After a very wet and rainy end to last week, the weather this week has been more obliging, and we were able to enjoy some sunshine. Wednesday, especially, was a gloriously bright and sunny day.
We have been finding some very interesting sites, some dating to the prehistoric period and others to more recent times. Two large prehistoric cairns were recorded on the promontory above Sunbiggin Farm. These are marked on the historic OS map and show evidence of previous excavations, most likely the work of antiquarians. Several smaller cairns were found across the limestone pavement, some of which were very small, comprising just two large rocks placed one on top of the other. The rocks appeared to have been placed purposefully and were duly recorded, but it is possible that they were naturally occurring.
The natural weathering of the stone across the pavement makes it particularly difficult to distinguish archaeological features from naturally formed geometric shapes in the rock. In places, these can look uncannily like human-made structures. In some areas, erosion has caused large fissures (grykes) to form which, where still covered by grass, made walking particularly perilous. One gryke was so large it had formed a square canyon that looked like an enclosure, but on closer inspection was determined to be the result of natural weathering. One feature on the limestone pavement that clearly wasn’t natural was a path cut into the stone escarpment to provide easy access across the slabs of slippery stone.
We found several walls across the Scar that could date to any period but are most likely to represent numerous episodes of construction. All we can say with certainty is that they pre-date the early 19th-century enclosure walls that divide up the Scar. Most of the relict walls recorded during the survey so far have been little more than linear rubble earthworks, usually 2m across and no more than 0.5m high. We suspect that these walls are part of a previous field system and once the survey season is complete, we will digitally map all the walls on a Geographic Information System (GIS), which will help confirm the theory.
This week, we identified several sheilings, the name given to seasonal huts used by upland shepherds. Two of the shielings were small, circular enclosures with a small abutting cell. Others were significantly larger with several cells and at least two enclosures (areas for keeping stock). One such enclosed settlement was sub-rectangular, with possible post pads at one end of the earthwork, probably indicating that the structure had once had a roof.
Several slabs of the limestone pavement were recorded set vertically into the grykes so that they appeared to be markers. The slabs were the subject of considerable discussion within the group as they looked suspiciously like standing stones. Someone with better local knowledge, however, pointed out that they are likely to be features of the former Warcop Training Area used by the army in the early 20th century. The ‘standing stones’, it would seem, are more likely to have been placed there as targets for shooting practice!
The limestone pavement does make exploring the Scar difficult, and at times treacherous, particularly in wet weather. However, the outstanding quality and number of features we are identifying makes it entirely worth it. We hope to find as many interesting sites in the week to come as we have this week! If you are interested in joining the survey, please email Hannah-Kingsbury@fld.org.uk or phone on 01539 756624.