The Riddle Of The Fylingdales Stones Revealed At Whitby Museum

By Rose Shillito | 17 May 2007
a photograph of a large stone with carvings on it

Both carved stones were laser scanned to allow copies to be made. © English Heritage

A fascinating new exhibition celebrates the discovery of a mysterious 5,000-year-old carved stone, which was unearthed after a devastating fire on Fylingdales Moor, near Whitby, and remains one of the most exciting examples of rock art ever found in this country.

Fire over Fylingdales: Revelation, Regeneration, Inspiration has been financed by a £47,300 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and is on display at Whitby Museum until the end of September 2007.

The artefact only came to light after a dramatic blaze in 2003 ravaged two and a half square kilometres of Fylingdales moorland and, to the amazement of archaeologists, exposed 2,500 archaeological features.

a photograph of a large stone with carvings on it

The stones have been left in situ to preserve the context and integrity of the complex monument. © English Heritage

It is the Neolithic decorated stone that has had archaeologists excited since it first peeked out of the charred heather and, while they do have a few more clues as to its possible significance, the mystery continues.

What archaeologists do now know is that the stone was set into a ring of low boulders within a larger cairn monument and it included a second stone carved with cup marks and linear grooves. There is also some evidence to suggest that the stone may have been broken from a larger block of fine-grained sandstone.

As part of the interpretation and conservation work, the stone was examined, photographed and laser-scanned before it was put back in the ground to be left in situ to maintain the archaeological integrity of the monument.

an aerial view of a moorland with a burned area visible

An aerial shot of the North York Moors showing the damaged moor. © English Heritage

A life-size replica of the decorated stone created from the laser scans will form the centrepiece of the display, and will be presented with all of the evidence collected to date.

The unique geometric pattern of the stone has been the subject of intense speculation but archaeologists remain unsure what it means.

At one point it was thought that the zigzag design could represent some sort of map, revealing a landscape with mountains and sky. However, archaeologists have now found similarities with art used to decorate graves from the same period.

“There’s been a vast amount of speculation on the significance of the carvings and the meaning behind the monument. The more decorated stone is similar to Neolithic passage grave art found in Ireland and Anglesey, perhaps suggesting a funerary purpose. But no one really knows,” said Neil Redfern, English Heritage North Yorkshire Team Leader.

a photograph of person kneeling by a series of stones taking notes

'Fire over Fylingdales' is organised by Whitby Museum. © English Heritage

“The new exhibition is a chance for people to share in the discovery and also celebrate the moor’s remarkable revival.”

The exhibition is illustrated by paintings, photos and stories inspired by the fire and supported by a variety of related activities – including public lectures and an oral history and arts project, in which a local sculptor creates works inspired by the stone.

“The exhibition is part of a wider project to tell the gripping story of the fire and the damage to the ecology, along with how the archaeology has been protected and the moor regenerated,” explained Graham Pickles, co-ordinator for Fire over Fylingdales. “It’s a fascinating and sometimes surprising tale.”

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