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“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

…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.

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.

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“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

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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

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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.

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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!

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.

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

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

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

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Light; solstice morning, winds blow, the sun hides

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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

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the sun begins to set – a crack between the worlds

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Cold water glows gold

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The pointing finger

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The basin

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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…

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…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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