Museum: Berwick Museum
The name Weetwood means the wet wood.
- Burial Cairn
- Portable Reused Stone
By chance, I (Stan Beckensall) was living nearby when the land around the Weetwood sites was bulldozed and cleared of heather and stone, ready for grass planting. I had seen the low mound between the public path and the road, with a large stone projecting on the south side with two apparently natural cups on top. The low mound, no higher than the large stone, oval in shape, had not been recorded, and had presumably gone unnoticed when permission was given for the field clearance to go ahead in May, 1982.
Boulders were removed from the area, and dumped beside the public footpath and at the edge of the outcrop hill, where some remain. The mound was bulldozed, and the large stone lifted and dumped with other clearance, north of the footpath. It was then that I saw the large stone, with its remarkable pattern of cup, concentric rings, and radial grooves. The shallow hole from which it had been taken was just about visible in disturbed soil. The farmer, David Murray, not only agreed to halt work at my (unofficial) request, but got his men to search the area for more decorated cobbles. He also agreed to my excavating the site, and to its reinstatement after excavation. He saved all the cobbles in a heap that had been removed from the site of the mound.
An examination of sparse documentation revealed that Canon Greenwell had investigated six possible burial cairns, two of which had cists with no bodies remaining. These did not have precise locations, and only one is still visible, outside the area of rock art on the public footpath leading west from site 6. I regarded the bulldozed site as a possible burial cairn, and set out my excavation grid in an area surrounded by recent ploughing. Field walking in the disturbed ground did not produce any flints or other artefacts.
About three-quarters of the mound had been bulldozed away, and what was left was carefully trowelled to base. At the same time, marked cobbles were being recovered and saved.
A team of eight people was involved in the excavation and recording. Every stone left at base level in situ was recorded, and the area carefully examined for evidence of burial (a cist pit, for example). There were no signs of burial.
The natural base of the field had a compact pebble layer, and the soil among the stones included pebbles. Most of the cairn stones were of the cobble type, rounded, and they included volcanic rock brought down by ice. The stones left in situ were not quarried, but were of the type found on the surface during clearance. Only one edge of the oval-shaped mound retained any kind of integrity. There was no kerb of larger stones, but the periphery was made up of cobbles, with the exception of the large, rounded sandstone boulder the motifs of which originally faced inward. Its base was flat and had been sunk in a shallow hole, its flat base giving it sufficient stability to stand upright.
The drawing shows the disposition of the undisturbed stones in the mound, but there was nothing more to report other than the extraordinary number of marked cobbles found in the mound's structure. 21 were found in situ, mostly face-down. I had found 4 in the spoil heaps before the excavation began, and the rest of the 'loose' marked stones were picked up by the farmers. All the marked stones were sandstones, and no markings were found on volcanic rocks.
It was impossible to distinguish between recent and ancient disturbance at the centre of the mound, and there was no sign of a cist pit. Had the mound been built over a body, there would be no survival. There was no evidence of cremated remains or burning.
The large marked boulder could have been on the site as a standing stone, and the oval mound constructed with it as a kerb marker. The fact that the motifs face into the mound and were not meant to be seen is important. Even as a standing stone it is unlikely that its pattern would have faced north, for it was more likely to be viewed on the approach to the panels of rock art on the hill to the north. The deliberate obscuring of uneroded motifs means that the motifs were a private and not a public gesture - not meant to be seen- and more concerned with the dead than the living. They are different in concept from motifs in the landscape: it is as though they have been deliberately turned into the earth instead of facing the sky, and therefore more concerned with the dead than the living. Even though the mound may not have been used either primarily or exclusively as a burial, it had an important ritual function in the landscape. It does not lie among the markings on the hill, but stands on the edge of the concentration.
The placing of marked cobbles in a mound, a deliberate, calculated placement in the case of those turned face down, makes nonsense of the idea that they just happened to be a convenient building material lying around. The cobbles had been selected for size, shape, and surface area, probably held on the lap, and chipped with a hard stone tool to produce cups and grooves. All these pick marks are visible and uneroded, and some are marked on two sides. Not all the motifs are completed, and it seems that the act of putting some basic symbols on the rocks was sufficient for the ritual purpose.
The presentation of the mound as an oval shape is largely conjectural, but it has the effect of allowing us to gather the loose stones together in one place, and of highlighting the position of the standing kerb stone. It will also keep machinery clear of this stone. Most of the marked cobbles are at Berwick Museum, but one was requested by the Science Museum, London. One was left, sentimentally, on the mound.
This site, together with the one close by at Fowberry, has given us a new dimension on the use of rock art in monuments. Mounds incorporating marked cobbles are very rare, but the discovery of similar cobbles in walls and field clearance heaps suggests that other destroyed mounds might have contained them. When we excavated the massive cairn at Blawearie, we examined every cobble within the mound, and not one was marked. The reason why some mounds were chosen for this ritual is unknown. One may put forward the idea that the marked cobbles were rather like wreaths at a funeral: that people made them and placed them in the burial mound.
Since the excavation and reinstatement of the mound there have been other finds of small marked cobbles in the area, one of which is at Fowberry Cottage.
A single cup.