Farmers and Stone Circles 4300-750 BC

by Emma Bray

Banner Image: Cockpit Stone Circle © Janet Wedgwood

Farmers and Stone Circles

During the Neolithic period, 4300 – 2000 BC, humans began to have an impact on the landscape as they moved inland, chopped down trees and cleared the land for crops. They also created clearings for livestock which then grazed the vegetation, slowing regeneration. This process continued into the Bronze Age, from 2000-750 BC. To begin with, clearance would have been concentrated around the periphery of the Lakeland massif, with perhaps piecemeal clearance of the woodland on valley bottoms. We cannot be certain of when the Ullswater areas was settled, but the presence of monuments indicates the possibility of Neolithic settlement. Archaeological research has shown that that there was permanent settlement in the area by the Bronze Age.

Stone Circles

On Moor Divock, there are many burial cairns and at least two stone circles. The most visible is a large regular stone circle known as The Cockpit. It consists of 27 stones with 7 clearance cairns. The stones are set on a kerbed stone bank, 27m diameter. On the Eastern side, there is a 5m square of stones. The purpose of the stone circle is unknown – it could have been a trading site or have had a ritualistic purpose. Excavations found ashes and shards from a broken vessel, indicating possible burial.

The actual date of The Cockpit is unclear - it may have been built in the late Neolithic period, but the majority of clearance cairns resulted from the later Bronze Age as people began to clear fields.

Cockpit Stone Circle from SE © Janet Wedgwood

One of the burial monuments on Moor Divock is known as White Raise, so named because it was constructed of white limestone. White Raise was a cist burial which meant that the body was placed on a stone on top of the ground and a sarcophagus built around it. The cairn was excavated in 1883 and the body of a female in the foetus position was found. Other cairns contained cremated remains, a practice carried out in the Bronze Age.

Rock Art

Further evidence of early human settlement was found in Patterdale in 1999 when a series of cup and groove marks, were discovered on rocks at Beckstones. A pattern of circles were carved into the rocks by pick axes around 4-2,000 BC. The patterns extend for about a kilometre along the valley. It is not known if the circles were “art”, symbolic, or used as a marker, but it is likely they had a deep significance. Further cup marks have been found on rocks at Moor Divock, but they are extremely difficult to see. The Patterdale location marks the best route to the pass from Ullswater, suggesting the cup marks were to mark the route for seasonal grazing and migration of animals, or a trade route. The stone axes quarried from the Langdale were known to have been traded throughout Europe, so we know that trading occurred in Cumbria during this period.

Cup-marks at Beckstones © K. Sharpe

Burial Sites

By the later Bronze Age, there is firm evidence that settlers had made parts of the Ullswater valley their home. Carbon dating of a piece of charcoal found in excavations of a ditch in Glencoyne dated settlement there to 1105 – 835 BC. The Mell Fells were also an important centre of burial activity in the Bronze Age. Five burial sites have been identified, four on Great mell and a bowl barrow on Little Mell.

by Emma Bray

Bowl Barrow Little Mell Fell © Emma Bray

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