Death’s Head Carving (577), Askwith Moor, North Yorkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 17795 51235

Also Known as:

  1. Carving no.577


Getting Here

Follow the directions to find the Tree of Life Stone, then follow the main footpath uphill from it.  Once on the level, look out for a couple of large rocks abaat 100 yards to your left.  Check ’em out, cos it’s on one of ’em!

Archaeology & History

This is another decent carving living on these prolific moors.  Found near the end of a lengthy line of prehistoric walling that runs east-west over this part of the moor, the general Rorsharch-response to this carving is of some sorta skull or screaming face.  My impression of it the other day was, “it looks like a pig!”

Although mentioned by numerous writers, the first description of it was in Eric Cowling’s (1937) essay on the cup-and-ring stones north of Otley, saying:

“On an isolated table stone, situated at the upper end of the shallow valley which drains Snowden Carr, the writer found a marking having a strangely skull-like appearance, but which is really a group of three large cups which are linked by inter-turning curved grooves.”

Close-up of main design
The Death’s Head Rock

He then strives to make links between this carving and the design on the Swastika Stone above Ilkley — which in some way is a little similar, i.e., as a three-armed triskele swastika; but the notion is perhaps as accurate as saying it represents a cloud, or a tree, or bird-flight, or any number of other natural phenomena.  Beckensall’s (1999) brief note of the stone — despite getting his grid-ref off by a few hundred yards — described it as “four cups linked and enclosed by grooves, unconvincingly suggesting a skull to some people.”  With Boughey & Vickerman (2003) saying:

“Fairly large, upstanding rock with surface sloping down to N. Figure of four cups linked by and enclosed by grooves: entire pattern resembles a skull, hence the name ‘Death’s Head Rock.'”


  1. Beckensall, Stan, British Prehistoric Rock Art, Tempus: Stroud 1999.
  2. Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS 2003.
  3. Cowling, Eric T., “Cup and Ring Markings to the North of Otley,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, part 131, 33:3, 1937.
  4. Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way: A Prehistory of Mid-Wharfedale, William Walker: Otley 1946.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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