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Anyone who is not in the habit of attending the regular talks put on by the museum – you are missing something! Not just something, but many things.

High quality speakers, at the cutting edge of their areas of expertise, and sometimes talking about things which are a surprise to their audience.

Many of us present at Professor Richard Bradley’s talk on 25 May thought rock art was confined to Australia and the caves of France. Not so. Even those with some knowledge of it all will have been surprised by how much rock art is being discovered in Britain, and fascinated by Richard Bradley’s theories on it all.

The markings are usually concentric circles with associated dots or ‘cups’, sometimes spirals, often with ‘tails’ or lines which link parts of the overall image. That, in itself, is intriguing. What degree of collective thinking and communication was involved in the same markings appearing all over the country?

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Ketley

Archaeological excavation around the sites dates this art to between 3 000 and 2 000 BC. It is almost always found on high ground, ‘pecked’ into natural outcrops of rock which nevertheless are situated above prime grazing land. And, as Richard Bradley has discovered through careful observation, lined up with views of astronomical events (eg the setting summer sun) or significant geographical sites. One set of markings in the north west lines up with a natural break in the rock which in turn is a view of the peak above Britain’s most prolific prehistoric axe quarry. This is another intriguing fact. A survey of two thousand axes discovered all over the country shows that nearly thirty percent came from a single site – Langdale in Cumbria. More collective thinking and communication!

Not surprisingly, quartz was favoured as the ‘canvas’ for this work, giving off a glitter which is still effective today – thousands of years later.

New examples of this art are being found all the time.  As with all things archaeological, we will never have all the answers, but how exciting the questions are!

Rock art

Professor Richard Bradley

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