A fine little secluded valley with some interesting archaeology.

Upland Pete

A bitterly cold surveying day in Bannisdale A bitterly cold surveying day in Bannisdale

Today was mostly spent shivering in the icy wind blowing through Bannisdale in the Lake District. I was instructing volunteers from the Lake District Archaeology Volunteer Network in the dark arts of surveying archaeological earthworks. The site in question was an enclosed hut circle settlement at Lamb Pasture that is scooped into the hillside on the north side of this small relatively isolated Lakeland valley. The site is a scheduled monument and as part of ongoing management and conservation works  the Lake District National Park Authority require detailed surveys (which the volunteers will in future undertake) of this and other similar vulnerable sites.

Lamb Pasture enclosed settlement in Bannisdale Lamb Pasture enclosed settlement in Bannisdale

Cold cold volunteers Cold cold volunteers

Surveying at Lamb Pasture enclosed settlement in Bannisdale Surveying at Lamb Pasture enclosed settlement in Bannisdale

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Thought provoking observations here

pondering the past

Unstan approachMoving among the monuments.

Passage directed, guided

Constrained

And ordered

Entrance guarded

As with knowledge.

Maes Howe entranceAn ordered landscape

In past as in present

Feet directed

To the important places

Gaze averted

From the spaces in-between.

OrkneyAncient and modern

Intertwined

Touching the past

But separated still

‘Stand back’ ‘Don’t go there’

‘Ancient monument that way’.

SignApproaching sacred space

On pilgrimage paths well trod

To stand

To gaze

To move among the monuments

And then to depart.

Ring of Brodgar distant view

All images were taken during two visits to the Orkney Islands last summer. For more information about Orkney itself and its amazing archaeology see http://www.orkneyjar.com/index.html or http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/heritage/worldheritage/world-heritage-sites-in-scotland/neolithic-orkney.htm

The archaeology on Orkney is truly amazing, but as I walked around the monuments last summer my thoughts turned to the control and directionality exercised by the way in which the monuments are set out and fenced in. My experience was very much directed and often the fences…

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Dunmail Raise, an axial point in the Cumbrian Mountains crowned with a massive cairn, mythically associated as the burial-place of the last King of Cumbria, but variously described as a memory cairn, boundary marker between Westmoreland and Cumberland or prehistoric burial cairn. It could perhaps be all these things, yet it is now sitting ignominiously in the central reservation of the A591 which also truncates it somewhat.

Dunmail & Green Burn Survey 05.2013 190

However in the light of a recent field survey south of the pass there is a strong suggestion that it may well have prehistoric origins. Here we recorded dozens of cairns many apparently pasture clearance cairns but others more structured are perhaps more likely to be burial cairns. In particular a group near the top of the pass clustered around a large boulder in close association with the spring rises on the west side of the pass and within sight of the Dunmail Raise Cairn.

Dunmail Standing Stone, Thirlmere, Shoulthwaite encl 034

It is clear that this natural route-way dividing the Lakes – the Coniston Fault – must have seen use from prehistoric times; cup-marked rocks and a stone axe were found at the north side of this pass at Wythburn, shown above – now largely submerged. So it appears this pass was “marked” at least from the Bronze Age.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHistorically thee was more accessible land at the head of Thirlmere prior to the flooding of the two lakes of Leathes Water and Thirlmere by Manchester Corporation. Whose aqueduct burrows under this route, and in their wisdom the AA still maintain their phone box adjacent to Raise Cottage, the old Isolation Hospital; on a cloudy day almost as bright as a West Cork Cottage.  Surely an iconic place in the landscape!

Dunmail Standing Stone, Thirlmere, Shoulthwaite encl 014

Old mapping shows stones recorded at Dunmail Raise, which was variously written as Dunbalrase, Dunmel Raise and Dunmel Wrays, but does this refer to the cairn, lost boundary stones or even prehistoric standing stones.

speed 1611 cumb

The symbol used was synonymous with that used to describe the Three Shires Stones at the summit of Wrynose Pass where the historical counties of Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire met; both shown here on John Speed’s map c.1611.

photograph

These were shown on Saxton’s 1579 map and described at the time as three small standing stones about one foot high; more recently engraved recumbent stones and the modern standing stone, erected in the nineteenth century, have been placed there. But the symbol used suggests that there may have been upright standing stones present on Dunmail Raise at the same time.

Dunmail Standing Stone, Thirlmere, Shoulthwaite encl 028

So were there ever any such standing stones on Dunmail Raise? There is certainly a naturally upright outcrop at the summit of the pass which this symbol could refer to.

Loweswater, Wythburn cups, Grasmere 026

But during the survey I noticed a tall  “gatepost” in the enclosing wall of Raise Cottage, rather unusual as it was set in line with the wall rather than at right angles, like most gate stoops. It was also apparent that this was considerably more weathered than is seen on other gate posts such as this old example bored for poles instead of a gate.

Dunmail Standing Stone, Thirlmere, Shoulthwaite encl 054

Could this be one of the stones referred to in the mapping? This had clearly been present for some time, unlike that seen next to the phone box which had been removed for safety reasons from the dividing point of the carriageway since the survey.

Dunmail Standing Stone, Thirlmere, Shoulthwaite encl 016

We shall perhaps have to keep musing on this stone, but on a recent visit it was apparent that an unfortunate accident had befallen it and now stands at half its height, not even a shadow falling from its former self on this dull day.

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Further up the fault-line at Castlerigg there are stones that stand in a more convincing prehistoric pattern. Elsewhere on the fringes of the Lakes there are other prehistoric standing stones like this fine pair at Kirksanton, apparently cup-marked and marking the northern moonrise and southern moonset during a major standstill every 18-19 years.

Although we must still be a little wary of pairs of stones as they may not always be what they seem. Like so many stones that stand – sometimes its just hard to say where the truth lies.

Pete

Acknowledgements and Notes: Thanks to University of Central Lancashire and The Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society for providing funding for the Field Survey of Dunmail Raise and Greenburn Valley. Thanks also to The Urban Prehistorian for intriguing posts, to Roaringwater Journal, and Douglas Scott for the Archaeo-astronomy information  .

No, not some Mad Hatter-esque question posed at an eccentric tea party in Grasmere, but a serious question that concerns all prehistoric rock art/cup mark researchers. Unlike this picture, today in the Cumbrian Fells this question would be hard to address with a light dusting of snow – the dormice are, well dozing, however the low sun at this time of year is possibly the best opportunity to consider the problem.

Whorny Side cairn 086

“Sun Cup” Loweswater

This came to mind following a field trip to look at some recently reported rock art sites. Among these was a single cup at the top edge of a fine glaciated slab on the side of the valley just above Crummock Water, a site I feel, had it been in Scandinavia would have been covered with ritual carvings of Bronze Age boats or perhaps further north, reindeer.

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“Cup-marked” glaciated slab, Crummock Water

But this “cup” appeared to sit in splendid isolation in a setting that was somewhat atypical for the locale.

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Solitary”cup-mark” Crummock Water

It’s base also had a hump, now this in itself does not disqualify it from being a man-made cup, a row of four at Buttermere we had agreed earlier were cups were of rougher manufacture than we expect to see normally, so it could be. But, having previously observed the lower usually submerged slab, when the lake level had dropped considerably a few years ago, it was obvious there were marks that had been plucked out by the glacial action rather than pecked by man. Had these marks been exposed to the elements for many millennia they may well have eroded into what we could see as the single cup mark above. Likewise the four we saw earlier may have eroded smoother had they been on a level rather than sloping surface

Crummock slabs, Ling Crag; Dodd Cairn; Gale Fell; Gable moonrise 016

Glaciated slab, Crummock Water, glacial “plucks” just above pole

So what other criteria do we consider are appropriate to test the veracity of a possible cup mark? One is its landscape setting,  perhaps a little thorny as there are inevitably always exceptions, however we can say with a certain amount of confidence at present that the majority of the sites here are on glaciated bedrock, often roche moutonnée.

Confusingly one of the first sites to be identified in the Lake District on the Langdale Boulders is now appears to be an anomalous site within the region and is surrounded by cupule of natural origin

Allen banks, crummock cups, Castlerigg 022

Eroded clasts, Great Langdale

So what of the actual cupule? Aside from slabs whose surfaces are pitted with eroded glacial gas vesicles or eroded clasts – inclusions of softer rocks – we are left with the case of the odd cup or two that may or may not be of human origin.

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Eroded gas vesicles, Scafell Pike

Now a few of these individual cups are of such symmetry that they compare well to slabs where there are numerous other cup-marks.

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“Cup-marked” rock, Mitredale

But some do not quite cut the mustard; this rock reported as cup marked in a survey of Mitredale has many of the attributes of natural features – eroded faults and “cups” with projecting inclusions – which should have suggested that these were natural features.

Mitredale 050

Eroded “cup” Mitredale

So back to the problem, when a cup is not a cup,  when it is an only cup…

A fine natural bowl from the summit of Haycock

A fine natural bowl from the summit of Haycock

or when it’s a bowl?

Pete

 

Notes: Thanks to; Jamie Lund, National Trust Archaeologist, Mark Astley, National Trust Ranger, and Tom Bell, Chester University, for discussions on these sites. If you wish to see the solitary “cup” yourself you can find it directly below LIng Crag, Crummock Water, its a fine walk, there are other sites locally that really are prehistoric cups!

Getting into the Groove (ed ware)?…

shelteringmemory

Literally. We may have found evidence of crushed human bone being mixed into the clay used to make Early Bronze Age pottery. While I was looking at the Moseley Height Bronze Age pottery last week in Towneley Hall Museum I saw something that I thought was very exciting. Large white specks in the body of the pot had a very bone-like appearance. I kept quiet about this in last week’s post because I hadn’t had chance to check it out properly, however…

SONY DSC

This is the surviving portion of Urn C. It is the bit around the rim and, as you can see, it has been fairly intensively restored since it was excavated in 1950. There are big sections where the shape has been reconstructed (or made up) using plaster of paris and brown paint. The rest of it is original Bronze Age ceramic but, to keep it from crumbling, it…

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Ring cairn looking down Oxendale

Ring cairn overlooking Oxendale

While winter snows lie outside its spring at Whorneyside ring cairn! There are numerous prehistoric monuments found throughout the Cumbrian Fells, some the subject of this blog, can be classified as embanked ring cairns with some confidence whilst others are more difficult to fit into existing typologies. Many of these are smaller more ephemeral structures that often occur in close proximity with the more definable ring cairns.

Whornyside ring cairn

Whornyside ring cairn

These tend to be sited high up in the coombes of the fells generally from 400-500m AOD

Whornyside ring cairn, plan and reconstruction

Whornyside ring cairn, plan and reconstruction

With an eye of faith we can see how this cairn may have looked when constructed.

Ring cairn, Great Castle How

Ring cairn, Great Castle How

Here at Castle How above Grasmere we can see a structure of the same diameter and construction with a more “traditional” stone banked ring cairn in the distance across the valley.

Greenburn Bottom ring cairn

Greenburn Bottom ring cairn

The neighboring valley of Greenburn also contains similar structures, this time orthostats are still extant with what may be a cairn central to the circle.

Brenig ring cairn

Brenig ring cairn

At Llyn Brenig in North Wales, an area with numerous excavated Bronze Age monuments  this ring cairn is on a much greater scale, perhaps reflecting the population of that locale.

Broken Spectre, Skiddaw

Broken Spectre, Skiddaw

Whilst out on Skiddaw the other day I was followed for half a mile by the Broken Spectre, it got me wondering what prehistoric people made of this phenomenon that we can now explain through physics.

Whympers vision on descending the Matterhorn

Whymper’s vision on descending the Matterhorn

Even as recently as 1865 Edward Whymper descending the Matterhorn with his remaining companions, in his heightened state of anxiety following the death of three of his team,  interpreted the Broken Spectre as a vision.

Modern ring cairn Scoat Fell

Modern ring cairn Scoat Fell summit

People still build in the round on mountain tops.

Whorneyside ring cairn and PikeO'Blisco

Whorneyside ring cairn and Pike O’Blisco

Perhaps it’s the place we find ourselves in.

Notes

There is a fine trail to be followed round various Bronze Age monuments at LLyn Brenig: http://www.cpat.org.uk/walks/brenig.pdf

These were excavated by Frances Lynch in the 1970’s and are published in a monograph, the typologies are based on this work and many other sites are discussed here: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/20567822?uid=3738032&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21105668461373

Greetings to all readers for a fine 2015! – “Now is the time for fire and wine…” – its elemental…

Darkness; landscape fades, eyes are drawn to the fire cups, intimate in their rocky relief.

More Fire cups 036

Altitude; changed world – domed profile glimpsed through the notch, upturned axe blade thrust into the earth marking the spot

Grasmoor 28.12.14 007

Through the vaporous air – Isle of Man – connecting the Neolithic Irish Sea-farers

Grasmoor 28.12.14 022

Mountains mirrored in mercury water, a place for reflection and offering

Grasmoor 28.12.14 029

Light; solstice morning, winds blow, the sun hides

Windy Crummock Solstice 016

Pete

Notes and references

A  session  themed on “Fire” at the Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference at Manchester University this year reminded me of some “experiential archaeology” from a few years back;“Fire Cups” ,the consequence of some discussions with Dave Chapman around simple stone lamps from Late Upper Palaeolithic cave sites in France  which was followed by an impressive demonstration using a home pecked stone-cup-lamp, cooking oil and a plaited moss wick.

http://www.ancient-arts.org/index.html

To the best of my knowledge there is no archaeological evidence of burning within pecked cups on outcrops but this was simulated with enclosed candles. The main problem on a still evening was to get the candles to stay alight; the rock’s  elevated position meant that there were small eddies encircling the outcrop repeatedly puffing the flames out. With perseverance the effect was intriguing, like stars, an eerie sight late in the evening had anyone cast their gaze lake-wards. No cups were harmed in the making!

More on experimental “Burning The Circle” on Arran can be found on Gavin MacGregor’s blog and Northlight Heritage’s website

https://heritagelandscapecreativity.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/burning-circle/

http://northlight-heritage.co.uk/conc5/index.php/sub1/burning-circle/

Pike O’Stickle – site of Neolithic Axe-Factories – although a diminutive peak in the Cumbrian Mountains has distinctive profile which is curiously conspicuous from a broad area.

The quote is from Steve Ashley’s song “Fire and Wine”.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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