Rock art in Northumberland

Cup and ring marked stones. Rock art. Symbols. No-one knows for sure what they are, what they signify, what they represent. Maps? Waymarkers? Religious representations of the stars? Memorials?

4 or 5 thousand years ago people whose lifestyle was mainly nomadic pecked indentations into rock surfaces with a hard stone chisel or pick. There are certain motifs that are regularly used - straight grooves and wavy grooves, shallow circular depressions (cups), rosettes, dominoes.

These marked stones have been carved into sandstone outcrops throughout Northumberland - only 3 marked rocks have been discovered in the Cheviots on rock other than sandstone.

Although the sites of the decorated rocks can be seen from considerable distances, the rocks themselves cannot. Given the type of vegetation in prehistoric times it is likely that many of them would have quickly become overgrown unless they were regularly cleaned.

There are numerous places to find rock art in Northumberland and it's a bit like a treasure hunt. Don't worry, we'll point you in the right direction.

As to their significance - there are only questions - not answers:

Why is one rock chosen and not another?How close do you have to be to see that a rock is marked?And why does that matter?Are the marked rocks inter-visible?Were there trees in the way to obscure the view of it in prehistoric times?Is there a reason why some designs are complex and others simple and random?Do the different patterns convey different information?What did they mean to the people who made them?Why are some of the symbols common in many parts of the world?

Today, if you are hunting for cup and ring marked stones it is best to go when the light is bright but low and even then you can usually only see them from a few metres away. I have not given any grid references because it is best to approach the hunt for rock art as a treasure hunt. That way the excitement of the discovery is exhilarating. And it wouldn't be a treasure hunt if you had been given the precise location of the treasure at the start- would it?

Thanks to our Fabulous North friend Jane Brook for this fascinating blog post and photographs.

My gratitude to Stan Beckensell for his knowledge, information and questions..