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20 May 2007
Ancient carved stone exhibition an Whitby Museum

A fascinating new exhibition celebrates the discovery of a 5,000-year-old carved stone, which was unearthed after a devastating fire on Fylingdales Moor, near Whitby (North Yorkshire, England), and remains one of the most exciting examples of rock art ever found in Britain. 'Fire over Fylingdales: Revelation, Regeneration, Inspiration' has been financed by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and is on display at Whitby Museum until the end of September. The artefact only came to light after a dramatic blaze in 2003 ravaged two and a half square kilometres of Fylingdales moorland and, to the amazement of archaeologists, exposed 2,500 archaeological features.
     It is the Neolithic decorated stone that has had archaeologists excited since it first peeked out of the charred heather and, while they do have a few more clues as to its possible significance, the mystery continues. What archaeologists do now know is that the stone was set into a ring of low boulders within a larger cairn monument and it included a second stone carved with cup marks and linear grooves. There is also some evidence to suggest that the stone may have been broken from a larger block of fine-grained sandstone. As part of the interpretation and conservation work, the stone was examined, photographed and laser-scanned before it was put back in the ground to be left in situ to maintain the archaeological integrity of the monument. A life-size replica of the decorated stone created from the laser scans will form the centrepiece of the display, and will be presented with all of the evidence collected to date.
     The unique geometric pattern of the stone has been the subject of intense speculation but archaeologists remain unsure what it means. At one point it was thought that the zigzag design could represent some sort of map. However, archaeologists have now found similarities with art used to decorate graves from the same period. "The more decorated stone is similar to Neolithic passage grave art found in Ireland and Anglesey, perhaps suggesting a funerary purpose. But no one really knows," said Neil Redfern, English Heritage North Yorkshire Team Leader.
     The exhibition is illustrated by paintings, photos and stories inspired by the fire and supported by a variety of related activities including public lectures and an oral history and arts project, in which a local sculptor creates works inspired by the stone. Whitby Museum, Pannett Park, Whitby, YO21 1RE, North Yorkshire, England. Tel: 01947 602908. Open: All year: Tuesday to Sunday 9.30am to 4.30pm Last admission 30 mins before closing. Closed: Mondays except Bank Holidays Christmas and New Year Library closed throughout January

Source: Rose Shillito for 24 Hour Museun (17 May 2007)

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