Examples in the North East of some of the earliest art in Britain have won national recognition.
Seventeen of the mysterious cup and ring carvings in Northumberland have been scheduled as Ancient Monuments by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport following advice from English Heritage, drawing on the work of volunteers in the region.
The carvings were created in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age, around 3800 BC to 1500 BC. The 17 newly designated sites are considered to be particularly well preserved examples, displaying a wide range of motifs.
At Ketley Crag, near Chatton, the stone base of a rock shelter has been extensively carved with a complex and fluid range of motifs, complete with well preserved pick marks made by the instrument used to make the carvings.
Some of the other rock art sites added to the National Heritage List for England are a panel at Whitsunbank and a group of panels in Buttony, near Doddington Moor, displaying a variety of carvings ranging from cups and rings to the more unusual circular grooves and rosette forms.
Also included are a group of panels on Doddington Moor, a panel in Heddon Hill, panels on Weetwood Moor, Amerside Law, and Howden Hill, and two sites - Lemmington Wood and Goatscrag rock shelter - which prehistoric carvings alongside carvings from a different period.
The sites were scheduled based on information gathered by the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project, involving around 100 volunteers, supported by English Heritage.
Designation team leader in the North, Nick Bridgland said: “These examples of rock art from the Neolithic and Bronze ages have been scheduled because they are reasonably well preserved and studying their individual carvings and motifs will enhance our knowledge of prehistoric society.”
The recognition is also reward for decades of effort by retired Hexham headmaster Stan Beckensall who recorded hundreds of rock art examples on numerous trips into often remote countryside.
In 2012 to mark his 80th birthday, a public conference on rock art was held at the Queen’s Hall in Hexham in his honour.
In 1974, he produced his first rock art book
It was the first of around 15 he has written on the subject.
For the last 10 years Stan has worked with Dr Aron Mazel, director of the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University.
Stan’s findings have formed the base for a university rock art website.
Dr Mazel said yesterday: “The scheduling is good news because it marks the increasing recognition of the importance of these carvings to the ancient history of Britain.
It is also brilliant for Northumberland and the North East because the heritage focus tends to be on the south of England.
“The rock art is hugely important as a physical manifestation of the people who lived here thousands of years ago.”