Astronomical Rock Art at Stoupe Brow, Fylingdales

first published 28 October 2016

I recently came across Rock Art and Ritual by Brian Smith and Alan Walker, (subtitled Interpreting the Prehistoric landscapes of the North York Moors. Stroud: History Press 2008. 38.). It tells the story: Following a wildfire of many square miles of the North Yorkshire Moors, thought ecologically devastating, those interested in its few decorated stones headed out to see how these antiquities had fared.


Fire had revealed many more stones carrying rock art or in organised groups. An urgent archaeological effort would be required before the inevitable regrowth of vegetation.

Figure 1 Neolithic stone from Fylingdales Moor | Credit: Graham Lee, North York Moors National Park Authority.

A photo of one stone in particular attracted my attention, at a site called Stoupe Brow (a.k.a. Brow Moor) near Fylingdales, North Yorkshire.

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Lunar Counting from Crucuno Dolmen to its Rectangle

Figure 1 The entrance of Crucuno’s cromlech, which opens to the south-east
[Summer Solstice, 2007]

It is not immediately obvious the Crucuno dolmen (figure 1) faces the Crucuno rectangle about 1100 feet to the east. The role of dolmen appears to be to mark the beginning of a count. At Carnac’s Alignments there are large cromlechs initiating and terminating the stone rows which, more explicitly, appear like counts. The only (surviving) intermediate stone lies 216 feet from the dolmen, within a garden and hard-up to another building, as with the dolmen (see figure 2). This length is interesting since it is twice the longest inner dimension of the Crucuno rectangle, implying that lessons learned in interpreting the rectangle might usefully apply when interpreting the distance at which this outlier was placed from the dolmen. Most obviously, the rectangle is 4 x 27 feet wide and so the outlier is 8 x 27 feet from the dolmen.

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Educating Megalith Builders at Crucuno rectangle

Around Carnac in Brittany the land is peppered with uniquely-formed megalithic designs. In contrast, Great Britain’s surviving monuments are largely standing stones and stone circles. One might explain this as early experimentation at Carnac followed by a well-organised set of methods and means in Britain. What these experiments near Carnac were concerned with is contentious, there being no appetite, in many parts of society, for a prehistory of high-achieving geometers and exact scientists. Part of the problem is that pioneers interpreting monuments are themselves hampered by their own preferences. Once Alexander Thom had found the megalithic yard as a likely building unit, he tended to use that measure to the exclusion of other known metrological systems (see A.E. Berriman’s Historical Metrology. Similarly, John Neal’s breakthrough in All Done With Mirrors, having found the foot we still use to be the cornerstone of ancient metrology, led to his ambivalent relationship to the megalithic yard. Neal’s interpretation of the Crucuno rectangle employs a highly variable set of megalithic yards, perhaps missing the simpler point, that his foot-based metrology is supported as present within the dimensions of the Crucuno rectangle; said by Thom to be a “symbolic observatory” of the sun: this monument was an educational device, in which Neal finds the geometry of “squaring the circle” which, as we see later, was probably the Rectangle’s main metrological meaning.

Figure 1 Alexander Thom’s survey of Crucuno Rectangle by Alexander Thom, see MRBB, 1978,   19   & 175-176
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