Friday, 25 March 2011

Cup and Ring Stones

after answering "becausetheyrethere's" comment in my last Post by saying that all though I've know of, and passed them for over 50 years, with the area where I live being known for them. I've never really given them much thought, but now they're a focus to get out into the hills exploring to find and record more. I've started to read up a little on them, so if anyone's interested ? from :-

A cup and ring marked stone is a rock or worked stone slab bearing one or more circular depression(s)/cup(s) and/or circular groove(s)/ring(s) chipped out of rock with a hard stone or metal tool to form various curvilinear, zig-zag or spiral form designs. Water and ice action might eventually make the cups and rings smooth. The cups vary in size from 0.02m to 0.20m in diameter with a maximum depth of 0.06m. Cup and ring marked stones are recognised in the field as boulders more or less covered with carved designs. The boulders occur as outcrop rocks or as earthfast boulders. The term cup and ring marked stone is a general one which includes stones and boulders with other kinds of decoration as well as just cup and ring marks.
 Cup and ring marked stones might be confused with boulders which, through natural weathering have a pitted surface, and also with tinners' mortarstones on which tin would have been crushed leaving depressions in the stone, or also with stone guns. These latter two may be distinguished by their location and by analysis of the stone for traces of tin.
 The definition specifically excludes those rock carvings which are obvious representations of objects or people or animals such as the daggers carved on megaliths at Stonehenge and those made on components of other classes, for example cists, standing stones and various types of stone circle.
 General consensus holds that they are religious or territorial symbols. More complex combinations of cup and ring marked stones, however, have been explained as games, maps or even ghost houses. They probably date from the Late Neolithic to the end of the Bronze Age, with a few examples possibly as late as AD 100, a total duration of perhaps thirty centuries.
 Cup and ring marked stones are very difficult to date. Most are dated by comparison/analogy with similar marks on stones forming part of dated monuments. For example, at Fowberry Moor, W. Yorkshire, the remains of a round barrow included stones carved with the same symbol as those found on the outcrop rock immediately beneath the barrow. These have been dated to circa 1600 cal BC from associated finds such as pottery and flint work and the tradition of the burial. Those cup and ring marked stones of inferred ritual function in N. England and Scotland have been dated in use and fabrication to between 3000 cal BC and AD 100, but more often between 2000 and 1600 cal BC.
 Cup and ring marked stones can also be dated by analogy of the designs with pottery and where similar designs occur on other materials.
 Those outcrops with vast complex designs of cup and ring marks, as for example on the edge of Hangingstone Ridge, overlooking the Wharfe Valley in W. Yorkshire where an extensive bedrock about 26m east to west and between 4 and 8m north to south is covered in different combinations of cup and ring marks and was probably completed over a period of years rather than days. On the other hand single cup marked stones would have taken very little time to complete, but in S. England where cup marked rocks are very rare they may well have had equal importance.
  There has been some study of chronological developments on the basis of typology, but without independent dating evidence this must be treated with caution. There are regional differences in form and possibly also in date.
General description
There are descriptive records of cup and ring marked stones from the early 19th century. A classification of types was attempted by Baildon (1909), who also summarised the current opinions on their function. There is no current synthesis for the whole country although Beckensall has written extensively on the northern examples. A decade of survey in W. Yorkshire has produced 297 cup and ring marked stones, the publication of which is a significant contribution to the subject in understanding the different types and their distribution (Hedges, 1986). The most recent survey of rock carvings, excluding simple cup marks, is that by Morris published in 1989.
 Cup and ring marks occur on natural rock surfaces, earthfast boulders and on small portable blocks. Other components which might be present in the carving are ducts, grooves and spirals.
 Cup and ring marked stones vary considerably in size. Natural rock surfaces vary from about 1m x 1m up to 26m x 8m near Ilkley in W. Yorkshire and at Morwick Hill, W. Yorkshire cup and ring marks cover the cliffs of the river. The outcrop rock is usually horizontal or nearly so. It may have been exposed for centuries or it may have been accidentally or deliberately uncovered recently. Local, softer sedimentary rocks were preferred. Boulders, some of which appear to have been worked, others which were probably rolled into place by glaciers also have cup marks. They vary in size from 28 x 29 cm at King's Beeches, Gloucestershire up to 2.4m x 1.4m at Dunstone, Widecombe in Devon. Smaller portable rocks with carvings sometimes appear to have been shaped, for example triangular examples at Cartington, N. Yorkshire or a pyramid like stone at Lilburn Hill, Yorkshire.
 A cup is a depression made in the rock, varying in depth from 0.02m to 0.06m and from 0.02m to 0.20m in diameter, formed by picking at the rock with a hard tool. The cups may occur singly or more commonly in clusters and with other components.
 A ring is a groove carved in the same way and commonly surrounds a cup, its size therefore being dependent upon that of the cup, either by itself or with others arranged concentrically.
  Ducts are a maximum of 0.15m wide and vary in length up to 0.8m long and lead from cups and horseshoe shaped rings, particularly in northern examples.
 Grooves up to 2m long and 0.05-0.10m wide sometimes join other rings and horseshoes or divide up the stone into zones, as for example at Weetwood Moor, Northumberland. Alternatively they may enclose one or more cups.
 Spirals are quite rare. They are spiral grooves rather than concentric rings and generally occur on their own without cups. Examples are known at Morwick and Lilburn in Northumberland.
 Regional variants occur around Ilkley, W. Yorkshire where concentric rings and cups are joined by ladders instead of grooves. These are parallel grooves joined by carved horizontal bars. Other unusual shapes include grids and triangles.
Seven main types of cup and ring marked stone have been identified on the basis of their design and where they occur.:
 * A: Plain cups, occurring singly or in groups on natural rock surfaces, megalithic blocks, cist stones and small portable rocks. For example,Lemmington, West Yorkshire.
 * B: Those carvings where rings occur singly or concentrically around one or more cups. For example, Gardom's Edge, Derbyshire.
 * C: Horseshoe-shaped / subrectangular grooves occurring singly or concentrically around one or more cups. This design is    particularly common on outcrop rocks. For example, near Ilkley, West Yorkshire.
  * D: Designs where grooves join cups, cups and rings or horseshoes. For example, Calton Pasture, Derbyshire.
  * E: Spiral designs, occurring with or without other types. For example, Morwick Hill, Northumberland.
  * F: Horseshoe-shaped and subrectangular rings with short ducts leading from them. For example, near Ilkley, West Yorkshire.
  * G: Local variants such as W. Yorkshire ladders and W. Yorkshire grids and triangles. For example, The Panorama stone, Ilkley, West Yorkshire.
 Different types of cup and ring marks often occur together. The depth of the cutting varies. Some were crudely carved, some were unfinished, some showed different stages of carving, others were well finished and others eroded.
They are most easily explained as sacred or religious symbols, an interpretation supported by their occurrence on cists and small stones which make up burial cairns. Alternative functions such as maps have been suggested, and this may hold some credence as many lie on ancient trackways. It is not known if their status or function is the same over the whole of the country. It is possible that cup and ring marked stones are stone versions of a kind of monument more common in other materials, for example, wood.
Distribution and regional variation
 Cup and ring marked stones are widespraed in England, though clustering on high ground in the North, the Peak District and Cornwall. There are surprisingly few examples in devon, and even those are questionable. Quarrying and farming may have removed many such rocks. Intensive survey such as in N. England might reveal more, but it appears that cup and ring marked stones are a more northern phenomenon. There are a few others in Gloucestershire. The limited occurrence of durable rock suitable for carving may well bias the distribution considerably. In many regions south and east of the Pennines there are no outcrops of hard building stone, so by definition rock art cannot have been executed. Examples of the class are also known in Scotland, Orkney, The Hebrides and Ireland.
  In general no carved rocks are found above 358m O.D. and are usually between 250m and 335m O.D. In Gloucestershire examples are all on north facing slopes, but this is probably coincidental as elsewhere they are found on all sides. They are usually found near to other monuments dating to the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age such as cairns, round barrows, standing stones, and various classes of stone circle and fieldsystem.
 Cup and ring marked stones usually occur in clusters and in several cases in hundreds over quite a small area, for example there are 297 around W. Yorkshire and in N. Yorkshire at Hinderwell Beacon barrow there were over 150 examples among the stones of the barrow and the area as a whole has 310 recorded examples. Elsewhere clusters are smaller, numbering up to 10 examples in Derbyshire and Cornwall.
  Standard figures were used in cup and ring marks, but many developed regional characteristics and local variations. Type A are the only type of cup and ring mark known in Devon. Type B is common over the whole country. Types C, D and F are more common in the north, with a local variant of ladders being confined to Derbyshire. Type E is more rare and has a limited distribution in Yorkshire.
 It is not possible to attempt a chronological development, although a longer currency of the tradition in the north might explain the more complex range of cup and ring markings found there.
 The exact number of cup and ring marked stones extant is not known with certainty, but is probably in excess of 810. It is likely that detailed survey of tracts of stony moorland will reveal more. This is unlikely to be a realistic reflection of the number carved in prehistory as many are doubtless overgrown or have been missed in excavation.
 Type E is very rare. Type A is the most abundant although Type B is also very common. Types C, D and F occur frequently in those areas with an abundance of carvings.
Survival and potential
When first carved cup and ring marked stones were probably much sharper and the patterns more easily defined. Those which have been buried, are still generally in very good condition, but those which have been exposed, that is those mainly occurring on outcrop rocks have often been badly weathered. It is possible that there is regional variation in survival, those in the south on lower ground having been more vulnerable to destruction through quarrying and farming.
 Excavations have not generally taken place around cup and ring marked stones, except in those examples occurring as part of a particular monument classes such as stone circles or round barrows. In these cases, evidence to date the carvings has sometimes been produced from associated finds such as pottery and associated burials. For example, excavation at Tregulland Barrow, Treneglos Parish, Cornwall revealed two phases.
 Potentially important contexts include posible buried land surfaces beneath cup and ring marked stones. Excavation around carved outcrops might reveal associated features such as pathways or timber structures. In the case of those found on stones forming other monuments any burnt material which might be used for dating and the fill of internal features such as cists, pits and cairns and the matrix of any bank will be important in indicating the function of the monument. Lichenography might indicate whether the stones are in situ, or if they have been moved recently.
Antiquarian sources are sometimes the only records extant of cup and ring marked stones. The monuments were recognised as rock carvings, but often if they occurred on large boulders, the boulder would be broken up and only the carving retained. Details generally recorded was the type of rock, either outcrop or (shaped) boulder on which the carving occurred and the type of carving, for example cup or cup and ring. Drawings or wax rubbings were also sometimes made.
  Cup and ring marked stones have a limited range of spatial associations with other monument classes. The most common spatial associations probably underline the close chronological relationships or related function of the monument classes concerned.
Spatial relationships in order of frequency include other cup and ring marked stones, single standing stones, cairns and roundbarrows, pathways and various classes of stone circle and fieldsystem.
  Non-contemporary associations include their reuse in more recent agricultural features such as field walls. Some of the monuments which are spatially related to cup and ring marked stones may not be contemporary.
Characterisation criteria
 The four criteria for assessing class importance apply to cup and ring marked stones as follows:
 * Period (currency): Long-lived. The tradition of carving cup and ring marked stones probably started in the Late Neolithic and continued through to the end of the Bronze Age, and perhaps as late as the Early Iron Age, a total duration of perhaps thirty centuries.
* Rarity: Common. Over 810 examples are known and a programme of survey and excavation on stony moorland may reveal more which belong to the class.
* Diversity (form): Very high. Seven main types have been identified on the basis of constituent features and where they occur.
 * Period (representativity): Medium. Cup and ring marked stones are one of several classes of prehistoric monument. They are quite widely scattered and may relate to more than one function. Neither their function nor their purpose is currently known and they rarely, if ever, yield artefactual or ecofactual evidence of their use.
 Assigning scores to these criteria following the system set out in the Monument Evaluation Manual, cup and ring marked stones yield a Class Importance Value of 40. This lies two thirds of the way up the range of possible values (max. = 64), reflecting the long currency and high diversity of the class. Examples representing the main types and their different locations should be included in the sample of nationally important sites.
 Baildon, W P, 1090, "Cup and ring carvings: some remarks on their classification, and a new suggestion as to their origin and meaning". Archaeologia, 61, 361-80
Barnatt, J, & Reeder, P, 1982, "Prehistoric rock art in the Peak District". Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, 102, 33-44
 Beckensall, S, 1986, Rock carvings of N. Britain. (= Shire Archaeology 47). Aylesbury. Shire
Beckensall, S, 1983, Prehistoric carved rocks of Northumberland. (= Northern History Booklets 57). Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Frank Graham
 Hedges, JD,(ed) 1986, The carved rocks on Rombalds Moor, W. Yorkshire. W. Yorkshire Metropolitan Council.
Marshall, A, 1986, "Cup marked stones from the Gloucestershire Cotswolds". Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeology Society, 104, 220-5
Morris, RWB, 1989, "The prehistoric rock art of Great Britain: a survey of all sites bearing motifs more complex than simple cup-marks". Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 55, 45-88
Description prepared by A. Bowman, February 1990. Release 00, February 1990.


  1. Interesting stuff, as ever, Danny.
    The figure of 810 seems very much on the low side.I've always wondered how the neat concentric rings were made with primitive tools.
    Incidentally, young Knipe recently posted a pic of himself standing beside the road sign for the village of Dull. I wondered at the time if he had been on his way to see the cup-marked stones beside the kirkyard.

  2. Your right there I must have seen nearly that many in my years of tramping the hills, I've only just noticed them apparently dissolving away with the eons of weather, I wonder if acid rain after the industrial revolution accelerated it ? cheers Danny

  3. I had a volunteer friend in Tees Archeology who spent all his time looking for cup and ring stones in North Yorkshire. He wrote several papers on his findings, but for the life of me I can't remember his name! We have some good examples in Teesdale. It took a few years before someone finally showed me the exact locations. Here's a link:

  4. thanks for the link Keith I think I'll try and find a few more cup and ring boulders the atmosphere round them, has to be experienced to be belived - cheers Danny