Prehistoric rock art secrets of the Dales uncovered
By Martin Slack
MORE than a century ago a South Yorkshire clergyman and archaeologist spent several days excavating a burial mound on moorland near Richmond.
Reginald Gatty, of Hooton Roberts, near Doncaster, found flint tools, a beaker and the remains of five individuals on Barningham Moor and his exploits were reported in the Yorkshire Post.
But a recent study by modern archaeologists has revealed that Mr Gatty's excavation may have overlooked some of the site's more important contents – "stunning" examples of ancient rock art.
Mr Gatty undertook his project in 1897 with the help of then landowner Sir Frederick Milbank, whose descendants still own Barningham Moor, and the pair wrote up their finds for an archaeological journal.
However, the account made no mention of the rock art contained in the burial barrow at How Tallon, and experts now believe that the vicar and the baronet may have blundered past them as they dug.
Paul Brown and his wife Barbara have spent several years studying the rock art of the North Yorkshire moors as well as examples found in Cumbria and in County Durham.
Mr Brown said it was amazing that the 19th century enthusiasts had missed the 2,000 year old clues to Bronze Age life but said he was delighted that they had now been discovered.
He added: "The rock art was originally found a few years ago when specialists starting studying marks on rocks in dry stone walls which were built either close to or over the burial barrows.
"It was then that we started to realise what had happened. Men like Gatty and Milbank would have thought of themselves as antiquarians and there was a phase of opening up these barrows. But the upper class men wouldn't have done the digging and their staff – probably beaters from a shooting party – would have knocked down nearby walls to make way for the
dig and would have been instructed to look for treasure and bones.
"The stones from inside the barrow which contained the rock art would have been piled up as the search for trinkets went on and when the barrow was completely emptied the walls were rebuilt.
"The rock art stones weren't put back into the barrow, but were just used, like all the other rocks around, to make sure the walls were rebuilt."
Academics believe the Barningham stones, which date from the Bronze Age around 2000BC, are evidence that a late Neolithic tradition from around 3,200BC was continuing in the northern Dales.
The Neolithic stones are thought to have been designed
to mark specific sites, such as fresh water springs and viewpoints and can still be found today.
Mr Brown said the Bronze Age examples are still the subject of academic debate – but were most likely placed in burial barrows as a mark of respect to the dead.
He added: "We never cease to be amazed that despite a lapse of more than 4,000 years, new stones and panels of rock art can still be found in the landscape of the northern dales. Barningham Moor and nearby Gayles in particular contain over three hundred marked rocks, many of which are visually stunning, but have never been catalogued or recognised for what they are."
Mr and Mrs Brown, who live near Darlington, have written a book called Prehistoric Rock Art in the Northern Dales, which includes maps and tips on finding and recognising some of the markings.
It is published by The History Press, costs between £19.99 and £15.99 and is available on the Amazon website, from Waterstones and other bookshops.
Posted by moss
3rd September 2008ce
Edited 4th September 2008ce