Mysterious rock markings discovery baffles archaeologists

October 09, 2003

The discovery of a series of mysterious rock carvings in Northern England has sparked a quest among experts to find out exactly what they are.

Archaeologists from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, who were alerted to the carvings by a local farm-hand, are baffled as to what they mean or who created them.

Fellow experts they have consulted, from bodies like English Heritage and The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, are equally confused. As far as they know, nobody has ever reported anything like them before.

The markings, found hewn into one, isolated sandstone boulder, include a group of concave spherical shapes of around 20 centimetres in diameter, another which resembles an adult footprint, several deep scores and another, heart-shaped marking.

People are now being encouraged to come forward with explanations and to help solve the mystery.

Newcastle University researchers were alerted to the markings by a local farm-hand while the team was carrying out fieldwork for a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board looking at prehistoric 'cup and ring' rock art in Northumberland in North East England. A typical cup and ring work of art would feature cups or cups and rings of various sizes carved into a slab of rock.

Dr Aron Mazel, research associate with the School of Historical Studies, has been investigating the markings with Northumberland and international rock art authority Stan Beckensall. The location of the site, which, for security reasons, is a secret, is near Wooler in North Northumberland, close to the Scottish border. Despite having over 60 years experience of studying rock art between them, they were unable to identify what they were.

One suggestion is that the carvings were created by the rock having being used to sharpen metal tools, but this has been discounted. Another possibility is that they could be linked to the early medieval monks and hermits who lived around the sandstone escarpments of Northumberland. Experts do not believe that the markings could have been made in recent times.

Puzzled by the markings, Dr Mazel said: "We have absolutely no idea what they are, as they are nothing like anything we or anybody else we have talked to have seen before. They are not the cup and ring marks which we have been studying as part of the Northumberland prehistoric rock art project - they appear to be more recent than that.

"There have been people in the Northumberland area since the start of the Mesolithic period around 10,000 years ago, but I would think that these markings were made after cups and rings, probably during the last 3000 years. But until we know more about these markings it would be hard to pinpoint which era they belong to.

"It's important that we find out what these markings are as any information could shed some interesting light on the prehistory and history of northern Northumberland. We'd also be able to tell people a bit more about their ancestors who lived here many years before them."

Stan Beckensall said: "As far as I know, these markings are unique and nothing like them exists anywhere else in Northumberland or in the British Isles. That's why we are keen to draw people's attention to them - seeing the pictures of the markings may prompt somebody to come forward with new information, perhaps relating to similar rock art samples they have viewed elsewhere."

Northumberland is widely regarded as possessing the finest collection of prehistoric rock art in England. Most of the carvings are in the cup and ring style and can be found on rocks throughout the county.
CONTACT FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Dr Aron Mazel (T)44-191-222-7845 (E) Postal address: School of Historical Studies, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU. NB Aron is available from 9am until 4pm today, Thursday October 9 2003.

PICTURES: A series of pictures detailing the mystery markings, together with a separate set of pictures featuring Aron Mazel and Stan Beckensall in Northumberland, and the 'cup and ring' markings usually found in the county, are available free of charge from North News and Pictures 44-191-233-0223 until Friday October 10 2003. After this date they are available via email from Newcastle University Press Office.

Notes to editors:

1. For security reasons, we are unable to disclose the exact location of the site of the markings. We have also been asked not to disclose the identity of the farm hand, so we regret that he is therefore not available for media interviews.

2. USEFUL WEB LINKS: More details about the Arts and Humanities Research Board funded Northumberland Rock Art Project: Arts and Humanities Research Board:

3. INFORMATION FOR BROADCASTERS: Newcastle University has a fully equipped radio studio with ISDN line on campus and we are five minutes ride from BBC and independent television studios.

Issued by Newcastle University Press Office. Further information from Claire Jordan 44-191-222-6067-7850

Newcastle University

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