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Rock Art

Rock Art

There is currently a modicum of debate in the archaeological world with regards to the question of art and how early it came to Britain. Linked with this discussion there are also those who have found what they consider to be examples of what only could be described as ‘prehistoric sculpture’. Or in other words rocks, stones and pebbles that it is claimed have deliberately been fashioned by the hand of early man. There is one website in particular that has been the subject of much lambasting and mirth on the Britarch discussion board. Mainly because the author shows photos of rocks and pebbles that do or could resemble various animals, birds and human faces which it is claimed date back to the Lower Palaeolithic period (500,000 – 130,000 BP). Not only is it claimed they are that early but early man made the ‘sculptures’, sadly of which there is no contextual evidence of any kind. To be honest I think you may need at bottle or two of whisky to see many of the suggested subjects on the stones. If you want to see for yourself what I am prattling on about you can find the above mentioned website – HERE

Yeah, yeah, so what? Well coincidentally I then received a totally unrelated email from Neil Beattie asking if I had ever heard of the ‘Neanderthal Man’ on North Hessary Tor and attached to the email was the following photograph:

Rock Art

Photograph courtesy of Neil Beattie

As can be seen there is definitely a profile of an early human-like face on the end of the outcrop. I certainly have never noticed it or heard mention of it, so thanks Neil for sending it in. This then brought back a vague recollection of a comment Eric Hemery made in his book High Dartmoor (1987, p. 336) where when discussing Fox Tor he made the following remark:

“… while the southern pile, the point of the triangle, possesses an object of great interest in the fallen summit-rock that bears on its surface two large basins like eye-sockets in the skull of a mammoth…”

Sadly I have lost my photograph of the rock but I clearly remember seeing the ‘Mammoth’s Skull’ and even picking up a letterbox associated with it:

Certainly the early antiquarians saw many of these rock sculptors and suggested that they were fashioned and worshipped by the Druids and named them ‘rock idols’. When one thinks of such instances there are quite a few Dartmoor tors and rocks where various people have seen certain likenesses. Some are noted ‘rock idols’ and others simply good likenesses of animals, birds or everyday objects, for example:

Name Grid Ref   Name Grid Ref
BATCH LOAVES, THE SX 7125 7147   DRUIDS CHAIR, THE SX 533     735
BEAST OF LONGAFORD SX 616 779   ELEPHANT, THE SX 67?? 82??
BOTTOR’S NOSE SX 8253 8016   FLOCK O’ SHEEP SX 628     907
BOWERMAN’S NOSE SX 7414 8047   HECKWOOD HAG SX 537 738
BRANSCOMBE’S CHEESE SX 5520 8914   HOBB’S NOSE SX 6807 6371
BRANSCOMBE’S LOAF SX 5520 8915   LOW MAN, THE SX 7570 7705
COMBESHEAD TOR CROC SX 5875 6882   MAMMOTHS’ SKULL, THE SX 62?? 91??
DEVIL’S CAULDRON, THE SX 5085 8457   MAMMOTHS’ SKULL, THE SX 626? 698?
DEVIL’S FRYING PAN SX 5630 7687   MRS BRAY’S WASH BASIN SX 5579 7525
DEVIL’S PUNCH BOWL, THE SX 6420 7995   PARSONS BROWN LOAF SX 7799 8131
CAMEL, THE SX 5680 8800   ROUND OF BEEF SX 7574 8206
CROW TOR SX 6070 7871   SHAVERCOMBE DOG SX ???? ????
CUCKOO ROCK SX 5848 6871   SPHINX, THE SX 542     742
CUCKOO ROCK SX 6383 6014   SPHINX, THE SX 580     875
CUCKOO STONE, THE SX 6530 8868   WATERN WALTER SX 6290 8686
DRUIDS ALTAR, THE SX 78?? 85??   WINNEY’S DOWN FISH SX 62? 81?

Call them naturally formed or shaped by the hand of man, either way the above have gone into the place-name history of Dartmoor. Dare I suggest that there is now a new one – ‘The Neanderthal of North Hessary Tor’. It would be nice to start a collection of such rock features so if anyone has similar examples please send them in and I will start a gallery for the good ones – Many thanks to Sam and Rose Mulligan for starting this off with the ‘fish’ and the ‘beast’. Thanks to Jason of the ‘Mad Box Hunters’ for two more additions; The Shavercombe Dog and the Combeshead Croc

Rock Art

 

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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