This carved stone was rediscovered by Michala Potts on the rainy afternoon of August 26, 2011, on a Northern Antiquarian excursion to explore some of the cup-and-rings on Ilkley Moor. The entire stone was totally covered in soil and leaves, and Michala spent some considerable time carefully clearing the dead vegetation to unveil the carvings beneath.
This carving has at least 12 cup-marks on its slightly inclined surface, with several artificial carved lines and some that are obviously geophysical in origin. (we really could do with a geologist with a cup-and-ring fetish to accompany us on some of our outings!) But the main feature of this carving — as the photos here illustrate — appears to be the natural crack that runs up through the middle of the stone, either side of which have been etched a number of cup-markings attached by small lines or ‘branches’, giving the distinct impression of a tree. Whether this was a deliberate artistic feature (a tree), or just another Rorscharch response to non-linear systems on our behalf (more probable), we’ll never know. On the moors northeast of here on the other side of the Wharfe valley, the Tree of Life Stone acquired a similar association due to its design; but this Ilkley design, sadly, aint quite as good as the one on Askwith Moor.
There are some puzzles on this stone aswell. Other lines scar the rock which are definitely man-made, but they are of a different nature and age. The marks have been scarred by more modern metal tools, or were caused by heavy metal machinery that have rested on the rock at some time in the not-too-distant past. You can see the curved deep scratches in the photo here to the right. It seems likely that when the modern houses were built straight across and above here, this cup-marking was damaged by the workers — although they didn’t know it was here as the stone had not been catalogued by the Ilkley archaeologists. But there’s also another peculiar feature on this stone. Someone a century or two ago also carved other fainter features into the stone, seemingly lettering, on the northeast edge of the rock. They can be seen faintly on the second photo, above.
The other basic cup-marked stones were found 2 and 5 yards north and northeast of this carving. We know from other evidence found that the carvings here were related to a prehistoric enclosure, but there also seemed the distinct possibility that they had some association with a previously undiscovered tomb. A number of carvings in this region have direct associations with cairns or tombs of one form or another, so this is not unusual.
Another old site that has sadly succumbed to that bollox called ‘progress’! It’s in the North Yorkshire region some halfwits have taken to calling Cleveland — but which a lotta local folk still correctly call Yorkshire. But that aside…
In an article by local students William Hornsby and Richard Stanton written in 1917, we find that this was just one of at least seven hillocks presumed to be barrows here — but all the others had gone even in their day. When Crawford (1980) came to survey the site in the late 1970s, he told that,
“this large barrow is now only visible as a low swell in an arable field… (but) the profile of the barrow is retained in the hedgeline that bisects it from north to south, but the whole of its eastern half has been obliteratd by the Brotton-Kilton road.”
When Hornsby and Stanton checked the place out it measured 54 feet in diameter and had an extensive covering of small stones, like a large cairn, with a single grave at the centre, aligned north-south; and a tree-trunk coffin on the southwestern side. Of the stones which filled the central grave, eight of them were found to have cup-markings on them; whilst 16 stones covering the tree-trunk grave also possessed cup-markings. Roughly equidistant between the two burials was another stone found to be resting face-down on the original ground-level, and covered with 20 cups and 5 cup-and-rings! Awesome stuff!
G.M. Crawford’s (1980) description of the site was as follows:
“Howe Hill was excavated by Hornsby and Stanton in 1914; they discovered that the mound was made up with a clay floor, overlain by ‘a cairn 30 feet long and 3 feet high’ of diorite cobbles, capped by a layer of earth. Cut into the clay floor were two graves: the first was oriented north-south and measured 2m long by 0.9m wide at the old land surface and was 0.7m deep. The grave was filled with ‘medium sized stones’ with a ‘thin dark layer,’ thought to be an inhumation burial, on the floor; 8 of the stones bore cup-marks. The second grave, oriented northeast-southwest, was 2.5m long by 0.9m wide at the old ground surface, reducing to 1.8m long by 0.5m wide at its bottom, 1.3m below. This grave, which was filled with stones, also contained a tree-trunk coffin or oak, measuring 1.5m long… At the head (northeast) were found the unburnt skull fragments of a man laid on its right side. Unaccompanied cremations had been placed at both ends of the coffin. 16 cup-marked stones were among the infill of the grave.”
This was obviously a site of considerable importance and it’s a huge pity (if not a disgrace) that today no trace of the site remains.
Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
Crawford, G.M., Bronze Age Burial Mounds in Cleveland, Cleveland County Council 1990.
Elgee, Frank, Early Man in North-east Yorkshire, John Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
Hornsby, William & Stanton, Richard, “British Barrows near Brotton,” in Yorkshire Archaeology Journal, 24, 1917.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.