Excavations at Copt Howe day 3: Carvings are discovered

One of the two largest boulders has only a single recorded motif, but we wondered if there may once have been more.

Above: A 3D model of the isolated motif on Rock 2, shown in false colours for clarity (Photogrammetry: Aaron Watson, 2016)


A large part of the surface of Rock 2 appears to have fallen away, and it might even have been quarried. Could this surface have once been decorated with prehistoric designs? Trench 2 was located to test this possibility. On previous rock art excavations we have been fortunate enough to find the debris from hammer stones used in creating the carvings, or even structures or consolidated ground against the decorated rock. If we find similar evidence here, this could make a case for there once having been more carvings.


Above: Ronnie trowelling in Trench 2, exploring the former extent of the boulder. The white patches in the quarried area above are chalk marks left by climbers (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2018) 


At the same time we also began to open a second trench against the base of the neighbouring boulder. This was set against the main panel of carvings, and would also test for the presence of hammerstones, structures or other kinds of artefacts.


Above: Ronnie continues to excavate Trench 2 in the foreground, with Pete now working in Trench 1 beyond (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2018)


Meanwhile, across the wall which divides the site, Trench 3 is also in progress. This has the same objectives as the others, and we placed it beneath a discrete group of carvings on Rock 1. 


Above: Moyra, Sally and Kate working on Trench 3. The carvings are largely hidden by moss on the rock surface above (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2018)


Trench 2 soon begins to reveal large fragments of rock, and we surmised that these probably belong to the quarrying. There are no definitive prehistoric artefacts, but a great deal of modern material is mixed up with with this layer, so it does not appear to be very old. The original extent of the boulder is revealed.


Above: Trench 2 cleaned back, revealing large angular rock fragments. The hollowed area against the boulder marks the former edge of the rock face (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2018)


Above: A 3D model of Trench 2. Please click on the button to navigate (Photogrammetry: Aaron Watson, 2018)


Not far away, Trench 1 has soon revealed a dense layer of stones set against the rock. They are not natural and do not appear to be modern.

Above: Pete trowelling away topsoil in Trench 1. The revealed layer of rocks is set up against the Boulder (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2018)


As the trench was cleaned back, we noticed two grooves carved into the freshly revealed stone. Another of our questions had been answered: there were unknown carvings beneath the ground surface.

Copt How first view of unseen carvings.jpg

Above: The first glimpse of unrecorded motifs (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2018)


Once Trench 1 had been cleaned back, it was clear that a layer of cobbles had been placed up against the rock. Outside this, the the rocks were less organised and the soil began to have a striking orange colour. But do the cobbles date to the rock art?  


Above: Trench 1 cleaned back showing the difference between the cobble layer and the less consolidated layer outside (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2018)


On the other side of the wall, Trench 2 also made progress. The first clean back revealed piles of small stones set against the base of the rock. At first sight these appeared to be similar to those in Trench 1, but they seemed far less consolidated. Thy were also set into very poorly drained ground, and digging here was accompanied by an unpleasant smell of rotting vegetation!


Above: Trench 3 towards the end of day three, showing the piles of small stones. The waterlogged ground is indicated by the darker colour soil (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2018)


The excavations at Copt Howe were directed by Richard Bradley and Aaron Watson. Many thanks to Yvonne Luke, Diane O'Leary, Nick Russell, Ronnie Scott, Kate Sharpe, Moyra Simon, Peter Style, Sally Taylor and Emma Watson for helping us with the fieldwork.

Thanks also to Historic England for granting permission for us to work at this scheduled monument, and to the National Trust for their support throughout. The excavations were funded by the Prehistoric Society and the Royal Archaeological Institute.

I will update my website with further information as the analysis and interpretation of the excavation continues.