|12 January 2006
A fascinating book about ancient carvings in Yorkshire
Whether their intricate designs are maps, religious symbols or simply an early form of graffiti, Stone Age rock carvings are seen as invaluable to unlocking secrets of civilisations dating back 4,000 years. Archaeologists have become fascinated with the work of prehistoric sculptors, studying the mysterious carvings created with flint tools which have survived the passage of time throughout the intervening centuries. And the North York Moors (England) has emerged as a hidden gem for the phenomenon of rock art after a painstaking investigation spanning a decade has unearthed hundreds of examples buried under heather and gorse across the bleak landscape.
Rock art researchers Paul Brown and Graeme Chappell have compiled the most comprehensive study yet of the artistry which they have discovered across the moors and published their findings in a book, Prehistoric Rock Art in the North York Moors. Mr Brown joined forces with Mr Chappell to spend hours walking the moors to find examples of rock art, before taking wax rubbings and transferring the details on to their archives. In a bitter irony, the flames which left a blackened scar across more than 600 acres of North Yorkshire moorland in a fire which started in September of 2003 have been instrumental in allowing the discovery of rock art. The rock carvings were exposed when vegetation burnt from the landscape of Fylingdales Moor, allowing Mr Brown and Mr Chappell the chance to log details of the long-hidden markings.
Mr Brown said: "Up until now, the North York Moors had been a virtually unknown area for rock art when compared to places like Northumberland. There is no way that anyone will be able to conclusively prove what the carvings represent. Even if we do believe we know what they mean, there is no way to prove it. But the intriguing part is to think that neolithic people spent so much time creating the rock art. These were the first farmers, hunters and gatherers and it is fascinating to think what the rock art could mean.
Examples of rock art have often been found close to the source of streams, raising the question as to whether the purity of the water was an integral part of a religious ceremony. Hundreds of cairns and barrows which cover the moors also include carved rocks, prompting speculation that the ancient artwork was inextricably linked to burial ceremonies.
The book touches on the work of early antiquarians such as Canon Greenwell, a much-travelled clergyman who became fascinated with rock art, and the famous Scottish surgeon Sir James Simpson, who took a keen interest in the carvings across the North York Moors. The nefarious exploits of the 19th century barrow diggers from Whitby and Scarborough who plundered monuments for fine pieces of flint to sell in local markets is also covered in the book.
Neil Redfern, an inspector of ancient monuments for English Heritage, has been in contact with Mr Brown and Mr Chappell throughout their research. He said: "We have always known that there has been rock art up on the moors, but not to the extent of places like County Durham and Ilkley Moor. Paul and Graeme's work has been quite fascinating, they have showed so much dedication going up on the moors in all weathers. "Rock art gives us an idea about the activities of our ancestors, it provides tangible evidence of where humans lived all those years ago."
Source: Yorkshire Post Today (9 January 2006)
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