Archaeology - "The crags before the climbers"
by Derek Cutts
|Climbers are probably the biggest group of visitors to most crags.
Therefore, they have an important part to play in discovering and preserving
8,000 years' worth of human activity there. Informed and sensitive
attitudes are vital to support continued access. Anyway, when you're
at the foot of the crag choosing your next brilliant route, it's fascinating
to think that on the same spot, people have butchered the deer they
have hunted, burnt their grannies, chipped the crag without complaints
and blown lumps off it with gunpowder. Bored seconds, when the backside
above hasn't moved for ten minutes and the neck muscles are acheing
can look around and spot clues for all these activities.
Northumberland crags have been a focus for human activity long before
the first climbs were recorded in 1902. The first people to be drawn
to them arrived as early as 8,000BC. Bearing in mind that the view
from the top of Bowden Doors then would be of a vast forested plain
stretching to Germany, not of the North Sea, we should remember things
have changed a bit. Some unrecorded first ascensionists might have
Don't let your second read the next bit if their concentration is already
a bit suspect. It's easy to spot evidence of early activity at nearly
every crag. Patches of erosion caused by climbers' feet often turn
up the tiny flint blades about 10mm long the middle stone age hunters
used for their arrow heads and knives. They often turn up at Bowden
Doors and Back Bowden and show that people were sheltering under the
overhangs 7000 years ago, sorting their gear and having their bait
just like now. Many hundreds of these microliths have been excavated
below an outcrop in the Rothley area and there must be more sites to
find. Bigger flints from the New Stone Age and the Bronze Age also
turn up. The quarry area at Kyloe Crag was where a New Stone Age lumberjack
lost or dumped the polished stone axes he (or she) had got all the
way from Langdale in around 3000 BC, so maybe people were already picking
up some of their gear on trips to the Lakes. A spectacular Bronze Age
arrow head was found by a climber at Corby's Crag. If you pick up any
flints, put them in an envelope with the find spot written on and pass
them to the Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle University. They will
help to build up a picture of a lost world.
Goat's Crag and Corby's Crag were also used by prehistoric Northumbrians
to bury their dead. Bronze age corpses (none of them unfortunate climbers
we hope) were cremated. The burnt bones were smashed up and buried
in big pots under overhangs at the crags. These were found and excavated.
A find like that is so rare and important, it would be vital to report
it at once.
Then there's the mysteries. Goat's Crag has its goats, carved at an
unknown date but possibly very old. More important still are the prehistoric
spirals at Jack Rock. There are some near Ancient Briton. Once you've
got your eye in, there are several more along the crag. Bored seconds
can play I spy. These have to be preserved from any sort of wear, so
please stay off them. There's a good chance of more on other crags,
so any seen are worth reporting. It's worth remembering that Britain's
first known Old Stone Age cave art was only discovered in Derbyshire
The quarrying must have started very early, but some was still going
on in the 19th Century when hand drills of about 50mm diameter were
used for placing gunpowder charges. What you get left is half a drill
hole, split lengthways. Look near the Introductory Staircase end of
Bowden Doors or in a few places at Corby's. Millstone quarrying was
a bit slower and probably earlier. You chipped a circular groove; undercut
it at the bottom, hammered wooden wedges in, poured in water and waited
for the wood to swell and split the millstone away from the rock. There
are dozens of them near the Drakestone, traces at Corby's Crag and
on top of other crags such as Berry Hill.
By this stage, your second may have dropped you while distracted by
the rock art. The consolation is that your impact may well have dislodged
some vital prehistoric clues from the foot of your route.