If you had participated on one of Sidney Jackson’s walks across an upland area near Bradford he certainly would have pointed out to you any cup and ring marked stones (petroglyphs or inscribed stones) that you passed. In this article I have included a beautiful drawing SJ made of such a stone on High Moor, near Keighley and two of my photographs of well-known examples on Baildon Moor. I must be honest and say that I am in a minority but I don’t share the enthusiasm that many people evidently feel for these objects. My main interest is in Industrial Archaeology so that I visit Baildon Moor for its treasure house of quarries and coal shafts rather than insights into pre-history. There is an inscribed stone quite near in Northcliffe Woods but its main value to me is to indicate that a glacial erratic gritstone boulder has been on the surface in this position for 4000 years.
Inscribed stones, which are still commonly called cup and ring marked stones, are founded all over upland Britain. There must be scores in the Bradford area alone and I have personally seen them as far north as Shetland. They are certainly found in most other parts of Atlantic Europe, and also in Italy and Greece. Whether they were ever found in lowland areas I am not sure. Perhaps in such locations they would not have survived several millennia of agricultural practices. The dramatic changes to the landscape means that stones found on bleak upland areas today might well have been created in warmer wooded conditions. Dating unreadable inscriptions clearly presents difficulties but inscribed stones are generally regarded as Neolithic or Early Bronze Age in date, say 4000-2000 BCE.
Creating them by ‘pecking’ out material from the naturally occurring rock faces would not have been too difficult but remember that we may not be seeing the stones in their original form. There would be a degree of subsequent natural weathering in any case. SJ reports moving one on Baildon Moor to protect it, and one of his correspondents reports using modern tools to make the marks more obvious. Please never undertake either of such actions. The meaning of the carvings is not known although there have been many speculations: territory markers, memorials, star-maps? Could they really have had the same meaning throughout the extensive areas of Europe in which they are found?
The meaning of the carvings is not the only mystery. The great archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler spent part of his boyhood in Bradford. In his autobiography, Still Digging, he mentioned being taken by his father to see a cup and ring marked stone in Hirst Wood, Shipley. He even wrote to the Archaeology Group Bulletin in February 1964 to confirm his memory. This would have been before the Great War but it is disappointing to report that nobody, including Sidney Jackson, has ever been able to find it since. But the truth is out there.