Experts Concerned Over Climbing On Prehistoric Rock Carvings

By David Prudames | 21 September 2004
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Shows a photograph of prehistoric cup and ring markings on a large vertical rock face.

Neolithic carvings at Copt Howe, Chapel Stile. © Dr Aron Mazel.

Experts have voiced their concerns about the future of prehistoric rock carvings on a boulder being used by climbers in the north of England.

Copt Howe, a large rock near the village of Chapel Stile in the Lake District, boasts a series of cup and ring markings believed to have been created between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago.

The site is used by climbers for bouldering, a hard-going, gymnastically-challenging form of climbing without the use of ropes on boulders and short out-crops.

Dr Aron Mazel, Research Associate in the School of Historical Studies at the University of Newcastle, is currently working on a project to map examples of Northumberland’s rock art and told the 24 Hour Museum that climbing presents a very real danger to the Copt Howe site.

"It is a problem," said Dr Mazel. "There is no doubt that it will cause long term damage and it’s something that the authorities in the area will need to do something about."

Shows a climber pulling himself up on the edge of a rectangular-looking rock.

The site is often used by boulderers, who, Dr Aron Mazel says, are putting the prehistoric carvings at risk. © Dr Aron Mazel.

Explaining that he had been at the site and seen climbers on the rock just two months ago, Dr Mazel added that the activity will undoubtedly cause deterioration.

The carvings, he said, "are disappearing all the time because rock erodes. This speeds it up."

Re-discovered in 1999, the Copt Howe site is near the village of Chapel Stile, Great Langdale in the Lake District.

A large boulder of volcanic rock, the site has been engraved with a variety of carvings on its east vertical face, including multiple concentric rings, channels forming linear and rectangular motifs, a pecked triangle and several cup marks.

The site is made even more interesting by its proximity to the Langdale Pikes and what was an important quarry site for axes in the Neolithic period.

In 2003, 3D laser scanning company, Archaeoptics Ltd, scanned the unusual markings and produced a rendering of the data.

Shows a 3D rendering of some of the cup and ring markings.

This 3D render shows some of the cup and ring markings. © Archaeoptics Ltd.

"They are quite different and quite unique," added Dr Mazel, "There are some unusual carvings there and they certainly deserve to be carefully looked after."

While the scans provide a record of the carvings as they looked in 2003, Dr Mazel explained that they will not preserve them for future generations and in years to come will act as evidence of how much they’ve deteriorated.

"It is a very important site which is going to need further investigation into the future," he said.

While it is unprotected at the moment, experts are calling for some sort of ban on people climbing on the carved face of the rock, or at least a sign asking them not to.

Many climbers have voluntarily chosen not to use it, but as yet there have been no moves to make it official.

Shows a photograph of prehistoric cup and ring markings on a large vertical rock face.

© Dr Aron Mazel.

A spokesperson for the British Mountaineering Council told the 24 Hour Museum that although this particular case has not been considered, the organisation does have a site protection policy.

"We have many seasonal restrictions, which most frequently cover bird nesting sites," said Graham Lynch, Access and Conservation Officer, adding that occasionally archaeology is a consideration.

But if they were to take action over such a site, Graham explained, "it would involve local access representatives and we’d have to be convinced that there was a major risk of climbing damaging these things."

In this case there would be meetings with the Mountain Liaison Group, bringing together representatives of the Lake District National Park Authority, the National Trust and English Nature, among others.

Then the BMC would work on publicising its advice through leaflets, in local shops, on its website and through other media outlets.

For the time being this process will not be applied to Copt Howe and as yet nothing offical has been done to stop climbers using the ancient site.

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