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17 October 2007
Mysterious carved stone found at Whitby Abbey

Experts are studying a carved stone recently uncovered on Whitby Abbey Headland in North Yorkshire (England) to see if it represents the first Bronze Age artefact from the site. St Hild founded an abbey on Whitby Headland in 657 CE, which is now an important historical site. An archaeological team came to the site this autumn for a six-week dig, and found an intriguing object a mysterious stone carved with linear markings. Measuring about 40cm by 50cm, it appears to be of the type of Bronze Age carved stones found on the North York Moors in 2003, dating from 2000 BC-700 BCE. "We need to wait for detailed analysis before we draw firm conclusions. If it is Bronze Age, then it underlines that the headland has a long history of settlement, well before St Hild founded the Abbey in 657 CD, said archaeologist Sarah Jennings.
     Measuring 16ins by 20ins, it displays linear carved markings which have yet to be understood or deciphered, and was found in one of four trenches dug just to the east of Whitby Abbey. The purpose of the stones is not known. It has been suggested that they could have denoted tribal boundaries or have a ritual use. A much more ornate stone found at Fylingdales Moor in 2003 has been likened to Irish grave passage art. One theory is that the stone found at the abbey could have been an instantly recognisable 'logo' with a specific meaning to the people that were around at the time. Sarah Jennings said: "It's possible it had some sort of symbolic importance that needed no explanation, in the same way that the well-known logos of today do." A defensive Iron Age enclosure complete with a palisade, which would have comprised a wooden fence fronted by a deep ditch designed to repel attackers has also been uncovered during the dig.
     English Heritage is trying to collect as much information as possible from the site before the clifftop erodes away. Last year it commissioned a project to identify historic sites vulnerable to coastal erosion along 85 miles of coastline from Whitby to North Lincolnshire, to form part of a national picture of the threat posed by rising sea levels and coastal erosion. The Whitby Headland site could disappear within 20 years.

Sources: Northern Echo (11 October 2007), Whitbt Gazette (12 October 2007) 24 Hour Museum (13 October 2007)

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