“Cairnholy Joe” – a man on a mission; to enlighten visitors to the eponymous chambered cairn so that they might understand the meaning of this “monument”. Now this is not a conventional view purely based on the archaeology – way too prosaic – much more than that it is an aesthetic view of the world seen through the lens of the remains of this most architectural of prehistoric structures. Now there are many simple yet impressive Neolithic structures around the country but not many people seem to spend so much time observing the world from one such place these days.

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It seems many people you meet who have visited here also encountered this aesthete whose name it turns out is Joseph Proskauer who describes him self on his blog as: “Lives with his wife and many other creatures, slightly below the surface of earth, toward the point where the sun sets in the dark days of winter – as seen from Cairn Holy.” Unravelling the mysteries of Cairnholy appears to be his destiny. He has studied in infinite detail the relationships between the stones and solar and lunar alignments so that the eight standing stones of the forecourt perform as some sort of complex sundial fulfilling the necessary calendrical functions  and spiritual insights of the Neolithic people who constructed it.

After some interesting discussions around the subjects I was advised to cross the neighbouring field where a dead straight path had been worn, presumably by himself and his “pupils” (or was it Alfred Watkins Old Straight Track!), and approach the forecourt and observe – this is how it looked.

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Now being one who is interested in the relationship of prehistoric archaeology has to  landscape I noted that it appeared that the focus of the structure from this direction was one of two rounded hillocks on the skyline; perhaps echoing the female form. Wrong! I should have been observing the stones – in particular;  that whilst the four stones on left hand side of the forecourt curved in a slight arc those on the right were straight, but also the three outside stones of each side both rise to the right (north). These are certainly intriguing observations although I was not paying enough attention at the time to remember the import of this piece of the jigsaw.

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Of course there were many other observations Joe made including the unrecorded weathered  pecked area of rock and cup mark on the edge of one of the southerly orthostats.

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Virtually invisible when the sun is high but on return to the stones in darkness and controlled lighting it came alive.

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In darkness my own senses were heightened, as peoples must have been in prehistory when viewed at night – the stone would be seen to dance in the firelight – hearths were found in the forecourt when the site was dug by Stuart Piggott and T G E Powell, whose report can be seen here.

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Moon dog stones!

Although Piggot and Powell found a cup and ring marked slab placed in the chamber along with a slab disturbed from the cairn marked with cup and rings they missed this marking of the facade stone. We can pehaps only speculate when this mark was made as it was likely that the walling between the orthostats would have covered this mark when the structure was first built. This is one of the rare occurrences when cup and ring marked rocks are found within a chambered cairn the other notable example being in Dallaides Long Cairn, also a rare piece of burnt jadeite axe from the Italian Alps was found here.

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So people have been doing pretty strange things here for millenia. On reflection despite Joe’s apparent disinterest in the factual elements of the archaeologists excavations and his apparent oversight that the reconstruction of the facade sixty five years ago means that it is most likely that it was not as we see it today when it was first built. His reconstructions of the points of the stones with clay may also be speculative but we can perhaps never be sure that it was not so and that the things he sees in this structure are as not valid as the interpretations put upon these most architectural of structures by archaeologists. Maybe it is as important how these structures feed back to modern people, be they believers in Neo-paganism, Wicca or Witchcraft,  Earth Gods or Goddess’, any of the more mainstream religions or combinations of any or all of these. Who knows if it was not always the case that from their inception people have drawn different inspirations or energies from these places.

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Acknowledgements and Notes; Thanks to Joseph for stimulating conversation! I was reminded of my meeting with Joe after seeing a blog by Upland Pete on Cairn holy. These meetings came about from a cottage rented below Cairnholy in 2012 and occupied by three archaeologists (rock art fiends) a story teller and an architect, thanks Kate, Tertia, Debbie and Anthony.

Pete

“Burnt Mound”, not a very auspicious title for a rather enigmatic monument – a place for heating rocks to heat water – first found from the Later Neolithic-Early Bronze Age some four and a half millenia ago –  a mundane description of their form and contents of hearths, troughs and heated rocks. Yet these were probably places of drama where poorly chosen hot rocks split and splatted around the hearth, probably why the Meur Burnt mound had an enclosed hearth – see a short animation of this great reconstructed site here.

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There has been considerable speculation as to what was going on at these sites and now after excavations we can see there are certain common themes that run through, or should that be flow thorough, these sites. Water from a small stream by way of a cut or small leat was introduced into a trough this was then heated by dropping hot rocks, heated in embers, into the water, simple! The rocks were then discarded and generally form an open horseshoe crescent around the trough; the question is, was this used for cooking, sauna or mashing malted barley?

The the answer may well be that these were multi-functional structures, however many now suggest that brewing was an integral part of their purpose, see Merryn Dineley’s website and the excellent Billy and Dec’s Bronze Age Beer video. These  sites are ubiquitous, found across Britain and Ireland and are particularly prevalent in Northern Scotland.

Here in Cumbria several burnt mounds have been identified and several excavated and at Sizergh Estate an in-situ timber trough was found; where, in common with other sites waterlogged timber survived due to the boggy conditions .

This rather diminutive version can be found in the valley at Buttermere, the trough would have been where the rushes are,  this one is close to some cup marked rocks, however those found in Scotland take on altogether grander proportions with the permanence of their stone lined troughs, here seen at Liddel Burnt Mound on South Ronaldsay, Orkney Isles.

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This fine example below is two metres high and ten metres wide and sits in strange juxtaposition with  Eriboll Church, on the north coast of Scotland. Presumably the builders were unaware that the heather covered mound was a place of prehistoric activity producing the heather ale – demon drink of the Bronze Age – see – in true Scottish tradition someone has left a modern offering at the base of the mound, to give some scale to gauge it by.

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Now in their wisdom the Edinburgh craft brewers Innis and Gunn have produced their own limited edition version of this ale and so it had to be sampled!

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Upon a cup marked slab on a sunny evening seemed an appropriate place to sample this herbal homebrew, a mildly bitter beverage with a slight herbal aroma.

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Bottle conditioned, balanced carefully when carried the half mile from home, perhaps it should have been buried there to condition – its twin might have to endure this fate and brave the bullish cattle’s curiosity for buried things.

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A few flowers of sheep’s sorrel to cushion the cup-mark while it rests – anticipation…

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Decanted from its sediment a straw coloured ale with echoes of honey,

Surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains shining bright bilberry green as the yellow, mellowing sun dips towards the north.

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With a deep draught of strong nourishment, the dying sun carries the cares of daytime away,

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Seen through a glass darkly – the burnt amber ale haze’s the sun with swirls of yeasty magic,

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Sun sets beyond the horizon, while mountains hold the light, changing from bronze to pink

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Great Gable pulls up its frothy blanket

Rising from the valley to meet its night.

Notes and Acknowledgements: It fell to an inspiring session at TAG; Stoking the Flames:Towards an Archaeology of Fire, to persuade me that burnt mounds were not as boring as they sound! A paper from Lauren Doughton of Manchester University entitled Born of Fire: An exploration of the role of fire and fragmentation in the creation and use of burnt mounds I found particularly inspiring using some experimental firings which demonstrated that these were dynamic exciting and dangerous places to work which in itself must have created a performance and mystique around their use, the more so if we accept that perhaps the primary function was to produce ale!

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“…other private functions” –  prehistoric revellers from the Bronze Age included?

Pete

“…round and round…” Well I am not sure that it was rock art doodles that the 1980’s songstress Belinda Carlisle was referring to or whether she  was an enthusiastic rock art hound and despite her name she was probably not from Cumbria.

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However, out here on the sand there are no boundaries limitless space with far horizons leading the eye to distant lands and letting the mind wander. An inspiring place a blank canvas – moved by  to leave a mark – perhaps the same feeling as that which drove prehistoric man, on finding a smooth tactile rounded slab to peck some cups into into its surface.

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Seen across the Solway Firth distant Dumfries and Galloway, hilly territories marked with cups and rings. Perhaps travelers from Ireland across the sea, to this island in Neolithic times following the coast and estuaries, eventually making their way up to Eden. But here in the Cumbrian Mountains the cups have no such rings, another tribe, another time – the cup makers?

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The small depressions where razor clams live starts things off – a pleasing pastime engrossing and mesmerising, had it been a warmer evening there might have been many more.

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The casts of worms and hollow of clam guiding gatherers to what lies beneath this surface,

From present to prehistoric, people have wandered these strands – searching.

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The foot print, a temporary mnemonic of people’s passing.

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Walking, back in time, from three million years

Laetoli, Tanzania to Formby Point, Lancashire,

Nearer in time and place.

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Wildfowl tread lightly, tiptoeing across the sand, more food for hunters past.

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In the distance, shingle banks, source of flint to tip their fowling arrows.

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To the tidal rhythm of the moon, time seems more fluid here, like the sculpted waves transiently formed in crunchy crystaline sand.

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 Patterns, inspiring prehistoric minds, changing forms from lozenge

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To rivulets returning to the sea.

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On shingle banks polished pebbles, rolled round.

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Amongst them, set silicate – flint from the sea floor.

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Collect the colours, toffee to purple to grey to black.

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Find an anvil and knap; whack – shatter.

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Random razor sharp edges and crushed dust,

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The prize, find the keenest edge, thinnest blade; the blacks brittle, toffee’s the sweetest.

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Whats left – a cup!

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A bird wanders off, no arrows here today

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Pete

Notes

The ancient footprints made in soft esturine silt or mud that hardened and was covered over with further sediments have now been identified in several places in Britain and across the world the most famous of which  were the Laetoli footprints, over 3 million years old and discovered by Mary Leaky.

There are doubtless many reasons and uses of what have become known a portable cup marked cobbles, but the finding of “anvil stones” in seashore contexts leads one to the conclusion that these were part of the primary seashore knapping process; like this one found by Morcambe Bay Archaeology Society. Other examples can be found in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological society.

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A grand post from Heritage Landscape and Creativity on Scottish artists from the nineteenth century AD to the third millenia BC!

heritagelandscapecreativity

‘They are the faults of archaeology rather than art’

LunulaEarlier this year I was privileged to see The Druids: Bringing in the Mistletoe by George Henry and Edward Atkinson Hornel (1890) in the excellent Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.  Only seeing the original painting does it proper justice and I urge you to visit the Kelvingrove to see its full wonder.

The DruidsThe painting was supported by interpretative signage, one of which explained:

Hornel Landscape Needless to say this required further investigation.

In his biography of Hornel, Smith notes in relation to the composition of The Druids,

The half-sphere of the moon on the background is reflected in the curve of the hill and the shapes of the priestly insignia, all echoing the cup-and-ring markings‘.

Looking at the Druid Landscape, Smith underplays the extent to which the lunar has been evoked through the cool silvery quality of the light…

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Mystery in the mist;

Glinting in a clint,

Offered to the mountain?

Well traveled whiteness.

Void between volcanic rock,

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Exploded out of the earth the dust settles

In water forming

Patterns of the past

Layered

In

Deep

Time

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A light released from the land

The hand moves to draw

With chalk of childhood

Sediment writes itself

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Alien fragment on lofty Pike

Released from bony white matrix

In Grimes, Wolds, Wessex or Antrim

Remote lands – with still echoes

Of times long gone

Hidden in hollow hills.

Mind wanders to downs and dales

Memories held guide the hand

Moved to make a mark,

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Diamond lozenges, tightening skins

Scraped by flakes,

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The beating bodhran calls

Rhythm of the wind – resonating rock

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Through heavy brow

Owl eyes bring a sharper focus –

Clouds clear

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Elemental tumbled sculptures emerge

Mountains making their own art

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Look close – layered,  lichen

Reflecting  clasts cast in stone

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No scribe engraved these forms.

Red rememberings of hard nicked hands that

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Split sharp hornstone,

Ancient prospector for mysterious XI,

Its unknown source – found?

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Cris-crossed with rhombic faultlines

Weathered scallops patinated to grey

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Crack,

Hiatus,

Time shifts

Settles again

Present

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Falling back into the earth

Joining the ancestors

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Scattered all around,

Crag-high memories now burnt bone offering

Crumbling to constituent carbonates

Merging with the future

Acknowledgements, notes, etc

This chance meeting with a flake of chalk took place on top of Scafell Pike, a place full of modern monuments and offerings, to the dead mainly, many of whose ashes lie around the summit cairn, and older structures that could be interpreted as monuments; the Neolithic Axe working sites. There is a continuity here in this wild place, others have discussed the offerings left by people in the Neolithic period at prehistoric stone working sites including Peter Topping, but here we have a modern offering – for reasons unknown. More recently I was reminded of this by a paper given at BRAG by Andy Merion Jones and Marta Diaz-Guardamino which directly inspired this blog following my serendipitous encounter with the white rock. The title of their presentation was Making the Mark: Imagery and Process in Neolithic Britain and Ireland and included a discussion on the Folkton Drums, below.

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The motifs of the owly heavy browed eyes and lozenge hatching are now being found more regularly as a symbol in the Neolithic period from the West Country to Orkney.  But I was particularly impressed by the detail revealed on the Folkton Drums,see here. Although probably not actually representing drums, these were found in a Neolithic round barrow by the good Canon Greenwell in the Yorkshire Wolds, which region demonstrably had a strong connection with the Cumbrian Mountains on account of the large numbers of Cumbrian Stone axes found there, and this got me thinking…

Pete

…in modern times walk unto the West Country’s fair city of Bristol, our footsteps echoing off the soft-light-brown-sugar sandstone buildings,  Georgian elegance,  reflecting its rich history and not so sweet past of wealth built on slavers. But times have changed in this vibrant cosmopolitan city, we were here for the annual British Rock Art Group (BRAG) Conference in the finely crafted University buildings – not as old as they look.

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Now exotic feet figured in stone found on Stellae in Sardinia which were spoken of here, but  these red fellows are homegrown from a cist slab in Somerset which now resides  in the kids play area in Bristol Museum… feet feature quite a lot in rock art too…from Scandinavia to Scotland where the early Kings of Alba were crowned at Dunadd; stood in stone carved footprints of their ancestors.

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But this being Bristol, there were connections drawn between rock art, superimposition and graffiti in Bedouin culture, so it was inevitable that local lad Banksy got a mention.

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Listening to sounds – lithophonics to be precise – the well known (at least on Tiree) Balaphetrish Gong Stone was rung, you can see this here, and since I am intrigued by this subject in relation to Cumbrian cup-marks and have banged-on about this before (see here) I listened intently to rocks being knocked – well it was a rock art conference after all.

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As you see the kist slab also had cups on – perhaps the prima-face marks – which would undoubtedly made a noise when made, but it was the shape of the cups on the ringing stone that struck me and sent my mind wandering back to the stone I had recently dug at the stone circle known as Long Meg and Her Daughters in Cumbria (although there is a fine circle at Stanton Drew also!).

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Now , although straying somewhat from the subject of upland  archaeology – it is in an elevated situation and commands a wide vista – this collapsed stone made up part of the the circle here, built on the earlier ditch of the ?Neolithic enclosure. The top end of this rock had a large smooth rounded hollow on its underside, a natural feature formed from a solution hollow?

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When its presumed base was uncovered there was a cup-mark, or two? Now there was inevitable debate as to whether this was also a cup mark -which came first – as they were on opposing sides and ends only one end could have been marked as it stood.

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Problems; so what if it was actually a reused cup marked stone or at least one end, it could even have been a “gong stone” perched on a block it would surely resonate – as demonstrated on those columnar dolerite blocks from the Precelis. Either way this particular rock was probably reused, it had a history of its own before being incorporated into the monument.

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So it goes on, cup-marks, found around the world yet their meaning poorly understood in prehistoric Europe. So I set about  pondering the intangible in relation to Lake District rock art and concluding the perhaps in-conclude-able; that these were memorable places well known to people partly through the creative process of cup-marking and partly through other stuff that happened there that is invisible archaeologically – to speculate is to accumulate, knowlwdge at least, appropriate perhaps in the light of recent events to paraphrase a Capitalist mantra…

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…oh no not again.

Pete

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the organisers of BRAG 2015, George Nash and Aron Mazel; a user friendly group of rock art individuals. The following papers are mentioned here: Paul Devereux – Winning the Cup: The problematic relationship between cup markings and lithophonic rocks; George Nash – Something Completely Different: the politics of Bedouin marks in the Negev, Southern Israel;  Cezary Mamirsky – Sardinian statue-menhirs revisited: a central Mediterranean perspective; Peter Style – Visceral places and Volcanic Voids: a consideration of Lake District rock art as ceremonial sites. The excavation at Long Meg was a community project run by Altogether Archaeology based in the North Pennine AONB and led by Paul Frodsham.

A survey in two halves.

Carrock Fell on  the north east flank of the Cumbrian Fells has a rough crown of rocky ramparts encircling its summit; a prehistoric enclosure overlooking the expanse of the Eden Valley, the Neolithic nexus of North West England.

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At its foot lies Caldbeck Common, a landscape strewn with glacial debris and the bouldery tumble from its gabbro crags. Miners have disturbed this debris in extracting the lead ore, mounds of glacial gravel have been quarried for road-stone, yet amongst this industrial intrusion into this land still nestle prehistoric enclosures, settling back into the earth, and burial cairns thrown open, stripped of their contents to now resemble ring-cairns.

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East of the wall; marking the land again.  Only recently here, the gaze has been drawn away from monumental mounds to the more prosaic remains of pastoralists.

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The enclosures incorporate megalithic elements, happenstance or planned, boulders in banking; in the centre 5 ton rocks, dragged from the field on sleds by oxen in post-medieval times or part of the original form?

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The intake wall bounding the common is built on something older; the embankment that once divided the prehistoric enclosure now reused to form the new intake enclosure of the meadow dividing it from the rough grazing of the common.

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The lazer shoots from here –

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To there –

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Bouncing back again…

The approaching cloud –

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Colours cluster

Behind embanked boulders –

Backs to the wind

Shelter from the rain.

Pete

Notes: This enclosure was found recently along with other features by Tricia and her team in a walkover survey of  Caldbeck Common carried out by the Lake District National park Authority Archaeology Volunteer Network. It’s period is debatable but it is most likely to have its roots in the Iron Age period.The area has much else in the way of prehistoric archaeology to explore in the well named locale of Weasel Hills just to the north. The enclosure on the summit of Carrock Fell, once considered to be of Iron Age date is now considered to be Neolithic; so at least a couple of millenia older than formerly thought and so contemporary other Causewayed Enclosures  such as the Cornish Carn Brea and with that nearby at Green How.

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