I had an excellent guided trip out to the wild and windy Ilkley Moor on Tuesday, kindly arranged and shown some of the fantastic prehistoric archaeology by Richard Stroud, who has coordinated several rock art surveying projects across the country over the last few years,connected to the England’s Rock Art initiative (see http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/era/ for more details and lots of good info on these fascinating ancient carvings).
Ilkley Moor was surveyed by a team of volunteers as part of the Rombalds Moor Carved Stone Investigations project, run by Richard between 2011-13. He showed me a fraction of the examples that were recorded by the dedicated team, including many of the familiar cup and ring marks, in addition to some more unusual markings. The precise dates of such carvings are very uncertain, as they were produced for a considerable period of time, between the Neolithic and Iron Age.
We walked through several prehistoric enclosures, of either Bronze Age or Iron Age date, much of which are still clearly defined by low stone walls and embankments, and explored cairn fields, including the spectacularly vast (and disproportionately named) Little Skirtful of Stones (see top image with me for scale) and the even larger Great Skirtful of Stones cairns. It is amazing to think that so little of this landscape has been excavated, though it is full of ancient monuments.
It struck me how at risk and exposed some of these sites are, and how visitors must be particularly careful when examining rock art, as several panels we saw were deliberately uncovered from the protective layer of vegetation that has kept them in a stable condition for many years. It is known that even seemingly small changes like this can have adverse effects on the way water affects the stone, making them more susceptible to weathering.
Ilkley Moor is a dramatic landscape to explore, and I do recommend going to explore it, but we all need to take care of the site and its archaeology to make sure it survives so it can still be enjoyed in the future.