Is stone most decorated in southern Britain?

By Rosie Cripps in Local People

NEW archaeological evidence has suggested that an ancient stone monument near Davidstow was used for moonlit rituals during the Bronze Age, and could top Stonehenge for being the ‘most decorated stone in southern Britain’.

The Cornwall Archaeological Society has found new evidence, suggesting that the Hendraburnick ‘Quoit’, situated near Davidstow, was used for moonlit rituals or ceremonies during the late Neolithic and bronze age period.

The work conducted on Hendraburnick Quoit, was funded and carried out by the Cornwall Archaeological Society and led by Dr Andy Jones, an archaeologist from the Cornwall Archaeological Unit, and Penzance-based Tom Goskar, an archaeologist with a specialism of using digital technologies to find new evidence within artefacts from the past.

Speaking about the new evidence, Dr Jones told the Post: “We’re really pleased. It’s something we’ve known about for quite a long time, but it’s really, really good — a remarkable find.

“It (the Hendraburnick Quoit markings) is a unique find. There are lots of decorated monuments in the UK, but for southern Britain, it’s very remarkable.”

In 2013, a small-scale excavation was undertaken at the site in an aim to look into the theory of the site being a ruined stone monument — a megalith — as well as to try and establish a date for the cup marks that had previously been recorded there.

Archaeologists found that the ‘quoit’ was a large slab of stone that had been set upon slate, and the site was also a focal point for the smashing of quartz blocks. Further investigations into this found that this was most probably conducted during the late Neolithic or bronze age period, and that this ‘rock art’ was most evident when seen in the moonlight or during low sunlight from the south east, suggesting that this stone was significant during ancient night-time rituals or ceremonies.

Dr Jones continued: “We know that it was moved upon a stone platform. We’ve established that this would have probably been during the late Neolithic period, but we think it may have been carved before it was moved.”

Tom Goskar, who conducted the digital investigations on the project, told the Post: “The place itself must have been important. The largest of the stones at Hendraburnick weighs about 16 tonnes, and would have been dragged up from the valley below — no mean feat, which would likely have used animals as well as people. Once in place, it was propped up with smaller stones and used by the people who live there, grinding the cup marks and grooves with quartz.”

A fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Tom began using 3D scanning in 2002, when he was one of a team investigating the suitability of laser scanners as a tool for archaeologists.

He worked on laser scanning at Stonehenge, where the team discovered axe carvings, opening the tunnel to later discoveries at this site. He said: “It was early days for this kind of technology. I had to invent ways of analysing and visualising the data, since very few people had used 3D laser scanners back then.

“We discovered previously unknown prehistoric carvings on the most studied stone — stone 53 — which proved the potential 3D technologies had for understanding our past.”

Tom continued: “I have continued to develop my techniques and skills in this area, and since relocating back home to Cornwall, I have applied them to Cornish monuments.”

In his blog, posted on July 11, Tom states that the stone is now considered ‘the most decorated or deliberately marked stone in southern Britain’. He even goes as far to say that the Hendraburnick Quoit could top Stonehenge in Wiltshire for its number of human-made markings and features, of which over 100 were found on the surface of the quoit.

After catching sight of shadows being cast on more marks on the quoit, which had never been seen there before, archaeologists decided to run more excavations on the stone.

Tom was approached by Dr Jones in 2016 to record and study the surface of the Hendraburnick Quoit, which saw Tom carry out detailed 3D recordings of the surface of the two stones, which make up the monument.

Dr Jones continued: “It was obviously a place to be seen. We know that the people that went here probably weren’t living there (at the site), but they were probably meeting up here —most probably to mark the Camel, which is nearby on the moor.

“We finished excavation work in 2013, but went back to look at the different lighting conditions, and we found then when you look at the site from the east during the day, it was casting shadows on the stone, and it would be like that if you go out at different points of the day.”

Speaking of the significance of the project to him, Tom said: “I was thrilled to be asked by Dr Andy Jones to join him on the Hendraburnick project, which was funded by the Cornwall Archaeological Society. There was a real sense of discovery, working on this project — discovering cup marks and lines one by one as I worked with the 3D data on the long winter nights last year.”

Tom used photogrammetry as the 3D scanning method, and took hundreds of images of the surface to gain a more accurate insight of all sides of both stones.

After gathering the 3D data, Tom began the analysis process, where a total of 152 markings were found on the surface, making it the most decorated stone in the south of Britain.

The marks are believed to suggest that the site was used at night, with the marks being ‘stone art’ made around the time of 2500BC, to deliberately be seen during nighttime or under the moonlight.

The use of smashed quartz also indicates that images would have then plunged out of the stone from the dark, as the rock is able to reflect both moonlight and firelight, suggesting that the site would have been used for nighttime activities or rituals.

Tom continued: “You can’t help but wonder why people chose to make these markings. Hendraburnick is formed of a very hard stone called ‘quartz porphyry’, and it would have taken a long time to make a cup mark. Perhaps a rite of passage, perhaps the passing of a loved one — we shall never know the true meaning, but we do know, because of the sheer hard work involved, it must have been for an important reason.

“Sometimes these kinds of markings are called ‘rock art’, but we can never be sure they were devised as a finished piece. What we see today is probably the result of many people interacting with the stone, perhaps over generations.”

Dr Jones added that they will not be carrying out any other projects in the immediate future, and that the findings from their most recent work will be published soon.

Archaeological societies, such as the one that conducted this project, are vitally important to helping record and understand the past. For more information about the work the Cornwall Archaeological Society carries out, visit http://cornisharchaeology.org.uk

To read Tom’s blog and take a look at his web page, visit http://tom.goskar.com/2017/07/11/hendraburnick-quoit-the-most-decorated-stone-in-southern-britain. Dr Jones and Tom’s findings can also be found at www.tandfonline.com, under the title ‘Hendraburnick ‘Quoit’: recording and dating rock art in the west of Britain.

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