Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 68


Introduction and wider archaeological background

In the Neolithic period, the British Isles were tied firmly into a megalithic tradition that encompassed virtually the whole of north-west Europe, and which underpinned what was, essentially, a unified cultural province. And in those areas, it is reasonable to observe that monuments of stone have cast a very particular spell over every subsequent generation of people not directly involved in their creation; that is, pretty much from the Iron Age onwards. Stone circles, individual standing stones, and chambered tombs, of all kinds, doubtless gathered around them, even in those 'early' post-megalithic periods, complex and dynamic canons of myth; so that legends were spun out of attempts to rationalise the existence of monuments which simply could not be explained within the context of a normative, 'secular' understanding of the world. In south- west Ireland, for example, O'Brien has attempted to characterise the nature of late prehistoric perceptions of monuments inherited from earlier periods, and discerns direct influences on belief systems and ritual practices. He remarks how:

in the Iron Age we see a


of religious belief, as the older



of an older Bronze

..... monuments come to represent a mythical past

Age belief system

were incorporated into an Iron Age cosmology that

attached special significance to the 'ancient stones' on the landscape



older monuments were symbolically charged components of a mythologised

landscape that they helped to create



changing attitudes to older

monuments, reflected in new patterns of use and interpretation, were an important part of the process of 'becoming Iron Age' in south-west Ireland. The 'ancient stones' were proof of the enduring nature of this supernatural




2002, 174-175).

Some, including, indeed, O'Brien himself, claim that pre-modern megalithic lore is not entirely lost to us, and that elements of it, filtered through the medium of much later folk tales, can be reconstituted 1 . This is a perhaps contentious argument, and is outside the scope of the present essay; what is certain is that while some of the myths surrounding megalithic sites that survived long enough to be recorded by relatively 'modern' research (ie from the 19 th century

  • 1 See especially O'Brien 2002, 169-170, where the author traces a direct line of development from the Iron Age to heroic folk tales of early medieval Irish mythology. A more general, theoretical perspective which considers the influence of earlier monuments on the nature of Iron Age belief systems is expounded in Barrett 1999.


onwards), have indeed been shown to be reinventions of earlier traditions, others turn out to be often surprisingly late in origin 2 .

The main subject of this study, the Yarborough Stone in the parish of Banwell, may itself be the subject of one of the 'standard' British megalithic origin myths that was, evidently, locally current by the early 18 th century (see further below). Its 'cousin', the famous Wimblestone, standing just under 4.5km away to the east-north-east in the parish of Shipham, certainly acquired a long-standing reputation for nocturnal jaunts 3 . However, John Aubrey's 'discovery' of megalithic Avebury in the mid 17 th century can now be seen to have marked a defining moment in the way that the prehistoric past began increasingly to be pulled out of the realm of the purely supernatural; and alongside the constant and continuing recycling and reinvention of local folkloric traditions, there arose in parallel a far more rational and almost self-consciously scientific approach to the study of lithic monuments, a movement which essentially laid the foundations of evolving methodologies in this area of British archaeology until relatively recently 4 .

It has now long been understood that the overwhelming majority of megalithic monuments are of Neolithic or early Bronze Age date, and up to the early 1990s, the central concern of archaeologists studying megaliths, and the cultural milieu from which they sprang, was the sites themselves 5 . Where these were complex,

  • 2 Leslie Grinsell's groundbreaking survey of 1976 remains the only full-length study of the nature of folklore as it relates to British prehistoric sites of all kinds. There are, however, numerous studies of individual sites and regions, for which the journal Folklore is probably the primary source. A modern theoretical approach to folk traditions as they relate to archaeological sites, can be found in an important collection of international essays edited by Schwartz and Holtorf, 1999. In this context also, Hutton's seminal book of 1991 remains a mine of highly authoritative information, grounded firmly in the archaeology, and much of which has not yet been superseded.

  • 3 For a typical example of the kind of behaviour in which the Wimblestone is reputed by local tradition to have indulged, see Tongue and Briggs, 1965, 12. Purely in terms of its landscape affinities however, Wimblestone probably should not be considered to belong to the Yarborough/Knoll Hill Farm 'group' (see further below), because it lies well outside the Lox-Yeo basin.

  • 4 A useful overview of the historical background to the antiquarian 'rediscovery' of Avebury can be found in Ucko et al, 1991.

  • 5 Although it is now clear that there was wide regional variation in the dates at which megalithic structures ceased to be erected; in Scotland, for example, Bradley notes that stone circles were still being built during the Later Bronze Age(Bradley 2007, 200), and the same is true of south-west Ireland (ibid, 218). Over most of Britain, however, the Middle Bronze Age marks a striking shift in the nature of society, and the ways in which it expressed both its cohesiveness, and its cosmological affinities; one element of this metamorphosis was a move away from the construction of megalithic structures of all kinds, and a growing investment in more explicitly economic activities, especially the establishment of large-scale field systems (Bradley 2007, 187-190).


researchers paid particular attention to the interplay and relationships of the various elements of which they were composed. The irresistible 'presence' and brooding, immanent physicality of the stones and their immediate settings, continued to exercise their influence on field research projects, and in many, perhaps most studies of this kind, considerations of landscape context were the exception rather than the rule 6 .

What nonetheless became very clear as archaeologists began to explore, by excavation, at least the immediate settings of some of these monuments, was that almost invariably, the surviving elements represented merely the remaining, visible part of what had once been sometimes extremely complex, dynamic and 'busy' sites, whose evolution over long periods was attested by the presence of an often bewildering variety of archaeological features. The phrase 'tip of the iceberg' may be somewhat hackneyed, but in this context it really does provide an excellent analogy for the story that archaeology was beginning to reveal about the multi-faceted nature of megalithic sites. Perhaps most surprisingly, this discovery was found to be as true of individual orthostats (ie standing stones), as it was for sites whose surviving form gave at least the impression of far greater complexity, such as, for example, stone circles; and it is now quite apparent that many of our surviving orthostats, looking out today over their landscapes in perhaps rather melancholic isolation, occupy sites that may once have supported much more extensive stone, and indeed timber settings 7 .

A striking change of perspective was, however, marked with the publication in 1994 of A Phenomenology of Landscape, by Christopher Tilley. Building on more localised and restricted landscape studies by both himself and others, Tilley's was the first sustained and explicit attempt to anchor prehistoric monuments into the context of the perceived landscapes and cosmologies of the

  • 6 But this said, it would also be unfair, and untrue, to say that matters of contemporary perceptions of landscape and topographical context were ignored by all workers in this field prior to the early 1990s. Indeed, it has even been suggested recently that William Stukeley himself may have been an unwitting early proponent of an approach to prehistoric monuments, and their landscape settings, that might now be characterised as phenomenological. See Peterson 2003. In the Millfield Basin, Northumberland, it was noted as early as 1987 that the entrances of a series of henges seemed clearly to take their cues from natural features on the skyline (Richards 1996, 329; I am indebted to Katharine Walker for this reference). Nonetheless, even as late as 2002, Chris Scarre could still claim that few fieldwork reports attempt to understand the symbolic or cosmological significance of a particular location; Scarre 2002, 3.

  • 7 For example see Williams 1988 for a synthetic survey of the archaeological evidence for Wales, Ireland and the westernmost part of south-west England (that is, Devon and Cornwall) up to that date. Where, subsequently, archaeological excavation has been possible at standing stone sites, it has served merely to reinforce the general impression of concealed complexity; Murphy 1993 and Williams 1990 are cases in point.


communities which both built them, and for whom, as successive generations passed, they came to assume a role as landscape mnemonics, the repositories of collective memory and myth. Based on his own experimental exercises in adopting a first-hand, experiential approach to prehistoric landscapes, involving walking through them in various locations, Tilley was especially concerned to stress the importance of paths and lines of movement, and the highly dynamic relationship, in perceptual terms, between traveller, landscape and monuments. And although he was by no means the first to do so, he also made much of the way in which many monuments appear to be placed in the landscape with extraordinary care, so as to seem explicitly to reference prominent natural features, and especially hills, mountains and natural rock outcrops.

This brief summary hardly does justice to the ambitious conceptual scope of Tilley's seminal work, but as with many truly pioneering studies, after an initial flurry of implicit accolades by widespread application and extension of the original precepts, growing concerns about what was perceived as the fundamental and flawed subjectivity of the phenomenological perspective, found expression in something of a revisionist backlash 8 .

Nonetheless, despite these misgivings, the academic pendulum has now, perhaps inevitably, swung back rather more towards a general appreciation of the danger that in rejecting Tilley's thesis lock, stock and barrel, a potentially extremely useful and conceptually important 'baby' might well be thrown out with the bathwater. The position now appears to be that, for the time being at least, something approaching an intellectual accommodation has been reached, underpinning a new orthodoxy; so that matters of landscape context, references to natural topographical features, and ideas about cosmologies and the perceived relationship of the individual to both the wider, experienced world, and to monumental sites of all types, are all now placed at the centre of research relating to landscape as a social construct in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.






and rapidly growing

literature in this field

of British

prehistory, but a brief survey of some of the more fundamental concepts will be

useful to provide a context for the discussion of the specific case of the Yarborough Stone, which is the main subject of this paper. Tilley himself, as might be expected, has been at the forefront of this movement, and has

  • 8 A brief survey of a sample of views critical of (indeed, sometimes outrightly hostile to) Tilley's work in this specific context, up to 2002, can be found in Corcos 2002. However, a more recent, sustained, and closely argued and referenced critique is provided by Brück 2005. I am very grateful to Katharine Walker for drawing my attention to this latter essay.


developed and expanded his own ideas, and those of others, by applying them recently to underpin a survey of the menhirs of Brittany (Tilley 2004). For Tilley, the menhirs

took on their meanings in relation to the experiences and feelings of those people who lived with them in the landscape through particular modes

of encounter and engagement


origin of the stones too

..... important 'hidden' dimension to their meaning and potency (Tilley 2004,





In terms of the physical nature of the stones themselves, Tilley is anxious to stress that an almost bewildering range of parameters, far beyond our ability to understand, let alone interpret today, would have been significant to the communities for which the menhirs provided an expression of at least an element of their cosmological system:

The visual encounter of size and scale, shape and proportion was only one experience among many. The nature and character of the raw material, the stones themselves their colours, the constituent elements of the rock, the personal and intimate experience of touching their surfaces and the aural experience of the sounds emitted when struck or the echo generated from people chanting or drumming in their vicinity may have been of equal importance (35).

A recurring theme in both Tilley's Brittany survey, and in the work of others elsewhere, is the apparent concern on the part of the orthostat builders deliberately to select, in certain specific circumstances, rock types containing high concentrations of reflective crystalline minerals such as mica or quartz (Tilley 2004, 38 and 65). This is a point to which we will return, but Tilley also notes that in some cases, there are aspects of the menhirs' physical properties and siting that seem to be intended consciously to manipulate the visual perception of the viewer in a highly dynamic way. Of some of the orthostats in the Haut Lèon district, for example, he remarks how

These stones must have been deliberately chosen so as to create quite distinctive visual experiences when seen from different .....




visual contrast is as great between the sides or faces of a

menhir as between the menhirs themselves


the visual character

..... may have specifically defined how you moved about through and around

the local space close to a menhir (54).

A strong link with sources of water, whether streams or springs, is another key element in Tilley's overall 'package' of defining characteristics of at least some of


the Brittany menhirs (73); but perhaps surprisingly, some of his views in this key area relating to the dynamic, tripartite relationship between monument, landscape and observer, are actually rather less strident than those of some of his contemporaries (see further below): most notably on how, if at all, the stones may reference more distant and physically prominent landscape features, chiefly hills and upland areas; and conversely, how visible, or otherwise, the monuments themselves may originally have appeared to observers moving through the landscape:

Despite the great size and mass of many of the menhirs, most are not highly visible when viewed from long distances. It is as if their presence was known and their encounter anticipated through this knowledge. Visual prominence in the wider landscape was not their principle expression. Today, in a landscape with relatively few trees, none, except those forming pairs or short settings of three stones, are intervisible. In the much more densely wooded Neolithic environment, given even that many menhirs have been removed or destroyed, we can be reasonably certain that all or most stones would not have been intervisible (81).

This assertion is not without foundation, as there is an increasing body of, particularly, environmental evidence to suggest that at least some of the great Neolithic burial, and other types of monument, were indeed erected in woodland clearings, perhaps with highly specific sight lines established by differential tree-felling (Cummings and Whittle 2003; and 2004, 69-72). A recent review of palaeoenvironmental evidence provided by the fossil beetle record, remarks explicitly of the British Neolithic that

Many areas remained substantially uncleared of woodland. These areas are major monument complexes and potentially could be viewed as exceptional

within the wider landscape



environmental patchiness may have

been important in the siting of concentrations of monuments in this

landscape. This finding is very much in line with other palaeoenvironmental evidence which suggests that apart from the large ritual landscapes of Wessex, and other areas where large monumental complexes were important and which may have been subjected to sustained



clearance for agriculture was relatively small scale, at

...... least until the later parts of the Neolithic, and that cultivation may have been more akin to garden type agriculture at this time (Whitehouse and Smith 2010, 549). 9

  • 9 I am grateful to Matt Law and Faith Cairns for drawing my attention to this paper. It is, however, worth noting that what appears to amount at least to a partially contrary view is put forward by a recent survey of palaeoenvironmental, and particularly molluscan evidence, from various parts of the Wessex downlands. This has concluded that extensive areas of the chalk had probably never sustained woodland, of any description, in the post-glacial Mesolithic,


This might, therefore, have involved a process not unlike that which gave rise to the wholly artificial parkland landscape that might surround a great 18 th country house. But whether by skilful adaptation of existing, natural openings in the woodland, or by deliberate, differential felling and clearance, or a combination of both, the objectives were very similar: to control and manipulate visual perspectives both to and from the landscape focus, be it Palladian mansion or Neolithic henge. 10

Interestingly, however, and contra Tilley, Cummings and Whittle conclude quite explicitly from their survey of Neolithic burial monuments in Wales that

A consideration of the landscape settings of monuments remains a valid

approach and


presence of trees does not remove the significance of


One must of course be cautious here and recognise that in drawing analogies between individual orthostats, and major chambered tombs and long barrows, like is not being compared with like. Nonetheless, it is, again, a surprise when Tilley infers from his own study of the Brittany menhirs that

the orientation of the broad face, or long axis



has any significance in

terms of a relationship with other stones or distinct topographic features of the landscape such as watercourses or nearby rock outcrops. Menhirs do not point

towards or reference these local places


seems to be important instead

...... is one good broad face of the menhir and what it 'looks' out on, or towards

(Tilley 2004, 81).

having always remained as open grassland and scrub throughout that period and into the Neolithic. It seems, then, that at least on the chalk, the construction of many Neolithic monuments did not involve tree clearance of any kind whatsoever, because the areas in which they were located had never sustained woodland in the first place (Allen and Gardiner 2009; I am very grateful to Niall Sharples for this reference). On Mendip, environmental data of sufficient resolution is, regrettably, not yet available to enable us to reach a judgement one way or the other on whether we should entertain a similar possibility there.

  • 10 I am very grateful to Dr Jodie Lewis for her invaluable guidance on this point. A similar argument has recently been adduced by Peter Herring in relation to the prehistoric moorland landscapes of south-west England, and specifically, the numerous alignments of small standing stones, the so-called stone rows, which appear for the most part to date to the Early Bronze Age. Herring draws parallels with what he sees as one of the intended purposes of these alignments, and the use, by the great 18 th and 19 th century landscape designers, of what are known as bursts; that is, a sudden opening up of a significant view the house, a lake, a church tower when moving along a carefully placed drive or ride(Herring 2008, 82).


This statement seems to me not only both internally and externally contradictory, but almost counter-intuitive in terms of a growing awareness of the existence of strong relationships, direct and causal, between Neolithic monuments and their landscape settings. Just a few pages previously (on p73), and as I have already noted, Tilley asserts that the presence of water, in a variety of forms, was an important determinant in the siting of at least some menhirs; but here, he appears by contrast to deny that relationship. He seems also, in the same statement, to be both denying, and reinforcing the suggestion that the menhirs are so sited as deliberately to 'reference' landscape features, whether water sources or other kinds of natural topography.

Such conceptual ambiguity may help to give structure and form to the polemical framework of Tilley's narrative; others, however, are more convinced of, and more unequivocal in their adherence to, the need to anchor Neolithic monuments, of all kinds, firmly to the wider landscape context from which they spring. Cummings's and Whittle's major, detailed survey of the evidence of chambered tombs in Wales makes this point forcefully. They are quite clear that rivers and other watercourses, natural rock outcrops, hills, mountains and the sea, all represent crucial and directly causal referents in the siting of their chosen monument type (Cummings and Whittle 2004, 80-86). Specifically for the purposes of this paper, and as I hope will become apparent, a key element of the argument adduced by these authors is their suggestion that

monuments were consistently located at places of transition, where rivers




rivers entered the sea


between lower-lying areas and the uplands



tributaries joined

....... were not simply placed


in locales which were already significant






to have been


into the local landscape


that a range (authors' emphasis) of

symbolic places could be referenced (87-88).

The apparent multi-faceted propensities of their landscape referencing is an immanent and defining characteristic in the nature of Neolithic monuments, and it is a theme which recurs time and again in the modern literature. A study of the evidence from Breconshire by Children and Nash, for example, remarks on the perceived (my phrase and emphasis) tendency of Neolithic monuments to refer to prominent features in the natural landscape, and on the intervisibility of the region's chambered tombs (Children and Nash 2001, 11-14). The same writers point to the incidence of pre-Neolithic flint scatters found beneath many chambered tombs to support the idea of the marking out of 'ancestral pathways' even before the Neolithic (15), and speculate that tombs sited in river valleys may represent territorial markers designed to imbue the landscape with a


constructed sense of identity (27). However for both the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, a common thread of modern perspectives is the idea of monuments as guides through the landscape, in which their own physical stasis stands in contrast to the dynamic of the individual moving among and between them. Children and Nash note a series of standing stones on low ground flanking the lower Usk Valley which they characterise as processional or guiding markers, and which, as they suggest, appear to be strongly related to cairns sited on much higher ground on the surrounding uplands. As I hope will become clear later on, especially telling in the context of the present study is the observation that many of these stones are placed at strategic points either along the valleys of tributaries (of the Usk) or else marking the mouths of smaller streams(ibid, 94). In any event, this and other recent studies embody a strong sense in which the deliberate manipulation of space, orientation and the physical body of the individual, produces a kind of movement to which is imparted a distinctly 'processional' quality: there were, we infer, right ways and wrong ways to move in relation to the monuments, be they standing stones, barrows, chambered tombs, cairns, or stone rows or circles.

As a further development of this kind of perspective, there is a growing awareness, highlighted by recent research, that the sheer scale at which this dynamic may have operated in some landscapes, may itself have been monumental. In north-east England for example, Blaise Vyner, building on earlier work in this region by Richard Bradley and Mark Edmonds, has postulated the existence of a long distance north-south routeway traversing the Vales of York and Mowbray in the Neolithic period, but most notably focussed on the flood-plain corridor between the rivers Swale and Ure. This putative route was explicitly integrated into a cohesive unity by a whole series of monument types, including cursuses, standing stones, henges and other enclosures, and with some of the latter, such as those at Thornborough, representing major complexes in their own right. Implicit in Vyner's premise is a sense that the routeway can be understood to function at a number of different levels: individual monuments or groups thereof acted as foci for more local attention concerned chiefly with ritual and religion; but at the same time, the system as a whole was linked specifically to east-west routes across the Pennines, and its existence was ultimately underpinned by the Lake District axe trade (Vyner 2007). This said, it is of course important to recognise that these activities were almost certainly not only not mutually exclusive, but on the contrary, were mutually dependent and inextricably connected in Neolithic cosmology (see for example Sharpe 2007).


However, while coherent, unifying monument assemblages may suggest much about the long-distance movement of people across the landscape at what might be termed the macro level, and through whatever imperatives, it is also important to consider the affinities and nature of monuments at the other, micro end of the scale; that is, at the level of individual sites, and specifically for the purposes of the present discussion, isolated standing stones, and stones as discrete elements within megalithic settings such as circles. In narrowing our focus in this way, we inevitably confront the issue of the physical nature of the stones themselves, and some recent literature has attempted to resolve and reconcile the highly variable physical affinities of megaliths through a consciously theoretical approach. Gillings and Pollard, for example, have constructed a conjectural narrative 'biography' of one of the stones (Stone 4) in the great circle at Avebury, and in doing so, have highlighted certain physical characteristics of the individual sarsen orthostat which may have direct implications for the Yarborough Stone. Importantly, a key element of the narrative is the suggestion that over the course of the millennium or so before their incorporation in the Avebury monument itself, local communities would inevitably have experienced recurrent encounters with the individual stones of which it would later be composed; and, these writers argue, locations in which these directly experienced engagements occurred

would have constituted a powerful physical presence of the social appropriation of the landscape for these groups. As they accrued meaning, explanations would have been engendered for their presence, and it is easy to envisage how stones came to be the focus of myth, and veneration, with the larger and more conspicuous blocks perhaps becoming named locales around which stories would be woven (Gillings and Pollard, 1999-2000, 183) 11 .

The nature of this interaction between stones and people did not, however, represent merely a passive experience for those individuals; but rather, as Gillings and Pollard suggest, the stones themselves attest to human participation in a very active relationship which has, quite literally, left its mark on both those stones which later became part of the Avebury monument, and those which did not:

A number of the sarsens at Avebury show evidence for working that had taken place prior to their careful relocation within the confines of the henge. This takes

the form



marks and discrete

polished areas of mirror-like

smoothness, where flint and stone axes


been ground on their



antiquity of such markings is not in doubt, the most extreme

  • 11 I am very grateful to Katharine Walker for this reference.


and rare of such 'polishing' stones containing very deep grooves that bear witness

to centuries if not millennia of repeated activity


up on the smooth face

........ looking out towards the ditch and bank of Avebury, Stone 4 exhibits a small

zone of stone polishing and grinding, glass-like and smooth to the touch. In addition, scattered across the face are circular concussion marks, resulting from the impact of stone hammers (ibid).

We need also, according to these authors, to consider the orientation of Stone 4 in its position within Avebury's great circle:

Facing into Avebury the surface of the stone is rough, pocked with fossil root holes. The opposite side in contrast is worn smooth (Gillings and Pollard 1999-2000, 181).

The potential significance of this is problematic, but the clear implication is that it represents deliberate exploitation and manipulation of the physical characteristics of the stone, although driven by what imperatives we do not know.

This idea of an incipient, 'pre-monument' relationship between local communities, and stones lying recumbent in the landscape in their 'natural' positions, is taken up by Jodie Lewis in her recent discussion of the Stanton Drew stone circle complex in northern Somerset, second only in absolute size to Avebury itself:

The stones may


referenced their place of origin, places with their

..... own mythologies and histories. The raw materials may have been imbued

with meaning prior to their incorporation in the monuments. If these

stones were visible in prehistory, (they)



have been significant

....... by incorporating the stone into the monuments at


....... Stanton Drew, the narrative of such places becomes caught and entangled within the broader meaning of the site. The origins of materials, the memories of other places and other people, become part of the story of Stanton Drew, recalled and recounted during its use (Lewis 2007, 18).

We have already noted, from Tilley's work on the Brittany menhirs, how researchers have also drawn attention to the potential significance for contemporaries of other aspects of the natural material from which orthostats are formed, and to one specific quality in particular. For Stanton Drew, Jodie Lewis notes that the monument builders exploited very varied geological sources that were not necessarily in the immediate vicinity of the complex:


whilst the precise location of the sources has not been identified (the general areas where such stones naturally occur are, however, known), it is possible to calculate that certain stones would have been transported distances of between 2.5 and 12 kilometres (author's emphases; Lewis 2007, 16).

There are, it seems, at least five different lithologies represented at Stanton Drew: two different kinds of sandstone, a limestone (probably oolite), and two different kinds of Dolomitic Conglomerate. We may note here that the Yarborough Stone is also made from conglomerate (see further below), and indeed, it is the conglomerates which are overwhelmingly the dominant rock type at Stanton Drew (Lewis 2007, 17, Table 1.3). In noting the very particular physical characteristics of each of the different rock types, Lewis lays special emphasis on the nature of the conglomerates, drawing attention to the fact that several are

fantastically knobbly, with 'shaggy' surfaces and large numbers of hollows, conspicuously red from iron impregnation whilst others are a smoother, more muted grey. The conglomerates also contain quartz and William Stukeley

poetically noted how the


and transparent crystallisations shine .....

eminently and reflects (sic) the sunbeams with great lustre. Quartz, or rocks with

a high concentration of quartz


occurs as deliberate inclusions in

...... Neolithic monuments suggesting that it had particular meaning. The deployment of these different stones may have been linked to these particular aesthetic and

textural qualities (Lewis 2007, 17-18).

The southern face of the Yarborough Stone displays precisely this kind of highly rugged micro topography. Others, such as Tilley, whose work I have already cited, have also noticed the prominent status that quartz appears to enjoy in the Neolithic mindset when it comes to the choice of rock types considered appropriate, or even indispensable, for monumental lithic structures; Timothy Darvill, for example, reviewing the use of quartz, and most notably quartz pebbles, in Neolithic monuments on the Isle of Man and beyond, takes a similar line to Lewis, remarking that

Quartz attracts attention not only because of its colour, but also because of its natural sparkle and luminescence (Darvill 2002, 75).


If there is one thing above all else that this brief survey has highlighted, it is

perhaps how current understandings of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age lithic monuments have become profoundly informed by, and are now deeply rooted


in, concepts of relationships both to surrounding landscape, and to the perspective of the individual moving through it. We find that a whole raft of important ideas, expressed in sometimes extremely challenging theoretical discourse, if stripped to their essentials, are underpinned by what are, in fact, a number of key, recurrent themes that we might perhaps label as 'elemental'. The idea, for example, of pre-monument cosmologies becoming attached to individual stones in their 'natural' state, through long and repeated encounter by local communities; the suggestion that the physical quality of the stone itself has a bearing, firstly, on initial selection, and subsequently, on explicit placement within the 'finished' monument; and the premise, now virtually an orthodoxy in its own right, that natural landscape features acted as literal and highly specific referents for, and lent direct, causal topographical cues to, the siting of monuments in their local landscapes. And above all of this, uniting every element of this conceptual edifice into a coherent, structured narrative, is the assumption (for such it is) that it was overwhelmingly the quality of human spirituality, defining but itself indefinable, which made the individual components absolutely mutually dependent, and was driven by concerns of ritual, religion, and cosmology. These all-pervading preoccupations, it is now believed, were inextricably woven into the day to day domestic and subsistence activities with which pre-industrial societies, in winning their continued existence from the land, were so deeply involved; and this of course must surely be correct 12 . Yet it does sometimes seem as though current models tend rather to play down these very earthy, 'functional' concerns, preferring instead to promote the cosmological/ritual perspective almost to the exclusion of other considerations. There is perhaps a useful analogy to be drawn here. Archaeologists have long eschewed explanations of settlement and economy which might be viewed as remotely 'deterministic' in tone, specifically in terms of a range of geographical parameters such as availability of natural resources, soil types, water supply and so on. However, as so often happens with academic revisionist movements, there is now an increasing concern that the pendulum has swung far too far in the opposite direction, towards a perspective that might be characterised as extreme anti-geographical determinism, and to the extent that considerations of natural landscape and resources should have, effectively, no role to play in our views of the settlement patterns and economies of pre- industrial societies (Corcos 2002a, 190-191). In a similar way, it might perhaps seem that as presently framed, concepts of Neolithic behaviour founded chiefly

  • 12 The idea of a fully-integrated cosmological view in which both domestic and ritual/religious spheres were inextricably bound together in mutual dependency, has attained virtual orthodoxy probably for the majority of specialists in both the Neolithic, and indeed later periods. For a useful review and discussion, see, for example, Bradley 2003.


upon explanations of ritual and religion, have themselves hardened into a form of cultural determinism, amounting almost to dogma, which might sometimes blind us to other driving forces which are as, or indeed even more significant. We might therefore justifiably wonder whether just occasionally, it is possible to discern the hand of straightforward, functional pragmatism, born of agrarian necessity, as a contributing factor in the general siting and landscape context of some Neolithic/Early Bronze Age lithic monuments. As I hope at least to suggest in the specific case of the Yarborough Stone, in addition to the two attributes, textural and aesthetic, to which Lewis and others attach special significance for our understanding of the choices about materials made by Neolithic communities erecting their stone monuments, it may be possible to infer little- explored practical considerations underpinning not only the choice of rock type, but also decisions relating to the site and orientation of some orthostats. In the following sections I will, therefore, lay out the various strands of evidence that we might admit in this respect, and I will then attempt to reconcile these different perspectives into an overarching, synthetic narrative which tries to make sense of the Yarborough Stone in its landscape context.

Historical and landscape background 13 The Yarborough standing stone is located at the south-west corner of the parish of Banwell in north Somerset, and is generally assumed to be Neolithic in date, although there is as yet no independent archaeological evidence for this. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (No. 22810), and is item number 110 in the North Somerset Historic Environment Record. The stone lies just under 220m south- south-east of Yarberry Farmhouse, and takes the form of a single, isolated orthostat of local Dolomitic Conglomerate, almost certainly from a source of this same material which outcrops on the slopes of Winthill and Banwell Hill, immediately north of the farm (Appendix 1) 14 (Figs 1 and 2) 15 . It stands 2.38m in height, is 1.38m wide, 0.40m in depth 16 , and is oriented so as to present its widest faces to the south-south-west, and north-north-east respectively (Plates 1 and 2). It occupies a site which slopes gently to the south, just below the 10m

  • 13 I would like formally to record here my immense gratitude to Mrs Susan Griffin, the landowner at Yarberry Farm, who extended every hospitality and kindness during my numerous visits to the site for the purposes of fieldwork, and who followed the work itself with great interest.

  • 14 I am greatly indebted to Dr Peter Hardy for his advice regarding the lithological affinities of the stone, and for his preparation of Appendix 1 and Fig 5. The EH ancient monument schedule describes Yarborough as 'sandstone', which is strictly incorrect.

  • 15 I am very grateful to Professor Stephen Rippon, of the Dept of Archaeology, University of Exeter, for his permission to create Fig. 1 by adapting one of his own published maps.

  • 16 These dimensions represent the writer's own field measurements, which differ somewhat from those given in the EH ancient monument schedule.


40 Land over 10m aOD Gloucester Forest of Dean Oldbury Chepstow Level Newport CALDICOT Cotswolds Avonmouth
Land over 10m aOD
Forest of
Tickenham Ridge
North Somerset Levels
Lox Yeo Valley
Brent Knoll
Nyland Hill
Central Somerset Levels
ST 577 ST 390
ST 577
ST 390


PLATE 1 The Yarborough Stone, view looking north. Scale: 1m


PLATE 2 The Yarborough Stone. View approximately to east. Scale: 1m.

The Yarborough Stone. View approximately to east. Scale: 1m.

contour, very close to what would originally have been the northern edge of the flood plain of the River Lox Yeo; in its present course, this lies 260m to the south 17 . This stream flows north-east/south-west, draining into the River Axe at Crab Hole, about a km south-east of Loxton. The site of both Yarborough, and another stone close by to the east (see further below), lie just within the north- western part of the Mendip Hills AONB 18 .

Historically, the Yarborough stone has not always been known only by this name, but has also been called Wooks Quoit. 19 The ultimate source of this designation is unknown, but it was certainly current in the early 18 th century: in the manuscript notes for his proposed history of Somerset written c.1730, the antiquarian John Strachey, of Sutton Court in Stowey parish, notes in his description of Banwell and Banwell Hill that

In the vally on the so. of the hill a large monumental stone set up calld Wooks Cait relating to the fabled gyant inhabiting Wokey hole so Hautvills Cait in Chew & Belluton & the Devills casts(SRO DD/SH 107 c/202, Part 2 of 2, Winterstoke Hundred). 20

The origin of the word quoitas applied to megalithic monuments of this type, seems to lie in the widespread folkloric tradition that they are the result of superhuman or devilish feats of strength in which massive stones are thrown long distances, and to which, indeed, Strachey in this account makes specific reference. We need, however, to raise a note of caution here. Strictly speaking, there is insufficient detail in Stracheys account to be absolutely certain that it describes what is now called the Yarborough Stone, rather than the unnamed stone close by to its east. This is merely an assumption. But both orthostats were, presumably, standing in his day, and both could be reasonably described as lying in the valley on the south of (Banwell) hill. There will probably never be sufficient evidence to resolve this question definitively, and while acknowledging that lacuna, for now there is no real alternative but to follow the general assumption that Strachey is indeed describing the Yarborough Stone.

  • 17 The monument's OS national grid reference is ST 39036 57828, and LIDAR indicates that the stone itself lies at just over 8m OD. I am very grateful to Simon Crutchley, of English Heritage's Swindon office, for supplying me with the raw LIDAR data which forms such a crucial element of this discussion, and converting it into the easily-readable QT format on my behalf. LIDAR tile sets ST 3856 and 3858.

  • 18 I owe much thanks to Helen Winton, of English Heritage, for supplying me with a great deal of useful material relating to EH's recent major survey and updating of the archaeological resource within the Mendip AONB.

  • 19 I am grateful to Mike Murray for drawing this fact to my attention.

  • 20 The Banwell section of Stracheys manuscript has been transcribed and published, in full, by Stan and Joan Rendell. See Rendell and Rendell 1979, 1980 and 1983.


Despite a lack of known documentary references before the early 18 th century, a prehistoric attribution for Yarborough remains both reasonable and likely; however, an observation by Williams perhaps gives pause that where standing stones are concerned, and in the absence of conclusive archaeological evidence, we need at least to keep an open mind, and to exercise some care in making unwarranted assumptions about both date and original function. Williams notes the possibility that relatively modern cattle rubbing stones may be misidentified as prehistoric orthostats:

The stone may


been dressed in recent times, it may have a drill-hole in

..... one end where it has been dragged with a rope or show some other sign of

recent erection. Rubbing stones also tend to be located towards the centres of fields. It may be, also, that rubbing stones are generally less massive than bona

fide standing stones. But the height of the typical rubbing stone (1.5m) is well

within the range of genuine standing stones


it has been) suggested that

...... neighbouring farmers may have erected large rubbing stones in competition

with one another (Williams 1988, 14).

The Yarborough stone cannot be said to display any of the obvious physical characteristics, as described by Williams, that would make an identification as a cattle rubbing stone a very likely proposition. However, the writer felt it a wise precaution at least to attempt an independent check on the possible length of time that both faces of the stone had been exposed; a specialist survey of the lichens growing on the stone's surfaces offered one potential solution to this question, and this is a technique which has been employed elsewhere, to considerable effect, to gain an understanding of approximately when the individual stones in a prehistoric megalithic monument may have been last moved 21 . The results of the Yarborough Stone lichen survey are presented here as Appendix 2, which includes a tabulated list of the individual varieties colonising the exposed surfaces, and a brief analysis by Dr David Hill. The key

  • 21 This possibility was first suggested to me by Dr Nigel Chaffey, Course Leader in Environmental Science, in the School of Science, Society and Management, University of Bath Spa, to whom I am very grateful. The origins of this kind of analysis lie in the use of dated headstones in cemeteries and churchyards to track lichen colonisation rates for a recent review, see Leger and Forister 2009, although the idea was first mooted, and tested in practice, by Mason Hale (1967). In the UK, the pioneering study of lichens, in specific relation to the dating of post-erection interference with and movement at ancient monuments, was carried out at the Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire, and Castlerigg, Cumbria, and published as Winchester 1988. For a more general, recent overview, see also Aptroot and James, 2000. The paper by Winchester involves the use of sophisticated methods of sampling and statistical analysis, which simply could not be attempted here. However, within the constraints of a far more straightforward listing survey of the Yarborough lichens, the results are telling. I am greatly indebted to Dr David Hill, formerly of the University of Bristol, for carrying out the lichen survey on my behalf.


point here is Dr Hill's observation of the likelihood that the Yarborough Stone has been exposed to the weather for a considerable length of time, probably hundreds…….rather than tens of years. The authoritative view that the stone has been exposed for centuries seems strongly to add to the cumulative evidence that it is indeed prehistoric in origin, and not merely an especially large cattle- rubbing stone.

Initial Geophysical survey I: The Yarborough Stone 22 A short interim note on both this work, and that at the site of the Knoll Farm stone 400m to the east (see further below), was published as Corcos and Smisson 2009. Although well-known, Yarborough itself has never been subject to modern archaeological investigation, but in fact it was the possible significance of the nearby place-name, in terms of its archaeological implications, which first attracted the writer's attention (see further below) 23 . A site visit confirmed the presence of a low and clearly badly truncated, but nonetheless distinct mound, and what appeared to be a partial ditch, immediately east of the stone. A resistivity survey subsequently conducted here on the writer's behalf by Bob Smisson, outside the scheduled area, suggested the existence of a low resistance curvilinear, interpreted as a possible ditch, enclosing an area of high resistance. Subsequent, more detailed geophysical work by the Dept. of Archaeology, University of Worcester, confirmed the presence of a sub-circular anomaly which might account for the mound seen in the field, although the evidence for a surrounding ditch from this work, was more ambiguous. Excavation in the vicinity of the standing stone, in July 2011, demonstrated not only the lack of a circular ditch, but that the curvilinear feature was not a barrow, but a natural mound of clay (Lewis, forthcoming). The discovery, during excavation, of a highly weathered block of dolomitised Carboniferous Limestone, at a position very close to the standing stone, was unexpected, although its exact significance is problematic; it is not absolutely clear, for example, that it was deliberately buried, in antiquity, and it may just have rolled or been transported to the site under periglacial conditions, from the ridge to the north (pers. comm. Dr Peter

  • 22 I owe a very large debt of thanks to Bob Smisson for this work, which he alone planned and supervised. My gratitude also goes to the several volunteer helpers who turned out to assist on two separate occasions, both times in progressively deteriorating weather, and without whom the surveys could not have been conducted. I would also like to acknowledge the kindness of Mr Simon de Shapland, the landowner at Knoll Hill Farm, in giving permission for the work on the second site to be carried out.

  • 23 A training exercise in geophysical survey for students at Bristol University had previously been carried out in the vicinity of the stone, under the supervision of John Gater, of Geophysical Surveys of Bradford, but it was not considered at that time that the results were of any archaeological significance, and no results from the work were published; pers comm Prof Mick Aston.


Hardy). Even if this was the case, however, the people who erected the Yarborough Stone were presumably well aware of its presence, and could easily have removed it had they felt it desirable to do so; and it is not unreasonable to suggest at least the possibility that, if indeed a natural feature, the presence of this stone may have exercised its own influence on the precise positioning of Yarborough. This question is examined in greater detail by Lewis and Mullin later in this volume, but from its general shape and surface morphology, the stone does not seem to represent part of another, now lost orthostat, and its lithological composition is different from that of the Yarborough Stone itself, so that it cannot be seen as a piece either deliberately broken, or weathered, from the surviving monolith 24 . It is possible that it may be a secondary referent to the Yarborough Stone itself, in the form of a structured, ritual deposit.

Geophysical Survey II: The Knoll Farm Stone

About 400m to the east of the Yarborough Stone, was the site of a further, now-

lost orthostat, which although marked on early editions of the OS, had disappeared by 1954, and its exact nature is therefore problematic (Corcos and Smisson 2009; North Somerset HER 108). As with the anomaly originally identified at the site of the Yarborough Stone, this feature was also subject to partial excavation, in July 2011, by a team from the Dept of Archaeology at the University of Worcester. Again however, no sign of any barrow was discovered, and as at Yarborough, the minor topographic high in this area was identified as a natural spread of clay. The work also located what is thought to have been the original socket hole for the orthostat which originally stood on the site (for the geophysical work and excavation conducted by the University of Worcester at both Yarborough and Knoll Farm, see Lewis forthcoming).

The proven lack of barrows at both Yarborough itself, and Knoll Farm, does not of course preclude the possibility of the existence of barrow sites elsewhere in the immediate area. Geophysical survey, and review of aerial photographic evidence, has led the ALERT voluntary archaeology group to propose that the sites of at least five now ploughed-out barrows may be recoverable 25 ; although the experience of both Yarborough and Knoll Hill Farm should give pause that excavation alone must stand as the final arbiter of both function and date. Nonetheless, the North Somerset HER identifies the site of a further possible barrow, on the top of Knoll Hill about 520m north-east of the Yarborough Stone, and 270m north of the site of the Knoll Hill farm stone. The reported

  • 24 As with the Yarborough Stone itself I am very grateful to Dr Peter Hardy for examining this stone on my behalf, and for providing an expert analysis of its likely geological affinities. The results of Dr Hardy’s assessment appear in this volume as Appendix 1.


grid reference of this feature is ST 3942 5816, at which location the HER refers to a circular and ditchless artificial mound, 1.2m high. The field to the west is called Barrow Batch on the Tithe Map. This suggests it is a barrow and not an ornamental feature associated with (the) tree and seat now on its top(NSHER 107) 26 . While there is as yet no firm archaeological or field-survey evidence for the existence of this barrow, examination of LIDAR data (Tile ST3858, QT format) does indeed suggest the presence of a barrow-like feature on the top of the knoll.

Significance of the Place-Name The farm on whose land the stone lies is currently known as 'Yarberry', and the house there is subject to Grade II statutory listing. It is thought to be at least early 17 th century in date (EH listing no. Banwell 4/45). The site itself, however, is almost certainly medieval. A late 18 th century memorial plaque on the south-east nave wall of Banwell church, shows that the spelling Yarbury was current at that time, and indeed probably from at least the late 1730s 27 . However, the earliest spellings that have been identified so far come from a series of mid-14 th century account rolls for the manor of Winscombe, which identify a Robert of Yord(e)bury as having dealings with that manor over the tenancy of various small parcels of land within it. At the very least, this evidence confirms that Yarborough was occupied as a farmstead by that date, since this is a time when locative surnames were, generally, still directly related to a persons actual dwelling site 28 .

Dr Michael Costen suggests to me (pers comm), that

whatever this yordeelement is, it is almost certainly not a personal name. It has no hint of a genitive in the spelling (and) it would not have begun with a yin Old English. I think this began with an e. I wonder if this is OE eard which means a dwelling place or habitation. The existence of the ain modern spellings might help reinforce the idea. Ardleigh in Essex and Arden in Cheshire, Kent etc, also contain the element. The second element is byrig, the normal dative form

  • 26 The Banwell tithe map is dated 1843; SRO D/D/Rt/M/12.

  • 27 I am very grateful to Mrs Susan Griffin, of Yarberry Farm, for alerting me to the existence of this inscription.

  • 28 The dates are 1336-37 (SRO DD/CC/B/131909/8) and 1342-43 (SRO DD/CC/B/131909/12). From these documents, it is also apparent that Robert of Yord(e)bury had at least two sons, William and Walter. I am extremely grateful to Martin Ecclestone, who originally identified and transcribed these records on behalf of Prof Mick Aston for the purposes of the ongoing Winscombe Project, and to Maria Forbes of Max Mills Farm, Winscombe, for bringing his important work, and the specific Yarborough material within it, to my attention in the first instance.


of burh, a fort, strong place or fortified house. Arden means eard + earn, a dwelling-place and shed or house. Earn also occurs, for example, in Crewkerne.

In the context of a barrow-like feature at Yarborough, even though its natural origin is now archaeologically attested, it is the second element of this name which is of most interest here (see further below). Unfortunately however, in the form in which it has survived (ie bury) it presents problems of interpretation. This is because confusion in Middle English has meant that modern forms in bury could have come from either of two possible Old English words: byrig (the dative singular form of the word burh), meaning a fortified and/or high status occupation site; or beorg, meaning a hill, mound or tumulus. The latter passed into common use, especially in Wessex, to give the dialect word 'barrow', meaning specifically a burial mound, and now widely used by archaeologists as a technical term for this particular class of monument. If, as in this case, only the form bury is available, it is virtually impossible to determine which of these two derivations is the correct one, and the context of the word, especially the landscape setting of the site to which it is applied, therefore becomes crucial (Gelling 1997, 132-134; Griffith 1986; an extremely useful, recent survey of the archaeological implications of burh/byrig, is now also provided by Draper 2009). Indeed, this is a case where archaeology can cast light on toponymy, since the exact nature of a bury name (is it a Bronze Age barrow or an Iron Age hillfort?), will give a clue about whether it is likely to originate in beorg or byrig. In the specific case of Yarborough/Yarberry, matters are complicated by the fact that there may now be two possible sources for the bury name, one, the natural mound near the standing stone which may have been mistakenly identified by early English speakers as a barrow, and presumably originating in beorg, and the other from byrig.

Virtually due south of Yarberry Farm, in a field known as Thornbridge, North Somerset HER 111 refers to a straight-sided, round-cornered enclosure on the south bank of the River Lox Yeo, and known locally as Yarborough Camp. First identified as a cropmark from aerial photographs, it has not yet been investigated archaeologically (ie by excavation), and its nature is therefore somewhat enigmatic. The HER entry notes that it appears to be double-ditched, and that its northern side is eroded by the river, the inference being that it is indeed of some antiquity. The HER does not attempt to assign a date to this feature, but in a series of articles in the mid 1960s, H J Hawkings suggested very strongly that it was a small Roman fort (Hawkings 1965 and 1966). In the context of this view, this site might be thought to provide a strong candidate for the origin of an OE byrig place-name nearby, except for two possible drawbacks.


First, although it is of course well known that toponyms are by no means fixed

in the landscape, and can be subject to a degree of shift, nonetheless the site is nearly half a km from Yarberry Farm. This is nearly two and a half times the distance between the farm and the putative barrow site. The second point relates to how the site might have been affected by the historic flooding regime of the Lox Yeo river. Hawkings view was that the camp does not stand on the alluvial marsh-land, but on the somewhat more elevated triassic (sic) marl country to the south, and would have been above water level if the lower part of the valley



He then goes on to suggest reasons why he considers that

the campmust pre-date the rivers present course (Hawkings 1966, 15-16). While we may safely take it as read that the river course represents, throughout its history, a highly dynamic environment, constantly shifting in its bed, neither lidar nor aerial photographs give any hint of where putative palaeochannels might have lain, and the North Somerset HER, noting that the site lies at only 7m OD, considers that it occupies soils of the Midelney Association, formally defined as a shallow clay cap…….of river alluvium, overlying a peat substrate(DEFRA 1996, 12) 29 . Soils of this series are found in both the Fens of East Anglia (at Flag Fen for example), and much closer to home in the Somerset Levels, and they can only develop under conditions of sustained, even if not necessarily continuous, waterlogging (Hartnup 1975). This being so, it is difficult to see this enclosure as a Roman military site, although aerial photographs do appear clearly to vindicate Hawkingss suggestion, noted by the HER, that the northern

side has been severely damaged through erosion by the Lox Yeo (for example, NMR OS/89071, Frame 313, Library No. 13438; April 1989); although it is also notable that Hawkingss own sketch plan of the enclosure suggests a degree of uncertainty on his part about the exact position of the enclosures northern boundary, depicting it as he does with a dashed line (Hawkings 1966, 16). In any event, the exact nature of this feature will remain an unknown until it is properly investigated archaeologically. Full geophysical survey alone might go a long way towards explaining its origins, although questions of dating may ultimately be answered only by trial excavation 30 .

  • 29 Although the lack of surface expression of palaeochannels is hardly surprising in view of the blanket of alluvium covering the valley floor, clearly depicted on the geological map, of unknown depth, and masking ancient land surfaces underneath it.

  • 30 In fact, recent geophysical survey of this feature by a team led by John Matthews does indeed suggest that its northern side has suffered damage from the shifting course of the Lox- Yeo, and has confirmed the impression of a straight-sided, slightly trapezoidal enclosure with rounded corners. A Roman attribution may therefore seem inevitable but at present remains unproven. Geophysical investigation has also revealed what is proposed to be a section along the line of a Roman road running north-east/south-west down the valley, but this again awaits definitive archaeological proof. This work is reported in South-West Archaeology (the newsletter of CBA south-west), Issue 2, Jan. 2010, 7. See also


It may be instructive in this respect to look for parallels to the place-name across a rather wider geographical backdrop, and it indeed transpires that the Banwell Yarborough has a exact namesake in Lincolnshire, where it is recorded as a minor name on the north-eastern boundary of the parish of Melton Ross, in Lindsey. Names of this type in Lincolnshire, of which there are several examples, have recently been reviewed by Richard Coates as part of a wider survey of Lincolnshire toponyms, and the generally-accepted view is that they derive from two Old English words (although perhaps, in this region, with some Scandinavian modification), eorð-bur(h), meaning earth fort(Coates 2009, 94). In the case of Yarborough in Melton Ross, the name can be shown quite clearly to have been applied specifically to a sub-square, earthwork enclosure with rounded corners. Although not dated, this site, like its Somerset counterpart known as Yarborough Camp, has in the past been assigned a Romano-British military origin; and it is striking how, although in origin only a minor toponym, Yarborough gave its name to the wapentake in which it was situated, perhaps because, as Kevin Leahy has suggested, it was the centre of the wapentake and acted as the moot or meeting place(Leahy 2002, 150-151. The quote is on the latter page, with an informative hachured plan of the earthwork on 150) 31 . The sizes of the respective enclosures are somewhat different, the Lincolnshire Yarborough Camp measuring some 90m by 75m, while its north Somerset namesake is about 61m by 46m. But in other respects they at least appear to be strikingly similar, and at present it must remain an open question whether the name Yarborough is indeed an explicit reference to this earthwork, an eorð-

http://www.bacas.org.uk/ArticlePdfs/2000-22-24.pdf for a report by the same group on the discovery, again by geophysical survey, of what is interpreted as a possible occupation site of Romano-British date in the Lox-Yeo Valley, and presumed to have some association with associated with the putative road. I am very grateful to John Matthews for information relating to his geophysical work at the Thornbridge enclosure. In 2007, an archaeological watching brief at the western end of a new water pipeline being installed between Banwell and Rowberrow, just over 2km NE of the Lox Yeo Romanenclosure, uncovered a highly truncated linear feature composed of a spread of stones. It was oriented in roughly the same direction as the supposed roadnoted above, and it is certainly possible that it represents a continuation of it, and the remnant core of a Roman road. Unfortunately however, the feature could not be confidently dated, as during the course of the work, the site was raided by nighthawking metal detectorists, and material that might have been crucial for dating (probably of copper alloy) was removed; BaRAS 2007.

  • 31 Following Barry Cox, Leahy has also, however, speculated that Yarborough Camp may represent a seventh-century burh site, and is of the view that an early medieval, rather than Roman date may be preferred on the grounds that while late Roman fortifications employed bastions……those at Yarborough differ in that they fail to extend beyond the defensive line and would not have allowed flanking fire(ibid, 151). However, this argument fails to take into account the distinct likelihood that the above-ground fortifications were built of timber, and there may well have been projecting bastions marking the corners of a timber palisade enceinte, which have left no surface traces on the ground today.


burh, which has migrated a few hundred metres northwards to become attached to an occupation site at Yarberry Farm that is likely to be at least of medieval date 32 .

Detailed metrical survey at the north Somerset Yarborough Camp, although desirable, may not be possible due to the extremely degraded nature of the surviving earthworks. Until, therefore, this feature can be securely dated by excavation, its nature and function will remain completely problematic. However, we may also note that, although smaller in size, the enclosure might well bear comparison with morphologically similar features not very far away on the Mendip plateau, which are generally regarded as medieval or post- medieval stock corrals or shieling sites (see for example Somerset HER PRNs 23030 and 21367). Indeed, the siting of an animal enclosure in this position would have the benefit of providing stock with a ready supply of drinking water from the river very close to or perhaps even partially forming its northern side. These features are common and not invariably of great antiquity 33 . At our present state of knowledge, therefore, the possible presence of a barrow adjacent to the Yarborough Stone, although awaiting definitive archaeological proof, would certainly represent an equally likely candidate as the Lox Yeo enclosure, for being the source of the second element of the place-name Yarborough.

The physical context: geology, topography, and landscape

Appendix 1 describes the geological affinities of the Yarborough Stone itself, but this is only one aspect of a much wider set of physical factors which we need to consider in piecing together a plausible and informed narrative of the monument's landscape context. The 1:50,000 geological map (Fig 3) shows that the drift geology in what clearly represents the flood plain of the Lox-Yeo river consists, not surprisingly, of alluvium; and although its depth, and the nature of any underlying, associated deposits, are not always clear, the presence of peat is certain, and has been proven by borehole testing of alluvial deposits elsewhere

  • 32 But see also Gelling 1997, 147-148, for a number of caveats relating to interpretation of what may appear to be toponyms of eorð-burh type.

  • 33 In 1975, aerial reconnaissance over Somerset resulted in the identification, by Roger Leech, of another rectangular enclosure only 300m to the south of the Lox-Yeo example, and of a similar sub-playing card shape, although smaller in size (Leech 1978, 58; I am very grateful to Chris Richards for this reference). This feature survived with upstanding earthwork banks as late as 1946 (NMR RAF CPE/UK 1869, Frame 4283), but it had been ploughed out by 1950 (NMR RAF/541/527, Frame 3278). Leechs transcription of the mid 1970s AP evidence shows an entrance in the south-east corner, and it is almost certainly a stock pen of medieval or later date.







59 58 57 56 55 Knoll Farm Stone Yarborough Stone MMG outlier Crook Peak N Mercia
Knoll Farm Stone
Knoll Farm Stone
59 58 57 56 55 Knoll Farm Stone Yarborough Stone MMG outlier Crook Peak N Mercia

Yarborough Stone

MMG outlier
MMG outlier
Crook Peak
Crook Peak
Mercia Mudstone (MMG)
Mercia Mudstone


0 1km 0.5 40 41

in the immediate area (Green and Welch 1965, 119-123). The hard geology beneath the Pleistocene drift deposits is relatively well-known: the valley is floored with a layer of Triassic mudstones and breccias, the former consisting particularly of lithologies of the Mercia Mudstone group, which in turn lie on top of heavily eroded strata of Old Red Sandstone, representing the denuded core of the Mendip pericline at this, its western extremity (Simms 2004, 483- 484, and Fig. 4).

The literature bearing on the palaeoenvironment of the Severn estuary, and its northern and southern littorals, is both voluminous and constantly expanding, but what it reveals above all else is that the estuary, together with its associated low-lying hinterlands and backfens, represents an archaeological resource of international significance; and a very useful, if sometimes highly technical overview of the kind of approaches which have characterised recent palaeoenvironmental research here, can be found in the collection of essays published as Rippon 2001 34 . The palaeoenvironmental affinities of the Lox-Yeo valley would seem to tie it very firmly into this background it drains into the lower Axe valley, which itself flows north-westwards to join the estuary at Uphill; and the Axe flood plain has for some time been the focus of a range of palaeoenvironmental research, encompassing a variety of perspectives (eg Macklin 1985; Davies et al, 1998; Haslett et al 2001).

For a site of such potential importance in terms of the crucial palaeoenvironmental evidence which is undoubtedly locked up in its drift deposits, the Lox-Yeo valley has seen surprisingly little systematic fieldwork by Quaternary scientists. Most recently however, a potentially very important survey was conducted by Huw Williams, who took two transects of environmental cores across the flood plain, one of them near the valley mouth not far from Haslett's earlier site at North Yeo Farm (see further below), but the other very close to the location of the Yarborough Stone. This work may well, eventually, provide a closely dated sequence of environmental change, particularly in terms of water levels and depositional regimes within the flood plain area adjacent to the stone. It is, therefore, doubly to be regretted that the results of Williamss crucial survey are unlikely to be presented in print into the foreseeable future 35 .

  • 34 Much of this research is scattered in a wide variety of specialist earth science and palaeoenvironmental journals, but a great deal is also conveniently brought together in the published annual reports of the Severn Estuary Levels Research Committee, beginning in


  • 35 Pers comm. Professor Simon Haslett, of the University of Wales at Newport, to whom I am very grateful for providing me with further details of Huw Williams's work. The study is


The closest published study has been carried out by Haslett and others in the western part of the Lower Axe Valley, in the form of two borehole transects (Haslett et al, 2001a). The longer of the two ran roughly east to west from the western end of the Isle of Wedmore to the coast just south of Brean Down. As well as gathering palaeoenvironmental data, the study also involved, crucially, a series of radiocarbon determinations on a selected range of the recovered material. The sample site nearest to the mouth of the Lox-Yeo Valley was at North Yeo Farm (ST360544), which lies just over 2km WSW of Crab Hole, where the Lox-Yeo joins the westwards-flowing Axe. However, with some important variation in both the chronology, and the nature of the depositional regimes that were revealed, the fundamental picture arising from the majority of the borehole data was clear. Over much of the western part of the Axe Valley, the Quaternary phase consisted essentially of a layer of peat (0.5-2m thick) 'sandwiched' between two much thicker (5-6m) deposits of marine alluvium, attesting to two episodes of marine transgression interrupted, if only briefly, by a phase of chiefly freshwater, terrestrial reed bed. Haslett et al directly correlate these deposits with the Lower, Middle and Upper Wentlooge Formation in the Gwent Levels, on the northern shore of the Severn Estuary. The radiocarbon dates, not surprisingly, show that the impact of the transgressions was generally felt last by those areas furthest away from the coast. At North Yeo Farm, the data from which is probably most relevant in the present context, the first phase of marine alluvium was giving way to a freshwater, peat-forming environment at 5575-5145 BP, while the second phase transgression was beginning around 4090-3700 BP (dates calibrated to 2σ) (Haslett et al 2001a, 81, Table 2). If we allow that these environmental fluctuations had a direct impact in at least the lower part of the Lox-Yeo Valley, the inference is clear: that both before and after a brief respite around the beginning of the Bronze Age, the valley would otherwise probably have been subject to at least seasonal, and possibly long- term flooding, with intermittent overtopping of the river's banks due to restricted outflow into the Axe Valley. In the Neolithic, the Lox-Yeo valley flood plain would have been, even in the summer, a waterlogged marsh, and in the winter months probably completely flooded, even if only to relatively shallow depths.

In the absence, therefore, of palaeoenvironmental data collected according to modern methodologies and tolerances, including, crucially, dating by C 14 assay,

reported as a brief note in Hunt and Haslett 2006, 49, where it is described as being 'in preparation'. I would like to thank Chris Richards for initially drawing this important reference to my attention.


the present writer adopted a slightly more ad hoc approach to gain at least a basic understanding of the nature of the drift deposits in the immediate vicinity of the Yarborough Stone. A series of bores, carried out by Dr Peter Hardy on my behalf, were taken close to the stone, beginning to its north, with sampling at 5m intervals, and working progressively southwards, at 10m intervals (with the exception of sample 9) onto the lower-lying ground of the Lox-Yeo valley, in the direction of the river itself. The instrument used was a basic, manual auger, with a straight shaft of 1m length, the lower 20cm of which consisted of a coarsely-pitched threaded screw in which sampled material was collected and could be examined. Fig 4 shows the position and heights above OD of the auger samples, Fig 5 is a diagrammatic section, prepared by Dr Hardy, of what the samples reveal about the nature of the underlying drift deposits, and Appendix 3 is a qualitative description of the deposits, and interpretative discussion, also prepared by Dr Hardy 36 .

The essence of Dr Hardy's analysis, even from this relatively basic exercise, is quite clear: it is that probably from the end of the last glaciation, the Lox-Yeo valley sustained a highly dynamic depositional regime, with intermittent episodes of flooding broken by the development of marshland vegetation. This immediately ties the valley into the series of studies carried out in the Axe Valley to the south. Dr Hardy also makes two further points: firstly, that the stone does indeed occupy a position which can be characterised as an ecotone, that is, a resource interface or zone of ecological transition (Naiman and Décamps, 1990) 37 ; and secondly, that the site of the stone itself has probably remained dry ground since it was first erected.

From the drift deposits occupying the valley flood-plain, we move now to consider aspects of the underlying solid geology, and one in particular. The geological map shows quite clearly that on the southern side of the valley, the main deposit of Mercia Mudstone curves in a band around the lower slopes of Crook Peak and Wavering Down (Fig 3). But northwards from it, a large body of mudstone extends like a small, curvilinear peninsula into the alluvium of the

  • 36 I am extremely grateful to Dr Hardy for agreeing to supervise this work in the field, for his preparation of Fig 5, and for writing the deposit descriptions contained in Appendix 3. The survey could not have been carried through without his invaluable guidance. The heights OD shown on Fig 4 are derived from LIDAR data supplied by English Heritage, Swindon, and used by the author in Applied Imagery's QT format. The elevation figures derived from this data are accurate to between ±10-20cm, and in most cases will be no worse than ±15cm I am grateful to Simon Crutchley, of EH's LIDAR unit at Swindon, for his guidance on this point.

  • 37 The tendency for such places to attract standing stones and other megalithic monument types, is also noted by Williams from his evidence for Wales and South-West England; Williams 1988, 7, and 10-12.


Drain Drain ST 390 N Drain Track Track 9.24 OD 5 9.12 OD 4 8.89 OD
ST 390
Yarborough Stone
7.94 OD
7.73 OD
7.39 OD
ST 577



  • 9 8

Positions of auger holes










Peat Peat Peat Grey clay ? (reduced) ? Grey clay (reduced) 0 5m Horizontal scale 1m
Grey clay
Grey clay
Horizontal scale
Vertical scale


Pink clay
Pink clay

9m OD

8m OD

7m OD

Schematic section by Dr Peter Hardy

valley floor, almost exactly opposite the Yarborough Stone. Representing resistant strata, its northernmost extent coincides closely with the 10m contour, and we would expect that historically it would have lain above the general level of flooding which, we can now presume, would have regularly affected lower- lying parts of the valley, to the north. The geological map also shows that, detached from the north-western spur of this Mercia Mudstone peninsula, there is a much smaller body of this material which lies in effect like an island in the middle of the Lox Yeo flood plain and is surrounded on all sides by the river's alluvial drift deposits. Similar detachments lie to the east of the main body of mudstone, but the role of the 'Yarborough island' in this narrative is crucial, and it is no coincidence that the modern footpath crossing the valley, from Barton on the south-eastern side to Yarberry Farm on the north-western, goes right over the top of it 38 . Modern map contours at 5m intervals do not give a sufficient degree of resolution to show that, as might be expected being a more resistant lithology, this little island of MM stands slightly higher than the surrounding drift alluvium and it provides in effect a 'stepping stone' in the bottom of the valley, allowing dry passage across wet, floodable ground via a routeway that, I would argue, is considerably older than the modern footpath 39 .

But while map contours cannot provide this evidence, LIDAR can, and it shows that while the alluvial surface surrounding the 'Yarborough island' is generally in the order of 7.50m aOD, the centre of the island lies about a metre higher. And this is not only the location of choice for the line of the modern footpath; for the putative 'Roman' enclosure on the southern edge of the valley, the existence of which we have already noted (NSHER 111, and see above, fn.30), straddles the southern side of the island. If the date of this feature is ever confirmed by excavation, it will indicate that the 'Yarborough island' was regarded as sufficiently dry, even if only seasonally, for human occupation and/or stock control in the Roman period, although much will depend on establishing the exact function of the enclosure while it was in use. Fig 6 represents an attempt to synthesise these various strands into a single diagram, using a LIDAR image as the base.

An accident of geology has, then, given rise to what appears to be a natural routeway across the low lying, floodable part of the Lox Yeo valley in this

  • 38 Geologically, these detached islands are known as 'inliers', and they represent areas of older, underlying lithologies exposed by the differential erosion of younger, overlying ones; ex inf Dr Peter Hardy.

  • 39 The lowest height shown on the map in this area, in the bottom of the river valley, is a spot height of 7m aOD at OS NGR ST 38793 57473. As might be expected, the valley-bottom levels drop progressively south-westwards, towards the Lox Yeos confluence with the Axe.


15m ST 390 ST 580 Mercia Mudstone Knoll Farm Stone 10m (approx) N Yarborough Stone Modern
ST 390
Mercia Mudstone
Knoll Farm Stone
Yarborough Stone
Mercia Mudstone inlier
Mercia Mudstone
Shortest route between
Yarborough Stone and
higher ground on south
side of valley, via MM inlier


The Yarborough Stone, looking south towards the distinctive ‘saddle’ in the higher ground of west Mendip, between Compton Hill to the west (right), and Wavering Down to the east (left). A modern footpath still runs through the hamlet of Barton, southwards up the slope, and uses this feature as a miniature ‘pass’ to gain access to the Mendip plateau proper.

PLATE 3 The Yarborough Stone, looking south towards the distinctive ‘saddle’ in the higher ground of

position. We need now, though, to turn our attention to what happens at either end of this alignment, because this may have implications for our view of whether we are dealing with a route that was used only for very short-distance, and highly localised movement, or something rather longer.

On the south-eastern side of the Lox Yeo valley, the ground rises gently out of the low lying river floodplain, towards Barton, a hamlet at the base of Mendip's northern flank, strung out along a minor road and following roughly the line of the 35m contour. Immediately south of Barton, the southern flank of Mendip proper rises very steeply, attaining 157m on Barton Hill, and there is only a single natural routeway presenting a reasonably easy passage up onto the plateau at this location. From the Yarborough Stone on the north-western side of the Lox Yeo Valley, looking south-eastwards towards Mendip, this appears as a distinct 'saddle' in the profile of the plateau between Barton Hill to the west, and the northern flank of Wavering Down to the east (Plate 3). The nearest equivalent route is 2km to the east, where the A38 main road, and the line of the old Cheddar Valley railway, pass through a major gap in the west Mendip ridge just south of Winscombe, between Compton Bishop to the west, and Axbridge to the east (at NGR ST 422562). And to the west of Barton Hill, all the way to the mouth of the Lox Yeo where it discharges into the River Axe, there is no other convenient access up onto Mendip's southern flank, the massive bulk of Crook Peak intervening.

The Barton routeway climbs southwards up a narrow combe, and to the right as one climbs towards the head of the combe (ie on its western side), the traveller passes a most striking craggy overhang, which is an outcrop of the local Carboniferous Limestone at the northern extremity of Barton Hill. It is almost certainly a natural feature, not the result of modern or historic quarrying, and provides a distinct landmark (Plate 4). At the head of the combe, the prospect opens up quite suddenly, and one finds oneself on the plateau proper, with Wavering Down, at 211m aOD, to the east, and Crook Peak to the west. This route, then, gives access from the Lox-Yeo valley to the high plateau of west Mendip, and the suggestion that it may have been established by the Neolithic period, should be seen in the context of Jodie Lewiss identification of a series of such access routes, characterised by particularly high densities of artefact scatters, all along the southern edge of the plateau, at the tops of other natural routeways (Lewis 2011, 112). But what of travel in the other direction, that is, north and north-westwards, down from the northern flank of Mendip, to the Yarborough Stone, and then beyond it, over the high ground around Banwell



The craggy overhang

marking the eastern end



Hill, which





landmark along the upper






through which one travels

southwards up the

northern flank of Mendip




towards the








PLATE 4 The craggy overhang marking the eastern end of Barton Hill, which is a highly
ST 350600 ST 400600 Locking Moor Banwell Moor N Banwell Church Banwell Hill Yarborough Stone Barton
ST 350600
ST 400600
Locking Moor
Banwell Moor
Banwell Hill
Barton Hill
Loxton Hill
Crook Peak
ST 350550
ST 400550
Lox Yeo Valley

Digital elevation model showing the Yarborough Stone, Crook Peak, Banwell Hill, and the Lox Yeo Valley. Dot dash line indicates suggested drove route from Banwell and Locking Moors, to the Mendip plateau at Barton Hill and thence to Wavering Down. Vertical elevation exaggerated by a factor of ten.

Hill, and down onto the low-lying, floodable moor land north of Banwell and Locking?

Map contours and digital terrain data of the area, both show that the Yarborough Stone stands very close to the southern entrance of the pass at the western end of Banwell Hill, which provides a north-south route through the ridge of high ground, running otherwise in a pretty much unbroken line from Banwell hillfort, westwards to its terminus just west of Oldmixon, a distance of some 8.5km (Fig 7). This is the same route now also taken by the M5 motorway, and indeed it is the only practical one that the modern road could have followed without a massive, looping detour to the west, through the gap in the ridge between Oldmixon and Uphill, just south of Weston-super-Mare 40 .


If, then, we combine these two elements of putative routeway, north and south of the Yarborough Stone, the result is a single rather longer route, which in the Neolithic period would have taken a traveller through this landscape from the wetlands of Banwell Moor, safely across the Lox-Yeo flood plain, and up onto the higher, ground of the Mendip plateau, still at that time of course intermittently quite heavily wooded. The thesis presented here is that apart from any ritual or religious function that may be presumed to have been attached to the Yarborough Stone by those who erected it, as or perhaps even more

importantly, it also acted as a 'guide post' or waymarker for those travelling within a highly dynamic and intermittently dangerous wetland environment.

We have already noted how elsewhere, at other sites containing orthostats, it has been suggested that the material composition of the stone itself, and traditions of veneration prior to incorporation in complex monuments, may have been major considerations for communities making choices about the appropriateness or otherwise of individual stones for monument use. In the case of the Yarborough Stone, the rounded, elongated groove at its south-eastern bottom corner, first noted, and described by Dr Hardy, may well represent the same kind of pre-erection ritual activity adduced by Gillings and Pollard (1999- 2000) for one of the massive sarsens at Avebury (Plate 5). One has only to stand on the northern side of the Yarborough Stone, and look south and south-south- west, to recognise instantly that a crucial element of its rationale was to use

  • 40 The highest point along this ridge east of the motorway is on Banwell Hill, at 118m aOD, while to the west of the modern road, the OS trig point on Loxton Hill stands at an elevation of 175m aOD. By contrast, the 'saddle' or topographical low through which the motorway passes, is as low as 15m aOD in places.



PLATE 5 Detail of the linear, concave indentation at the lower south-eastern corner of the Yarborough

Detail of the linear, concave indentation at the lower south-eastern corner of the Yarborough Stone, which may be the result of tool-sharpening or other, similar activity prior to the stone’s erection on this site. Scale: 1m in 20cm divisions.

Crook Peak as its major landscape referent; perhaps even to the extent that the natural cleft at the top of the stone, and the sloping 'shoulders' leading down from it on its western side, were intended deliberately to mimic the highly distinctive 'notch' and the gently convex slope dropping away from its crest to the west and south-west. In addition, it is surely not coincidental that Yarborough can also be seen to look south-westwards, and indeed the eye is naturally drawn in that direction, straight down the Lox-Yeo Valley; here, the point of topographical constriction between the lower slope of Crook Peak on the left (ie eastern side of the valley), and the high ground above Loxton on the right (ie western side of the valley), represents a natural visual focus, in which Brent Knoll, some 8.5km away, appears dramatically framed. Were one looking for a second major landscape referent for Yarborough, then the Knoll is the obvious candidate (Plate 6).

These, then, are what current orthodoxy might characterise as the 'landscape phenomenological' aspects of Yarborough's wider context. But in the light of Dr Hardy's observations (Appendix 1), we need also to remind ourselves about the nature of the orthostat itself, and what those considerations might tell us about its possible raison d'être beyond the purely 'ritual'. The roughest, most heavily pitted side of the stone faces almost due south, and it is likely that it is this side which originally showed the highest concentration of mineral crystals, mainly, of course, quartz. As Dr Hardy notes, much of the pitting on this face probably represents places where quartz, in one form or another, has either weathered out, or been deliberately removed, perhaps by chipping away at the deposits; at Stanton Drew, Jodie Lewis has remarked on an apparently similar phenomenon, and has suggested that at least some of this activity may represent, in effect, prehistoric or later 'souvenir hunting', involving the removal of small pieces from a sacred site which, by direct association with the monument, would have acted as talismen or amulets to confer a degree of protection on the people possessing them (pers comm Dr Jodie Lewis). Be this as it may, it was this most mineralised, southern side of the Yarborough Stone which presented its face towards the putative routeway down from the southern flank of Mendip, and across the waterlogged ground of the Lox-Yeo floodplain, via the inlier of Mercia Mudstone on the southern side of the valley which offered a potentially drier path, and to which Yarborough lay directly opposite on the other side of the valley. And on bright days, the quartz and calcite crystals on Yarborough's southern side, facing the sun, would have provided an additional, sparkling signpost clearly indicating that, for the north-bound traveller coming down the northern flank of Mendip, here was the safe path across the potentially treacherous marsh that lay ahead.



The Yarborough Stone, photographed against the highly distinctive, ‘notched’ summit of Crook Peak, and, on the extreme right hand side of the frame, looking straight down the Lox Yeo Valley to the south-west, the ‘island’ of Brent Knoll. One cannot but help wonder whether the sharp point in the top of the orthostat, which seems so closely to reference the shape of Crook Peak, is entirely natural. View to south-south-west.

PLATE 6 The Yarborough Stone, photographed against the highly distinctive, ‘notched’ summit of Crook Peak, and,

Once safely across the valley, on its northern side at the location of Yarborough, the traveller has, as we have already noted, the option of a relatively easy route down onto the lower-lying terrain of the moors around Banwell, Locking and Puxton, via a low topographical 'saddle' in the otherwise continuous east-west ridge of high ground with which he is now confronted; and in attempting to explain why, in the Neolithic and/or Bronze Age, it might be reasonable to suggest that this was indeed a well-known and well-used route between the moors south and east of Weston-super-Mare, and the high plateau of Mendip to the south, one is inevitably drawn to the possibility of a seasonal or even daily movement of livestock to exploit two very different, but mutually dependent, ecological zones. At present, Neolithic activity in the area around the Yarborough Stone, but especially on the northern and southern flanks of the ridge to its north, is attested only by casual finds of worked flint of that date, whether as scatters or individual pieces 41 . No Neolithic occupation site is yet known. However, the lower parts of the Banwell and Bleadon ridges, both northern and southern flanks, would represent extremely attractive occupation sites for Neolithic communities, with their ecotone characteristics providing a mesh of ecological environments ripe for exploitation: woodland, arable, and to the north, extensive wetland grazing in the summer as well as peat, reeds, fish and wildfowl. But with the onset of autumn and the progressive flooding of the North Somerset marshes, the requirement for alternative, or indeed additional grazing, albeit initially on a limited scale, may have prompted these same communities to look southward to Mendip, as an obvious, and close, potential source of livestock pasture during the autumn and winter months while the marshlands were unavailable 42 . Early Neolithic agrarian practice certainly seems to have been a highly dynamic mode of subsistence in which nascent sedantism may well have been only the junior partner in a complex regime of exploitation which inherited and continued many traits from the preceding Mesolithic. Jodie Lewis, citing Alisdair Whittle, remarks that in the early Neolithic

Shifting settlement, swidden-type agriculture, and piecemeal clearance may have been practised. Economies may have depended on pastoralism, and it is possible to envisage relatively mobile populations, with people moving through woodland, exploiting and making clearings and abandoning them, moving with animals and tending (but perhaps not permanently watching over) stands of

  • 41 See for example North Somerset HER 79, 109, 116, 7942 and 42098. Not all of these assemblages or items are closely dated, however.

  • 42 Professor Rippon's map of the North Somerset Levels in the early Romano-British period, gives an indication of the range of resources available and the notional area that might have supported seasonal settlement at that time; Rippon 2006, 66, fig. 5.2.


cereals. Thus, instead of returning to a seasonal roundof favoured places, as has been suggested for the Mesolithic, Early Neolithic settlements may have

broken into new areas. Settlements may have moved every few years, when the

land became


2011, 111).

Historians of the medieval and early medieval periods are well acquainted with the wide range of clear evidence from those times that livestock farmers regularly moved animals over varying distances. The practice itself was intensely regionalised, as were the reasons underpinning it, but they can be crystallised out to two fundamental considerations: it was a way of rectifying and mitigating localised imbalances in ecological resources, and of establishing an efficient and effective integrated economy which made the best use of available resources at different times of the year; and as crucially, it was a way of taking animals away from sown crops during the growing season which might otherwise have been subject to considerable livestock damage (see for example the important collection of essays, taking a variety of approaches, gathered in Fox 1996). For the prehistoric periods, it cannot be doubted that this practice arose, ultimately, as an almost inevitable consequence of domestication, but the direct evidence for it is by definition more intractable, and prehistorians have, by and large, been understandably reluctant to allow medieval evidence to inform their own, overwhelmingly ahistorical perspectives 43 . Indeed, explicitly of Mendip itself, Jodie Lewis has recently observed that

The lithic evidence suggests that Mendip was settled during the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, and whilst there may be elements of seasonality involved, particularly during the Mesolithic, it would be simplistic and dangerous to simply import historical transhumance farming models onto the prehistoric periods. The populations who used Mendip may have lived within this landscape all year or they may have occupied different landscapes at different times of year or at different times of their lives (Lewis 2011, 113).

In general terms, we must of course regard this point as extremely well made, and on current evidence the presumption must be, as Lewis implies and as I have already intimated, that early Neolithic agrarian practice must almost by definition have consisted of a highly dynamic system in which elements of pastoralism, arable husbandry, and woodland management and exploitation, interwove around each other in an almost kaleidoscopic pattern of mutual

  • 43 See, for example, Walker's systematic deconstruction of the idea of long-distance transhumance routes in Neolithic and Bronze Age Spain, with megalithic dolmens and chambered tombs supposedly acting as markers along the putative droveways; Walker 1983. One of Walker's explicit criticisms of the earlier work which he cites is that medieval evidence cannot, under any circumstances, be admitted to inform views on what was happening in prehistoric periods.


dependency, but the precise nature and character of which varied both spatially, according to what resources were available and where they lay, and through time. Population levels, and straightforward knowledge and growing experience of how to farm in a given environment, would also be crucial parts of this equation.

However, one of the few areas in Britain where archaeological evidence has been strongly invoked to support a case for systematic and regular livestock movement, is the Fens of eastern England; here, Francis Pryor in particular has argued for the establishment of what he characterises as a large-scale system of Neolithic and Bronze Age droveways, connecting occupation sites on higher ground, with the very different resource-base offered by fen-edge ecologies. In this highly integrated, mixed economy, the livestock element was overwhelmingly dominant, closely choreographed, and tied directly to the seasonal availability of the massive additional grazing resource offered by the fenland environment. Animals were driven to the fen from occupation areas on higher ground in the summer, when water levels were low, fattened on the temporarily drier marshland, and then driven back to the higher ground with the arrival of autumn and the progressive reassertion of water levels in the fen. In this model, the livestock was accompanied and tended by a part of the community, probably mainly younger people under some adult supervision. Implicit in this suggestion must be the corollary that that section of the community which accompanied the livestock to the summer grazing grounds, would by definition have required shelter while away from the main settlement sites, and would have constructed temporary housing of some kind for this purpose, usually known as 'shielings' in later contexts (see for example Winchester 2000).

It must be said that this view of the prehistoric fenland economy has not met with universal approval. For example, a review of then-recent environmental evidence led Christopher Evans to a robust rebuttal of the Pryor hypothesis:

Given areas of the fen margin may have been drier in prehistory than has been previously thought. It is, therefore, gradually becoming apparent that the potential for flood-free grazing in the pre-1 st millennium B.C. Fens was

greater than has been postulated



that) prehistoric Fenland

pastoralism may have been over-emphasised at the expense of its arable

component (Evans 1987, 27).

The underlying thrust of this objection is that, since transhumance was a way of mitigating, balancing and exploiting difference in the seasonal availability of


ecological resources, if the difference is removed, the need for the practice also evaporates. It can, in this respect, be likened to a form of economic 'osmosis' on a macro scale. Nonetheless, the results of large-scale fieldwork in the Fens by Pryor two years after the publication of Evans's paper, do seem forcefully to support the case for large-scale prehistoric droving practices before the advent of a significant climatic shift in the Iron Age, and Pryor subsequently restated his case with renewed vigour. Interestingly, it was an important and explicitly-stated element of Pryor's argument that his vision drew a great deal of its inspiration from models of transhumant practices put forward by medieval economic historians (Pryor 1998 passim, but esp. at 89-108).

Implicit support for the general thrust of Pryors thesis comes from Peter Herring; who, crucially for the purposes of the present discussion, adds into the equation a suggestion about the way in which stone monuments, in this case specifically the Early Bronze Age stone rows of the south-western moors, may have played a central role as landscape mnemonics, marking out traditional pathways and routes for communities engaged in the seasonal droving of stock, chiefly sheep, from the surrounding lowlands, up onto the moorland fringes and, indeed, into the heartland areas of the high moors themselves. His reasoning on this point is worth quoting at length here for the perspective which it opens up on the landscape implications of similar practices underpinning other, highly symbiotic, lowland-highland agrarian regimes (including, I would argue, Mendip), involving the movement of domesticated stock:

Maintenance of cleared areas on the central downs of Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor could only have been achieved through fairly intensive grazing with large herds and flocks, animal numbers in the tens of thousands………As well as digesting the obvious implications for our understanding of early farming economies…….we have to appreciate that the moors had been subjected to startling transformations; woodlands which limited long views, except from summit tors, had been replaced by undivided grasslands in which one could move and see in all directions. We are accustomed to such freedom, but it seems reasonable to imagine that for those who created this newly open world, the ability to see downland rolling into downland, with distant tors poking over the backs of closer ones, would have been a source of wonder and pleasure. It is not surprising that they worked with this quality when designing their landscapes.

Herring also proposes that once cleared, it is difficult to envisage that the new upland grazing grounds became the focus of an uncontrolled free for all. On the contrary:


It seems unlikely that the extensive but intensively used pastures, effectively commons, were either created or managed haphazardly. They were probably subjects to controls on livestock numbers and against trespassers, familiar to those with rights on modern commons. If two functions of community gatherings at

early Neolithic tor enclosures and quoits, and later stone circles, were formal co- ordination of the establishment and use of commons, and the settling of disputes



these ancestral monuments would retain significance

for later commoners (Herring 2008, 86).

Taking our cue from this last observation, we might perhaps be tempted to speculate that as well as their undoubted ritual and religious affinities, the Priddy Circles may also have served just such a function as Herring describes, as a meeting place for early farming communities where matters relating to the regulation and control of access to, and stocking regimes on, the Mendip proto- commons, were thrashed out. The probability that the Circles may sit astride, and indeed in part define, a major prehistoric routeway, later adopted by a Roman road, simply heighten the suspicion that at least part of the monuments raison detre was underpinned by the need for access to it from a wide hinterland (Lewis 2011, 102-104).

Be this as it may, Mendip's use as a massive sheep walk at least from the pre- Conquest period, is well-known, and attested by the evidence of Domesday Book. And in the high medieval period, the common pastureland of the plateau supported huge flocks belonging to the manors encircling the lower, more habitable terrain at the foot of the northern and southern scarps (Neale 1976, 94-95) 44 . It is of course the case that in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, the far greater level of tree cover on the plateau is an environmental given; we have, nonetheless, already noted that the very high concentration of ritual monuments there, and especially in western Mendip, must lead us to the likelihood that woodland clearance was already well-advanced, and that at least parts of the western upland were being used for the managed grazing of livestock. But we must also recognise that, while features such as the Priddy Circles were clearly themselves established on ground that had already been cleared, or which was especially cleared for the purpose, what, in terms of the naturalenvironment, was going on immediately around them, is quite another matter. Of course, we have long known that the idea of wall to wallpost-glacial wildwood is a myth, and have already noted part of the evidence attesting to that fact; but it is

  • 44 A very useful, visual impression of the highly intimate economic relationship between the scarp-foot settlements and the high plateau of Mendip, is provided by Williams's map of the so-called 'waste' areas affected by parliamentary enclosures in the 18 th and 19 th centuries; Williams 1976, Fig. 14, 106.


imperative that we do not, in pursuing this line of reasoning, make the mistake of invariably equating grazingwith grassland’ – so that the agrarian dynamics of the model are deemed valid only when wildwoodcover had been massively reduced by the axe, and replaced with open grassland. On the contrary: it has also long been known that, by the early medieval period at latest, woodland was being used both intensively and extensively to provide a wide range of grazing resources suitable for domesticates of virtually all types, with beechmast and acorns contributing the most important element of the woodland-floor grazing (Hooke 2011, 145-154) 45 ; leaf fodder may well also have played a role (see further below).

It seems perfectly possible, therefore, that the very earliest systematic, non- hunting human incursions into the Mendip wildwood involved their use as, initially, small-scale wood-pasture by the proto-farmingcommunities of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition period; and a crucial consequence of this process was the direct impact which it had on the spatial perceptions of the Mesolithic mind, as the cognitive framework against which it measured its own place in, and view of the world, changed as the landscape around it became inexorably more open. Christopher Tilley has recently strikingly reminded us of how, although the conscious and deliberate manipulation of woodland cover through clearance had already begun on a small scale in the Mesolithic,

In the early Neolithic [it] irrevocably altered the environment and with this

event, new conditions for sensory perception were created




Mesolithic] even if this was a landscape in which open areas existed, it was still

one in which people were primarily forest dwellers


the most part,

to tens of metres or so, varying somewhat with the seasons


a forested

landscape, the forms and shapes of hills, ridges, spurs, escarpment edges, valleys

and coombes can hardly be perceived

large scale



forest clearance on a

........... vision to become, for the first time, the dominant

.......... sense in terms of spatial orientation. The Neolithic ushered in a culture in which

the visual became more and more important in relation to the perception of the environment and, in particular, the contours and forms of the




clearance, whatever the intention, had the unintended effect

of creating a new perceptual experience of the world. It permitted for the first time the spatial fixity of the distanciated [sic] gaze over greater and greater areas (Tilley 2007, 330-335).

  • 45 Indeed, there is a strong and growing view among place-name specialists that early occurrences of the extremely common Old English toponym leah represent, first and foremost, explicit references to wood pasture; Hooke ibid, and see also Lennon 2009.


It was surely the case that transmutative agrarian subsistence regimes, gradually crystallising out at the Mesolithic/Neolithic interface, played a central role in driving a large proportion of the woodland clearance which took place at this time, and, ergo, in laying the cognitive foundations in the Neolithic mind which ultimately could allow it to conceive of the notion of sweeping, open vistas and prospects which would give powerful meaning to monument building on a large scale.

It is almost inevitable that an increased level of initially uncontrolled grazing is likely to have had a direct impact on the ability of the woodland to regenerate at a self-sustaining level, since stock will happily eat young saplings springing from the woodland floor, and their parallel consumption of acorns and beechmast would have reduced the overall reproductive capacity of the wood. At present, our resolution of the environmental evidence is not yet nuanced enough (and may never be) to enable us to distinguish deliberate clearance with the axe, from that arising from the uncontrolled grazing of early domesticates; but it is at least likely that some of Mendips Neolithic monuments were established in clearings which owed their existence as much to the use of the plateau as a wood-pasture resource, as to natural causes or deliberate felling 46 .

Identifying lowland-upland transhumant practices in the Neolithic, let alone quantifying their extent, longevity, and environmental impacts both direct and otherwise, presents methodological problems which, understandably, few researchers to date have felt inclined to confront, and it is extremely important to stress yet again that even if its existence could be proven on Mendip beyond all doubt, it would have been only one of several threads in what was certainly a complex, highly dynamic, interlocking web of mutually dependent economic strategies operating at the Mesolithic-Neolithic interface and beyond, into the Neolithic proper. 47 As a result, in north-west Europe as a whole, many aspects of this activity are seen only in very hazy focus, if indeed at all.

  • 46 The nature of the various environmental and anthropogenic processes acting on the post-glacial wildwood on the eve of the Neolithic, and the extent of their impact, remains the subject of debate, although the possible role of human agency, even if opportunistic at first, is coming increasingly to the fore; the specific part played by the use of the forests as a woodland- pasture resource for early domesticates remains problematic, but it is looking increasingly likely that it was at the least a contributing factor in environmentally-measurable woodland regression. The evidence for Britain up to the date of publication is surveyed in Brown 1997; and for a continental perspective relating to the European LBK culture, see Kreuz 2008. The problem of what element of this process, if any, should be attributed to wild fauna needs also to be considered, although at present the evidence simply does not allow any meaningful assessment to be made.

  • 47 Although where exceptional conditions of preservation of organic material have allowed, palaeoenvironmental specialists are among those who have taken up this challenge; see for example Akeret and Jacomet, 1997; and Valamoti 2007.


However, a study conducted in the low mountain region of the Black Forest Mountains, in south-west Germany, may provide at least a theoretical context against which the situation on Mendip can be compared 48 . The research was based on an intensive and systematic campaign of fieldwalking, and subsequent analysis of both the artefacts recovered (mainly stone axes and worked flints), the topographical affinities of the artefact findspots, and the spatial patterning of the finds. Among the conclusions of the study, the lead authors remark that

Forest areas in the immediate vicinity of settlements supplied leaf fodder for winter but herds would have been driven to more distant areas in the summer, even to nearby uplands. Neolithic artefacts recovered from the upland parallel the simplified material culture of modern transhumant groups. Spatial patterning of artifacts indicates camping at preferred spots, close to water, as well as ranging further afield. These findings are supported by palynological data indicating forest clearing without evidence of agriculture. This clearance is most likely related to the seasonal cutting of branches and leaves for fodder (Kienlin and Valde-Nowak 2002-2004, 41).

It is, then, surely right to suggest that the mutually-dependent economy, almost symbiotic in its intimacy, which existed between upland and lowland, so much a defining characteristic of a later relationship between the plateau and surrounding settlements, was established in its essential framework in the Neolithic and Bronze Age 49 . We might, therefore, further wonder whether the 'opening up' of western Mendip for use in both monumental ritual, and for communal gazing of livestock, were not also intimately linked, for both required a similar end-product: a degree of woodland clearance, producing 'windows' of open grassland that would both feed livestock and provide the controlled vistas to and from the ritual sites which were a sine qua non for the monument- builders. Indeed as Jodie Lewis has very effectively demonstrated, Mesolithic people had already started to make inroads into the Mendip woodland, so that

  • 48 It is true that the elevation of the Black Forest Mountains study area, in the order of 400-600m, is somewhat higher than even the highest point on Mendip (at Black Down, 325m aOD), and it is likely that the droving distances from the surrounding settlements at lower elevations were longer; however, what is important, are not the absolute elevations of the lowland settlements and the upland shielings(for want of a better word), but the relative difference thereof, and in principle at least, there seems no good reason why the Black Forest Mountain research should not be admitted to help inform our perspectives of Neolithic transhumant practices as they affected Mendip.

  • 49 It is now considered almost as a given that this relationship was in place by the Roman period at the latest. Todd, for example, has stated explicitly that wider considerations are now open and must be addressed. One of the most important of these is the social and economic relationship between (Mendip) and the adjacent lowland, most notably the Somerset Levels and Sedgemoor. That upland and lowland formed separate ecosystems is inherently



Todd 1995, 78.


in some respects, Neolithic practice may well have merely built upon a process which was already in train. 50 These antecedents come sharply into focus especially in the later Mesolithic, when the growing size and intensity of diagnostic lithic material from this period

May suggest a more intensive use of the plateau……….possibly by a greater number of groups and/or a change in the type of activities undertaken, resulting in the accumulation of more extensive scatters (Lewis 2011, 110-111).

To take this argument rather further, and perhaps to its logical conclusion, we should at least consider the possibility that it was in fact the pursuit of grazing lands, and not the potential for monument-building, which first led early farming communities onto the high plateau of Mendip. Natural clearings in the holocene wildwood (Whitehouse and Smith 2010) would have perhaps been progressively exploited and expanded for livestock grazing, but, crucially, only after an initial phase of limited clearance for this use had, almost as an unintended consequence, opened up some of the spectacular vistas with which we are so familiar today, would Mendip's consummate potential for monument- building have become completely clear, and was, thereafter, fully realised. One cannot, after all, wholly appreciate, understand or negotiate the spiritual and other-worldly qualities of a landscape if one cannot see the landscape itself, to it from a distance, or from it to distant prospects.

The farmers, as livestock keepers, were of course themselves members of the monument-building communities but in opening up a wooded Mendip plateau, it was perhaps the economic imperatives imposed by livestock domestication and control, and not the drive for monument-building in and of itself, as an entirely discrete activity, which above all set the colonising agenda. This perspective brings the narrative effectively full circle, for it ties the Yarborough Stone, both functionally and ritually, into a dynamic symbiosis with the defining landscape developments which, even as it was being heaved upright, were making their impact on the high ground upon which its southern face was made to gaze; and where Neolithic shieling-dwellers were kick-starting the process of turning their west Mendip space into 'place' (cf Lewis 2007, 3).

  • 50 Lewis 2011. See esp. 108-113 for a detailed review of the possible implications of changing spatial patterns, densities and compositions of lithic scatters from both the Mesolithic and Neolithic on Mendip.


APPENDIX 1 The Geological Background, by Dr Peter Hardy

The Yarborough Stone is from the Dolomitic Conglomerate unit of the Triassic Mercian Mudstone (locally the basal level) and probably derives from the nearby ridge just a few hundred metres to the north. This identification is based upon three main lines of evidence: firstly, there are many large (c. 5-10 cm) inclusions of both angular and rounded pebbles and rock fragments in the matrix, and these appear to include at least one small fossil, unidentified at the time of my site visit (13.11.08), but indicative of an origin from a fossil-bearing source, as well as many rounded pebbles of what appears to be quartzite, or similar siliceous material. The source for the siliceous pebbles would almost certainly have been the Devonian sediments, which make up the core of the Blackdown Pericline, whilst any fossil-bearing or lime-rich pebbles would probably derive from the Lower Carboniferous limestones. Both of these rocks are very nearby and were heavily eroded in Permian times, yielding abundant material for the Triassic Dolomitic Conglomerate. Secondly, the rock is heavily iron-stained (this can be seen clearly on the north-western corner at around eye- level), which is a characteristic of the Dolomitic Conglomerate, although far from being restricted to it. Thirdly, the rock includes some conspicuous calcite-bearing mineral cavities which appear closely to resemble the ubiquitous 'potato-stones' which occur widely throughout the Dolomitic Conglomerate outcrop.

It could well have been brought to its present position through human agency, but stones of that material, and possibly even of that size, might also be expected to occur naturally in the 'head' deposit which occurs just a few metres to the north around the farm buildings. The clear evidence of naturally occurring fractures in the stone (there are three prominent ones easily discernible, all running parallel and almost vertically as it is now seen) suggest that the narrower sides of the stone could well be formed naturally by breakage along similar weaknesses in the original rock. The rather conspicuously hollow weathering on the southern face is possibly due to the selective removal of originally crystal- filled cavities in the rock, which would be largely occupied by calcite and possibly quartz, although only the former is now evident. Similar crystalline inclusions in the stone can still be seen on its north-western corner, and there is clear evidence of their partial and/or complete removal elsewhere. If such a stone were to be freshly dug from the solid rock, or exposed in the 'head', these crystal-filled cavities could be almost white, and highly reflective, making them very conspicuous. There is one curious feature amongst these weathering phenomena, namely a vertically orientated groove around five centimetres wide


and maybe three or four centimetres deep, and perhaps as much as twenty centimetres or even a little longer, which can be seen on the south eastern corner low down close to the ground (Plate 5). This seems to me to be rather too smooth and regular a feature to be likely to be natural and I suspect that it may have been man-made, possibly by rubbing some hard object repeatedly up and down it. I believe that similar grooves are seen on other megalithic monuments and are believed to have possibly been caused by sharpening of tools or weapons.


APPENDIX 2 Examination of Lichen Colonisation of the Yarborough Stone, by Dr David Hill

The Yarborough Stone was visited by David J Hill BSc DPhil MIEEM on 8 June 2009 with Nick Corcos to find out what lichens occurred on it, and what, if anything, they could tell us about the stone, such as its age. The 29 lichens recorded were typical of the Dolomitic Conglomerate limestone, and are listed below with notes.



Aspicilia calcarea

Can form large white patches but not here

Aspicilia contorta

Prefers horizontal aspect

Caloplaca aurantia

Often circular egg-yellow patches

Caloplaca citrina s.lat.


Caloplaca dichroa


Caloplaca flavescens

Often circular orangish yellow patches

Caloplaca flavocitrina


Caloplaca saxicola

Likes drier and more sheltered niches

Candelariella aurella


Candelariella medians


Dermatocarpon miniatum

Not often found on gravestones*

Diploicia canescens

Likes drier niches

Dirina massiliensis f. sorediata

Not often found on gravestones*

Lecanora albescens


Lecanora campestris


Lecanora dispersa


Lecidella stigmatea


Opegrapha calcarea


Opegrapha rupestris

Lichen parasite of Aspicilia calcarea. Not often found on gravestones*

Phaeophyscia orbicularis

Likes high levels of nitrogen

Physcia adscendens

Likes high levels of nitrogen

Solenopsora candicans

Likes wetter niches

Verrucaria baldensis

Can form large white patches but not here

Verrucaria caerulea

Not often found on gravestones*

Verrucaria fuscella


Verrucaria macrostoma

Not often found on gravestones*

Verrucaria nigrescens

Small blackish patches

Xanthoria parietina

“Yellow wall lichen” – eg on farm roofs - likes high levels of nitrogen

Xanthoria polycarpa

Unusual on stone

*based on data in Hill DJ (1994), “The succession of lichens on gravestones: a preliminary investigation”, Cryptogamic Botany 4, 179-186, which included gravestones mainly in the west


of England (former county of Avon, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Somerset and Wiltshire).

There were no large thalli of any lichens such as Verrucaria baldensis or Aspcilia calcarea which sometime occur giving evidence of a more than a century of growth. However the presence of several lichens which are not usually found on gravestones especially those less than a century old, indicates that the Yarborough Stone has been exposed to the weather for a considerable length of time, probably hundreds of years rather than tens of years. The gravestone study included stones only up to 300 years old. Of particular note was the unusual

specimen of Verrucaria fuscella (now Placidium fuscellum) which had three-

septate spores rather than simple spores normal for Verrucaria (and Placidium). As the Verrucariaceae is undergoing revision by research lichen taxonomists at present, Alan Orange has retained the specimen in order to extract DNA from it to compare the sequence with other material of this species.


APPENDIX 3 Summary of the Auger Survey at Yarberry Farm, by Dr Peter Hardy


(Figs 4 and 5 refer). The starting points on both the northern and southern sides of the stone were carefully measured to ensure that no auger holes were made within the 5m radius around the stone which marks the formal curtilege of the Scheduled Ancient Monument. The transect surveyed started from a position 5.5.metres to the NNE of the northern face of the stone, from which five holes (1-5 in sequence) were drilled at 5 metre intervals in a straight line finishing around 2 metres from the field boundary. A second series of four holes started at just outside 5 metres from the southern side of the stone and these were placed at 5, 15, 25 and around 70 metres in a straight line parallel to the field boundary to the west and about fifteen metres from that boundary.

All of the holes were drilled by hand down to one metre, the maximum depth that the auger could reach, with the sole exception of hole number 2, which hit an immovable stone at 85 cm depth.

The auger had a plain shaft with a screw of around 30 mm. diameter at the bottom, which extended up to around 20cm from the end. This allowed a sample to be removed in its original sequence from each 20cm. of hole sampled. Each sample thus obtained was visually examined in the field, using a hand lens, to ascertain the approximate composition of sand, mud and other constituents, their colour, and also the organic content (mainly by smell!).

All of the results were recorded, on paper and by hand-held machine, and transcribed into a digital written format. These results have been plotted on a series of sections, and their relationships interpreted as a section through the lines of transect.

Outline of findings

Soil The immediate surface samples from all holes were regarded as ‘soil’, some very heavy and clay-rich (7, 8 and 9) others (1, 3, 4, 5 and 6) were lighter, more friable and usually rich in wind-blown sand. Only the top sample from hole 2 seemed significantly different in that it had substantial evidence of hydrated iron oxide specks throughout, not only at depth, but right up to the surface. This hole happens to fall within a distinct depression immediately to the north of the stone and may perhaps be from a water-logged area, possible a pond in the past?


Wind-blown sand Most holes display some variation in the amount of wind- blown sand, but by far the greatest amount of this (estimated in some samples at more than 50%) came from the topographically higher holes 1-5. This sand is widespread around the western coast of Somerset and was deposited well inland by the fierce storms which blew after the retreat of the ice sheets from southern Britain at the close of the Ice-Age. It forms a substantial proportion of most of the samples from the holes to the north of the stone, in their upper parts especially, but reaches down to the base of some holes (1-5) indicating that these are on ground which was deposited or being disturbed as late as the last post- glacial period, i.e. within the last 10 millennia.

Clay Most of the holes north of the stone are formed in what can be described as silt or clay (the distinction being very subtle, but silt has a proportion of grains which are coarser than true clay, whereas clay grains are invisible to the naked eye or hand lens.) In the higher level holes (1-6) this clay is evidently derived from weathering of the underlying bedrock and is usually pink at depths greater than 80 cm. Nearer to the surface the clay is brown or yellow and evidently iron-rich. These yellow to brown colours are due to a mineral known as limonite but are also collectively called ochres. They are hydrated iron oxides and form in conditions where oxygen is available together with water. In the absence of the oxygen, conditions described as reducing occur, and here the iron minerals formed are less rich in oxygen and usually appear very dark, more or less black in fact. These colour changes are very sensitive indicators of oxygen supply and can commonly be seen in muddy and wet environments where the mud is often brown on the surface due to the presence of oxygen forming the iron ochres and black just underneath, due to the lack of oxygen. The overall colour of the clay content of the samples throughout much of the survey could therefore be used to suggest the relative amount of oxygen supply in the sediments, and therefore to imply whether they were water-logged or well drained. The clays found in the holes to the south of the stone, from the lowest lying parts of the transect and close to the present course of the river which flows through the valley, are generally grey in colour, and indicate far less oxygen in them than the ochreous clay soils from the northern series of holes, which are sited on slightly higher ground.

Peat This soft organic sediment is found in several holes, especially those furthest to the south. It features as a sudden transition from clay to soft (and almost impossible to sample) dark slurry in hole 6, where the auger almost fell into the ground after it had pierced the surface 40 cm. In hole 8 the peat was very


evident after around 50 cm and in hole 9 a similar section was seen. The only other feature worthy of note in these topographically lowest holes is the apparent diminution in the amounts of wind-blown sand. Since this should have been swept across the region more or less evenly (allowing that some irregularities are inevitable, as with snow drifting) one might expect to find similar amounts of sand throughout all of the sections. However, this component seems to be most evident in the higher-level holes (1-6) and less so in 7 and 8 with hardly any at all in 9.


The sections are too few and the horizons seen in them too vague to permit any precise correlation, but even these rather crude samples show a number of

features which may be generally applied to the landscape in this location, and it seems probable that a more detailed series of holes could reveal some interesting sub-surface variations in ground make-up, which may have some relationship to the position of the stone itself.

It is plain that the transect shows a situation where two topographic zones meet.

The northern zone (incorporating the stone itself and hole 6) is one of ‘dry’

land, with aerated soil and firm ground, comprising a stiff mix of wind-blown sand and clay. This has been oxygenated and probably exposed to the air over millennia, possibly throughout the glacial periods. At some stage/s in the past the lower parts of the valley adjacent to the stone have been very wet, marshy and possibly flooded, and peat has formed. The ground is very soft and until drainage could be achieved it would have been very difficult to cross due to its lack of substantial silicate content. Some clays have been deposited both above and below the peat, suggesting periods of flooding, or possibly the influx of wind-blown dusts, but the apparent absence of wind-blown sand grains from the lowest of these deposits in hole 9 argues for a separate source, probably water-borne.

From this brief interpretation it seems fair to suggest that the region was firstly affected by relatively dry winds which carried quartz sand grains over considerable distances in a cold desert environment. These became very distinctively rounded and polished due to the high energy of the environment and the grains became well-sorted by size, due to the limited ability of wind to carry larger particles. This resulted in the characteristics of wind-blown sand; grains which are well-rounded, polished, well-sorted and predominantly of quartz composition, all mica being winnowed out. These early sand deposits mixed with the then exposed surface of the underlying Triassic bedrock, (mostly


red clay around the stone) resulting in the mix of sand grains and clay deep down in the holes 1-5.

Subsequently the valley was flooded, allowing fine muds to be transported into the lowest parts at least, and forming the lowest part of the valley floor. The slightly higher valley side close to the stone was probably dry at this and maybe subsequent stages. The flooding would eventually have raised the valley floor to the point where marshy vegetation took over and muddy sediment would then be unable to spread over much of the valley. This caused a swamp or marsh to form over time (?millennia). The upper, thin coating of clay in hole 9 suggests that the valley was flooded by water once more and that this brought

in more mud. The restriction by the marsh of the water’s lateral spread over the

valley floor may have caused the sediment borne by the river to be deposited

close to its banks, resulting in raised ‘levees’ which would have formed a barrier

to further spread of the sediments, except occasionally in conditions of extreme flooding.

Throughout the time between sand deposition and flooding, the site of the stone

may have been on permanently exposed, ‘dry’ ground.



Akeret, O., Jacomet, S., 1997. Analysis of plant macrofossils in goat/sheep faeces from the Neolithic lake shore settlement of Horgen Scheller an indication of prehistoric transhumance?, Vegetation History and

Archaeobotany 6, 235-239.

Allen, M. J., Gardiner, J., 2009. “If you go Down to the Woods Today: a re- evaluation of the chalkland postglacial woodland; implications for

prehistoric communities”, in M. J. Allen, Niall Sharples and Terry

O'Connor (eds), Land and People: papers in memory of John G. Evans,

49-66. Oxbow, for The Prehistoric Society.

Aptroot A., James, P. W., 2000. Monitoring Lichens on Monuments, in Nimis, P. L., Scheidegger, C., and Wolseley, P. A. (eds), Monitoring with Lichens Monitoring Lichens, NATO Science Series 4 Earth and Environmental Sciences, Vol 7, 239-254.

BaRAS, 2007. Archaeological Watching Brief along pipeline between Banwell (North Somerset) and Rowberrow (Somerset), Bristol and Region

Archaeological Services, unpublished client report No 1728/2007.

Barrett, John C., 1999. The Mythical Landscapes of the British Iron Age, in Ashmore, W., and Knapp, A. Bernard (eds), Archaeologies of Landscape:

Contemporary Perspectives, 253-265.

Bradley, R., 2003. A Life Less Ordinary: the Ritualization of the Domestic Sphere in Later Prehistoric Europe, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 13, 5-23.

Bradley, R., 2007. The Prehistory of Britain and Ireland, CUP.







Deforestation in

Mesolithic/Neolithic Britain, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 16(2), 133-












phenomenological archaeology in British prehistory, Archaeological

Dialogues 12 (1), 45-72.


Coates, R., 2009. Reflections on some Lincolnshire major place-names, Part 2: Ness wapentake to Yarborough, Journal of the English Place-

Name Society 41, 57-102.

Corcos, N. J., 2002. Churches as Pre-Historic Ritual Monuments: A Review and Phenomenological Perspective from Somerset, Assemblage 6 (unpaginated).

Corcos, N. J., 2002a. The Affinities and Antecedents of Medieval Settlement:

Topographical Perspectives from Three of the Somerset Hundreds, BAR

British Series, 337.

Corcos, N. J., Smisson, R. P., 2009. Prehistoric Standing Stones in Banwell, SANHS 152, 220-221.

Cummings, V., Whittle, A., 2003. Tombs with a view: landscape, monuments and trees, Antiquity 77, 255266.

Cummings, V., Whittle, A., 2004. Places of special virtue: megaliths in the Neolithic landscapes of Wales.

DEFRA, 1996. Monitoring of Raised Water Levels in the Somerset Levels and Moors ESA, 19891995: ADAS Report to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Darvill, T., 2002. White on Blonde: Quartz Pebbles and the Use of Quartz at Neolithic Monuments in the Isle of Man and Beyond, in Jones, A.,

MacGregor, G. (eds), Colouring the Past: The Significance of Colour in Archaeological Research, 73-91.

Davies, P., Haslett, S. K., Davies, C., Curr, R., Margaretts, T., King, C., 1998. Recent Sea-Level Studies in the Axe Valley, North Somerset Levels, NewsWARP (Newsletter of the Wetland Archaeological Research Project), 23, 9-14.


Dimbleby, G., 1967. Pollen analysis, in Tratman, E.K., The Priddy Circles, Mendip, Somerset, henge monuments, Proceedings of the University of

Bristol Spelaeological Society 11(2), 121-122.

Draper, S., 2009. Burh place-names in Anglo-Saxon England, Journal of the

English Place-Name Society 41, 103-118.

Evans, C., 1987. Nomads in 'Waterland'? Prehistoric Transhumance and

Fenland Archaeology, Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian

Society, 76, 27-39.

Fox, H. S. A. (ed), 1996. Seasonal Settlement: Papers Presented to a Meeting of the Medieval Settlement Research Group, Vaughan Paper 39, University

of Leicester, Dept. of English Local History.

Gelling, M., 1997. Signposts to the Past: Place-Names and the History of England

(3 rd edn), Phillimore.

Gillings, M., Pollard J., 1999-2000. Non-portable stone artefacts and contexts

of meaning: the tale of Grey Wether, in World Archaeology, 31(2), 179-


Green, G. W., Welch, F. B. A., 1965. Geology of the Country Around Wells and

Cheddar, Geological Survey of Great Britain, Memoir No. 280.

Griffith, F. M., 1986. Burh and Beorg in Devon, in Nomina, 10, 93-103

Grinsell, L. V., 1976. Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain.

Hale, M. E., 1967. The Biology of Lichens (First Edition), Arnold.

Hartnup, R., 1975. Soils in North Yorkshire, 2, Sheet SE36 (Boroughbridge).

Survey Record No. 30, Soil Survey of England and Wales.










Margetts, A. J., Scotney,

K. H., Thorpe, D. J., Williams, H. O., 2001. The changing estuarine environment in relation to Holocene sea-level and the archaeological implications, in Rippon, S. (ed), 2001, 35-53.


Haslett, S.K., Howard, K. L., Margetts, A. J., Davies, P., 2001a. Holocene stratigraphy and evolution of the northern coastal plain of the Somerset

Levels, UK, Proceedings of the Cotteswold Naturalists' Field Club 42, 78-


Haslett, S. K., Davies, P., Eales, C. P., Vowles, E. M., Williams, H. O., 2006. Variability in the Holocene lithostratigraphy of the Somerset Levels, UK, in Hunt, C. O., and Haslett S. K. (eds), The Quaternary of Somerset:

A Field Guide, Quaternary Research Association, 44-52.

Hawkings, H. J., 1965. A Possible Sea-Port in the Loxton Valley, in Search (Journal of the Banwell Archaeological Society), 5, 55.

Hawkings, H.

J., 1966.

A Roman Sea-Port in

Evidence, in Search, 6, 13-17, and 27.

the Loxton Valley New

Herring, P., 2008. Stepping Onto the Commons: South-Western Stone Rows, in Rainbird, P. (ed), Monuments in the Landscape, 79-88. Tempus.

Hooke, D., 2011. The Woodland Landscape of Early Medieval England, in Higham, H. J., and Ryan, M. J. (eds), Place-Names, Language and the Anglo-Saxon Landscape, 143-174. Boydell Press.

Hunt, J., 1954. Ancient Banwell (Part 1), in Journal of the Axbridge Caving

Group and Archaeological Society, 2:2, 25-30.

Hutton, R., 1991. The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy.

Kienlin, T. L., Valde-Nowak, P., 2002-2004. Neolithic Transhumance in the Black Forest Mountains, sw Germany, Journal of Field Archaeology 29,


Kreuz, A., 2008. Closed forest or open woodland as natural vegetation in the surroundings of Linearbandkeramik settlements?, Vegetation History

and Archaeobotany 17(1), 51-64.


Leahy, K., 2002. Middle Anglo-Saxon Lincolnshire: An Emerging Picture, in Pestell, T., and Ulmschneider, K. (eds), Markets in Early Medieval Europe:

Trading and ProductiveSites, 650-850, 138-166. Windgather Press.

Leech, R. H., 1978. Air Reconnaissance over Somerset Some Recent Results, SANHS 122, 57-78.

Leger, E. A., Forister, M. L., 2009. Colonisation, abundance, and geographic range size of gravestone lichens, Basic and Applied Ecology 10, 279-287.

Lennon, B., 2009. Lēah names in the Anglo-Saxon charters of Wiltshire,

Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 102, 175-187.

Lewis, J., 2007. Experiencing the Prehistoric Landscape of Somerset, in

Costen, M. (ed), People and Places: Essays in Honour of Mick Aston, 1-

22. Oxbow Books.

Lewis, J., 2011. On Top of the World: Mesolithic and Neolithic Use of the Mendip Hills, in Lewis, J. (ed), The Archaeology of Mendip, 93-117. History Press.

Lewis, J., forthcoming. “Excavations at the Yarborough Stone, and the Site of the Knoll Farm Stone, Banwell, North Somerset”.

Macklin, M. G., 1985. Flood plain sedimentation in the upper Axe Valley,

Mendip, England, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

(New Series), 10, 235-244.

Murphy, K., 1993. Plas Gogerddan, Dyfed: a multi-period burial and ritual site,

The Archaeological Journal, 149, 1-38.

Naiman, R. J., Décamps, H. (eds), 1990. The Ecology and Management of Aquatic-Terrestrial Ecotones, Man and the Biosphere 4, UNESCO.

Nash, G., 2008. Encoding a Neolithic Landscape: The Linearity of Burial Monuments along Strumble Head, South-west Wales, in Time and Mind:

The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, 1, 345-362.

Nash, G., Children, G., 2001. The prehistoric sites of Breconshire: ideology, power and monument symbolism.


Neale, F., 1976. Saxon and Medieval Landscapes, in R. Atthill (ed), Mendip:

A New Study, 75-101. David and Charles.

O'Brien, W., 2002. Megaliths in a mythologised landscape: South-west Ireland

in the Iron Age, in C. Scarre (ed), Monuments and Landscape in Atlantic Europe: perception and society during the Neolithic and Early Bronze

Age, 152-176.








phenomenologist?, Antiquity 77, 394-400.

Pryor, F., 1998. Farmers in Prehistoric Britain.

Rendell, S. and J., 1979. Banwell in the early 1700s, Search, 15, 61-66.

Rendell, S. and J., 1980. Banwell in the early 1700s, Search, 16, 43-46.

Rendell, S. and J., 1983. Banwell in the early 1700s, Search, 19, 77-81.

Richards, C., 1996. Henges and Water: Towards an Elemental Understanding of Monumentality and Landscape in Late Neolithic Britain, Journal of

Material Culture, 1(3), 313-336.

Rippon, S. (ed), 2001. Estuarine Archaeology: The Severn and Beyond,

Archaeology in the Severn Estuary, 11 (Severn Estuary Levels Research Committee, Annual Report).

Rippon, S., 2006. Landscape, Community and Colonisation: The North Somerset Levels during the 1 st to 2 nd millennia AD, CBA Research Report


Scarre, C., 2002. Situating Monuments: the dialogue between built form and landform in Atlantic Europe, in Scarre (ed), Monuments and Landscape

in Atlantic Europe: perception and society during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, 1-14.




Holtorf, C.




Archaeology and Folklore,

Theoretical Archaeology Research Group series.


Sharpe, K. E., 2007. Rock art and rough outs: exploring the sacred and social dimensions of prehistoric carvings at Copt Howe, in Mazel, A.; Nash,

G.; Waddington, C., (eds), Art as Metaphor: The Prehistoric Rock Art of

Britain, 151-174.

Simms, M. J., 2004. Tortoises and Hares: Dissolution, Erosion and Isostasy in

Landscape Evolution, Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 29, 477-


Tilley, C. Y., 1994. A Phenomenology of Landscape.

Tilley, C. Y., 2004. The Materiality of Stone: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology I.

Tilley, C. Y., 2007. The Neolithic sensory revolution: monumentality and the experience of landscape, in A. Whittle and V. Cummings (eds), Going

Over: The Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition in North-West Europe, 329-


British Academy.

Todd, M., 1995. Charterhouse on Mendip: Interim Report on Excavations in 1994, SANHS 138, 75-79.

Tongue, R. L., 1965. Somerset Folklore, edited by K. M. Briggs.

Ucko, P. J., Hunter, M., Clark, A J., David, A., 1991. Avebury reconsidered: from

the 1660s to the 1990s.

Valamoti, S. M., 2007. Detecting seasonal movement from animal dung: an investigation in Neolithic northern Greece, Antiquity 81, 1053-1064.

Vyner, B., 2007. A Great North Route in Neolithic and Bronze Age Yorkshire:

The Evidence of Landscape and Monuments, in Landscapes, 8(1), 69-84.

Walker, M. J., 1983. Laying a mega-myth: dolmens and drovers in prehistoric Spain, World Archaeology, 15 (1), 37-50.

Whitehouse, N. J., Smith, D., 2010. How fragmented was the British holocene wildwood? Perspectives on the 'Vera' grazing debate from the fossil beetle

record, Quaternary Science Reviews, 29, 539-553.


Williams, G., 1988. Standing Stones of