Great Tosson : Neolithic (c. 5000 BC – c. 2000 BC)
The Rothbury area contains one of the most concentrated series of rock motifs, or cup and ring marks as they are commonly known, in Northumberland (Beckensall 1992, 13). Cup and ring marks are a type of prehistoric art that takes the form of distinctive cup-shaped hollows and lines, spirals or rings pecked and ground into boulders and outcrops. They are commonest on the sandstone uplands of Northumberland, though volcanic examples are known to exist.
The cup-marked stones from Alnham Northfield (NT 985 116), and West Hill, Kirknewton (NT 912292) are of Cheviot andesite, and it is probable that other volcanic cup and ring marked stones await discovery. On the Fell sandstones east of the Tosson study area, particular concentrations are known around Lordenshaw (NZ 061991) and Garleigh Moor (NZ 060995). Within the study area, the large cairn excavated on the northern slopes of Ravensheugh (NZ 017991), contained a slab incised with four cup marks.
The context of this find, as part of stone slab-lined burial chamber or cist of probable Bronze Age date, suggests that the slab was removed from its original location for re-use inside the cairn, and the carvings were made some time before, perhaps in the Neolithic period.
Cup and ring marks are known to have been in existence in some parts of the British Isles by 3200 BC (Earlier Neolithic), and they continue to be used in varying contexts until around 1800 BC (Middle Bronze Age). They are rarely found in isolation, but more usually occur in areas where there are other prehistoric monuments such as cairns and hillforts.
While the significance of these rock motifs is unknown, they are often found at high altitude, on outcrops commanding extensive views. It has been suggested that they may have been used to define particular territories, such as clearings and woodland glades, perhaps indicating religious or cult significance (Waddington 1998, 35). The cluster of rock motifs around Lordenshaw may be associated with prehistoric territories focussed around important tracks and droveways from the uplands down to the crossing places of the River Coquet (Beckensall 1992, 21).
Though recognisable Neolithic monuments are lacking in the study area, and rock art is difficult to date precisely, the occurrence of re-used cup-marked slabs such as at Ravensheugh in Earlier Bronze Age contexts does suggest that there was a significant Neolithic presence in the Simonside Hills. It may be that the Coquet valley, like the Till valley in north Northumberland (Waddington 1999) was at least semi-permanently settled by the end of the Neolithic.