The Devil’s Arrows

Morning all,

I regularily try and drop in on the Devil’s Arrows at Boroughbridge I’m sure most of you are aware of them and possibly have visited them.

So here’s the thing, cup marks? are they or aren’t they?

I’ve been sat on the fence over this issue for a number of years and when I mention it to other rock art folk, I get the none commital “well, sort-of, hmmm, I see what you mean” attitude.

So I guess it’s time to come off the fence and maybe stimulate a debate.

I don’t think these marks have a natural origin

My reasons for questioning  this are;

  • That the ‘cups’ only occur from ground level to about 5-6- feet from the ground, ie. they are not uniform ,weathered features.
  • There are some ‘cups’ on the southern stone, none on the central stone and quite a few on the northern stone, therefore, again the distribution is not uniform, indicting that the origin may not be geological.
  • The distribution of ‘cups’ around the stones themselves is not uniform, the southern  faces of the southern and northern stone seem to be the face of choice
  • It is possible that many of these ‘cups’ could be caused by gunshot but again their distribution is not uniform across the stones both horizontically and vertically and no ‘cups’ to be seen over the 6 foot mark.  The size of the ‘cups’ also varies and the cups themselves are quite smooth and ‘cup-like’ in profile . 
  • This is an area where a prehistoric rock carving tradition exists.

I realise that this is not a watertight case for these ‘cups’ being prehistoric in origin and like I say, I’m just trying to stimulate a little debate.





7 Responses to The Devil’s Arrows

  1. Gavin says:

    “They are all pillars of a squarish shape, and said to be formed of millstone grit. Two of them are above twenty-two feet in height, and the third measures eighteen feet. Each at its upper part is deeply and vertically guttered, apparently by long weathering and exposure; and their lower portions show round, smooth, cup-like excavations upon some of their surfaces. The most northerly of these imposing monoliths is especially marked in this last way. Many, if not all, of these excavations, have probably been effected by the elements and weather; while some of them, which look more artificial, are of the same shape and form as those on the Kilmartin stones, etc. But unfortunately we have not here the presence of rings or circles around the cups to determine conclusively their artificial character.”

    Sir JY Simpson
    British Archaic Sculpturings.

  2. GraemeC says:

    yeah the ground water thing was a bit lame, but it is a recognised process in the deterioation of sandstone. probably wouldn’t create groups of cups in just one part of the stone.
    I doubt any of us would be suprised if there does turn out to be carvings on the devils arrows, they would not be the first marked standing stones A faint cup and ring would clinch it 🙂

  3. Geo Cur says:

    same cups , different light ?


  4. gavin says:

    Cheers for the replies
    Head vs Heart, yeh I know about that. I sat there staring at the stones thinking shall I say something, the more I looked the stronger my conviction grew.
    There is the faintest possibity of an eroded cup and ring on the western edge of the southern stone. You know the type, the highly eroded bisected doughnut effect.
    the drawing-up of groundwater is interesting, however I would expected to see some kind of frost-freeze effect similar to the exfoliation in the local ironstones and why not the central stone.
    who knows? and as you say Graeme, we probably never will.
    Flutes and cups is an interesting idea Rich, and photogrammetry could be interesting.
    What are the pics of George?


  5. Geo Cur says:

    Fitz , fwiw I’m still comfortably lolling over the fence and unlikely to wake , but do have other pics if they are any use .


  6. rockrich says:

    Gavin, you could also throw the Northumbrian Matfen and Swinburne standing stones + The Duddo Stones into the mix. They display similar flutiness and cuplike characteristics (…well –ish, from the images I’ve seen):

    hhhhmmm….thinking about it, I’m not sure this adds weight to either theory! Does it indicate there’s a tradition of carving cups on sedimentary uprights, or the tradition is all mother natures? If the former, are the cups even contemporary with the prehistoric erecting, or are they connected to later lore associated with the “Devil’s” bit?

    Re the Devils, I’ve only visited the southernmost stone and thought some depressions looked distinctly cuplike, others erosion-like and a few shot-like, but in varying degrees. My heart says ‘carved’, my head says ‘I’ll be buggered if I know’ 🙂

    If I get chance over the next few weeks, I’ll see what photogrammetry yields.

  7. GraemeC says:

    Not sure if you will get a definative answer to this one.
    if the marks are erosion – their occurance below a certain height might relate to ground water been drawn up within the fabric of the stone and affecting weak spots in the rock. (by disolving minerals which bind the rock particles together)

    I believe this happens to some old buildings.

    This might be enhanced on the southern face of the stones by the suns heat causing a damp and drying cycle?
    Personally i would like to think they are eroded cup marks, and have wondered if a night visit would show any hidden markings?

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