Pike o Stickle 046

The basin

Pike o Stickle 049

This is also a place of myth, also known as Lad Law with  Hill of Slaughter conveniently carved into the rocks below a solution hollow said to be where druids sacrificed…well people?

Pike o Stickle 047    Pike o Stickle 048

Runnels and grooves are also a feature of other rock art sites, most dramatically at Lordenshaw,Northumberland, another elevated site, arguably, set in a ceremonial landscape on the slopes of Simonside Fell, where a friend referred to them as blood gutters, mmm… a touch of hyperbole I hope!

Northumbrian rock art 107

Now unlike the neighbouring Rombalds Moor, across the Aire Valley, this is a locale with rather a dearth of rock art although some cup-marks can be found on the easterly parapet of the pack-horse bridge at Wycoller which appear to be the sections of a broken monolith.

rock art ilkley moor 085

This is the setting for  Anne Brontes Wildfell Hall, she and her sisters conveyed the elemental nature of these moors well.

A sheepdog – wolf, the queen of hearts

Pike o Stickle 067

The auditory force of the rhythmic tapping would have only added to the dramatic effect of the place on any throng that might have assembled. Pounding rhythms using percussion have been used for millennia by shamanic types to create a trance-like out-of-body experience or to be technical Altered States of Consciousness. So we can see that the creative act of producing these rock-marks may have actually had more impact and was the more significant element in that process than the finished impression.

There has been debate over the years as to whether narcotics were used in British prehistory to attain altered states of consciousness, there are suggestions that this was so but on balance I would say the jury is still out. But human nature supported by anthropological examples suggest that  when people find something that intrigues them they use it, and when it means they spend some time out of mind, the thrill seekers do it. Of course there are many cases where this is used as a powerful tool such as in shamanic ritual, these days one difference is that these kind of drugs are available to buy should you so wish.

Lithophone, Peter Crosthwaite

Coming back down to earth in Cumbria and the somewhat more prosaic. The lithophonic quality of the Langdale tuff or clinkstone as it became known has been noted by researchers and we also have a lithophone! The original (pictured) was made in about 1786 by Peter Crosthwaite from Skiddaw slate this, and a more sophisticated version that was played to Queen Victoria in London, is on display in Keswick Museum, I somehow doubt she was amused.

rock , rock, rock 027

So some people still seek their escape from the  hum-drum material world. These days some find refuge in the heart throbbing frenetic drug fueled clubbing scene, others seeking flight can still be seen wandering the moors searching for solace, some of those questers you will notice with  their heads inclined earthward, sometimes looking for the eponymous liberty cap fungus, as perhaps people may always have done.

Pete

Sources and acknowledgements

More about the Keswick lithophones can be found here

http://www.leeds.ac.uk/ruskinrocks/relevant-articiles.htm and at Keswick Museum

http://www.allerdale.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/museums-and-galleries/keswick-museum/the-collection.aspx

The picture of the lithophone is from the website of Martin and Jean Norgate and can be found here

http://www.geog.port.ac.uk/webmap/thelakes/html/topics/lithph01.htm

More on English Rock Art can be found here: http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/era/

If you would like an introduction into possible prehistoric narcotic use you could look at Richard Rudgley’s book The Alchemy of Culture

One benefit of enforced inactivity – over zealous mountain biking – is that you can sort through photos and reflect on previous years field work. In this case some prehistoric cup-marked rocks found in Rydal in 2010. These were spotted in January on the way to reconnoitre the upper Rydal Valley for a field survey carried out later that year. I had been targeting various glaciated slabs, mainly roche moutonnée, in the Lake District valleys for man-made cup-marks and spotted this one and took a look; this is as it appeared to me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Up to that time there were hardly a handful of cup-marked slabs known in the Lake District, one of these was Barbers Rock in Loweswater across the fields from our home (below). As children we played here and noticed the curious smoothed hollows and thought these were places where people had ground “things”; I thought little of them for several decades until I realised that child’s-eye view was not that far off and these were made by the hand of man.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So the question everyone asks is invariably “what do they mean?” and the answer is, we don’t exactly know, but we could have a stab at it. Ronald Morris proposed 104 uses for rock art in his book on the rock art of Galloway and this highlights the sometimes speculative nature of the search for meaning in abstract petroglyphs; which were in use for over 1000 years from the Later Neolithic to Bronze Age. But perhaps they give some insight into the cultural references of the time; inspirations revolving around relationships with landscape, the natural environment and their nascent agricultural practices.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So to throw a few thoughts out there, we see similar rock markings, caused by erosive processes such as natural cups and here at the entrance to Great Langdale rock ripples.

Caithness 125

Water, fundamental, ubiquitous – ripples – reflections – motion

Rock art at Great Langdale

Rock art at Great Langdale

Quartz  – triboluminescence, glowing when struck together – hammerstones used in cup-making at Kilmartin Glen, Argyll.

Quartz "stone circle" Isle of Man

Giants Fingers the extraordinary remains of a quartz stone circle, Isle of Man

Society probably had vestigial animistic belief structures at the time, so carving on the “living rock” would have had great significance and likely a good deal of ritual associated with it. Was the action of rock-marking perhaps more significant than the end result; a statement of belonging to that spot? A mnemonic for death; the proximity of cairns in some cases could suggest this or were the meanings of marked-places to prehistoric people also multi-facetted?

Rydal High Park CM Plan

But as I start to digitise the most recent finds from the Lake District (above) I am reminded of this picture…

barrow mus-xmas 08 050

…no not Floss!

Pete

Sources

You can read the 104 varieties of rock art in The Prehistoric Rock Art of Galloway and the Isle of Man by Ronald W. B. Morris and they are not all fanciful.

Thanks to Kate Sharpe whose Doctoral Thesis gave some inspiration to look for rock art sites in the Lakes:  Motifs, Monuments and Mountains: Prehistoric Rock Art in the Cumbrian Landscape online at: http://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do;jsessionid=00502FD1F652A65EEDD012FECB272D99?did=1&uin=uk.bl.ethos.525624

Visualisations and other integrated archaeological artistic endeavours are shown on Aaron Watson and collaborators website: http://www.monumental.uk.com/photography/

Excavations around rock art sites and the associated use of quartz are discussed in: An Animate Landscape: Rock Art and the Prehistory of Kilmartin, Argyll, Scotland by Andy Jones et al.

tombjorklund.fi

Tom Björklund • Artist and Illustrator

The First Ten Words by Rich Larson

Because a guy has to keep his chops sharp

Palaeoman

Living the dream of a prehistoric human

Archaeology and Heritage Digital Recording

Low cost recording technologies

The Stone Rows of Great Britain

Big, Small, Short, Tall, Have we got 'em all?

northshorepottery

studio pottery and ceramic sculpture by Jenny Mackenzie Ross

FragmeNTs

from the National Trust archaeology team in the Stonehenge & Avebury World Heritage Site

Duddon Dig

The survey and excavation of three longhouses in the Duddon Valley

Neil's Mountains

Exploring the mountains and wild places of Britain and Ireland

Archaeology Orkney

Blog for the University of The Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. Please feel free to share any post.

Neolithic And Early Bronze Age Research Student Symposium

Annual Conference for Postgraduate Researchers

Stonehenge Neolithic Houses

An English Heritage experimental archaeology project to recreate houses from 2500 BC