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.
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.
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.
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.
Water, fundamental, ubiquitous – ripples – reflections – motion
Quartz – triboluminescence, glowing when struck together – hammerstones used in cup-making at Kilmartin Glen, Argyll.
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?
But as I start to digitise the most recent finds from the Lake District (above) I am reminded of this picture…
…no not Floss!
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.