Fire on North York Moors exposes Neolithic site

Fire on North York Moors exposes Neolithic site

22 December 2009

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United Kingdom — Aerial surveyors from English Heritage have taken the first ever pictures of an unusual monument on the North York Moors which could date back more than 4500 years.

The site, which resembles a lunar landscape from the air, was exposed by a wild fire which swept across the moors near Goathland in October 2009.

It is a prehistoric stone enclosure dotted by a number of stone cairns and could date back to the Neolithic Period or New Stone Age.

Although it was previously plotted on maps, very little was known about the site’s date or purpose as it has been concealed by a protective blanket of heather until it was exposed by the blaze.

Senior investigator with English Heritage’s aerial survey team, David McLeod says:

“We were called in by the North York Moors National Park Authority to capture aerial views before the site is re-covered by vegetation.”

The team saw at least 20 cairns of various sizes and took pictures from various angles in order to learn more about the site and how it was originally used.

David McLeod adds: “The walls are low but could have been much higher so possibly it had an agricultural purpose as a pen to keep cattle or sheep.

“We can’t rule out a ritual significance – perhaps we are looking at a graveyard.”

Experts from Wessex Archaeology, commissioned by the National Park, are currently undertaking a ground survey to plot the various features and their report is due out in early 2010.

Although it is difficult to date the site it is believed it could be 4500 years old.

Graham Lee, North York Moors archaeologist says: “To put this into context that’s before the pyramids and Stonehenge were built.”

A similar site, also believed to be Neolithic, was also revealed after a much larger moorland fire in 2003 on Fylingdales Moor.

The Neolithic Period lasted from around 4000 BC to about 2500 BC during which time the population increased and early forms of agriculture began to be adopted.

Little is known about the early farmers who lived then as no language or written evidence survives.

It is possible the stone cairns on the site could be ‘gravestones’ for the ashes of people who died thousands of years ago.

See also wildfire burning Fylingdales Moor, North Yorkshire (17-21 September 2003):

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