Still at original location
- Art in Landscape –Boulder
In February 1973 a group of students from Alnwick College of Education, based at the castle, had asked me to take them to see some rock art. Their main course disciplines were different. When we were about to leave the site after looking at the North Plantation rocks when light snow began to fall, Murray Chisholm, a music student, called us back as we went to the minibus. He had noticed a large cup on a rock among dead bracken. This turned out to be the most southerly of a series of rock motifs that covered a whole spine of outcrop rock.
With Lance Strother's permission we returned, fully equipped, to see if any more rock art was hidden in the dead bracken; this proved to be so on the edges of the outcrop. A mound on the outcrop hinted at something else, so a 26m datum line was established along the length of the outcrop and trenches laid out parallel to it and at right angles. A careful systematic clearance of vegetation revealed piles of cobblestones on top, thinning out to the south. These were drawn and a pattern established where the mound was in the scatter. It had a double kerb and sat on top of the outcrop. The kerb was constructed by laying the two arcs of cobbles and packing the space between them with smaller stones. Cobbles were mostly used, but there was a small arc of pink igneous rock that had presumably been brought to the area originally by ice. A prominent feature of the inner kerb was an upright regular sandstone slab with two cups like eyes looking to the north.
As each cobblestone was cleaned as it emerged, some were found to have motifs pecked into them, mainly with simple cups but others more elaborately. There was sufficient of the mound intact to establish that it was not a field clearance heap, and that the motifs on the cobbles echoed those on the outcrop. The scale of this was unprecedented.
The northern part of the site was more confusing, and a large hollow with an edge of stone at first appeared to be an enclosure. It turned out to be a small quarry. The freestone here splits vertically and horizontally, producing good building blocks, until a floor is reached. This quarry could have removed decorated rock. There were many small slabs and cobbles of the type normally picked up during field clearance that may have been thrown to one side so the quarrymen could get at the good rock surface. They were in lines immediately at the western edge of the working. It is possible that other cairns were demolished in this clearing process. There was less disturbance to the south, though there had been trees there. The whole area is surrounded by magnificent old beech trees, and the planting of these would have caused disturbance. To the east is a large circular hollow that we investigated; it proved to be another of these quarries also seen on Weetwood Moor. The logic seemed to be to locate a good edge of freestone, then exploit it forward and sideways. It is possible to mistake such hollows as settlement sites; it is also possible to mistake limited rectangular stone extraction for a cist.
A profile cross-section of the site shows that there was a very thin layer of sand above the outcrop beneath the cobbles of the mound; in this was the only artefact: a sealed in worked flint that could be used as a scraper of knife and belong to the Neolithic-early Bronze Age period. There was no evidence of any time gap between the mound and the marking of the outcrop, and the thin sand was sterile. The stones of the mound and other scattered stones were from 10-40 cm long, mostly sandstone, with the odd volcanic erratic.
The most important feature of this site is the distribution of marked cobbles. Not only did they form part of the mound, but four kerbstones were cup marked and have been left buried in situ. The rest have been removed to the Museum of Antiquities except for Fowberry Excavation site - Cairn n, which is at Berwick Museum, and Fowberry Excavation site - Cairn r , which could not be relocated during the project.
The decoration on the removed cobbles varies from simple cups to a complex cup-penannular-radiate design. This complex design was on a cobble found south of the projected south edge of the outer kerb – unless the mound was longer along its north-south axis, which we don't know because there was only a light scatter of stone there and more possibility that the outcrop had been cleared of any covering stone. For anyone trying to peck a cup into a cobble, the danger is that the rock will split with the force of the blow. It takes skill.
This flat slab is at the deepest part of the outcrop, and some rock may have been removed from above it before the decoration was added. There are two main motifs: a cup and groove moving to the right with four penannulars, and a similar figure facing away from it with three penannulars. They are linked by a single groove above them which joins the outer ring of the left-hand motif.