The Prehistory Section
The Society organises a winter programme from September to March

Lower Gorple Reservoir

Midgley Moor

See gallery for more images, and extended captions

For some years now a small group of friends has been exploring the evidence for prehistoric activity in the South Pennines, roughly from the M62 up to the Stanbury-Colne road and from the main Pennine watershed in the west across to the urban fringe in the east. There is no particular prehistoric or archaeological significance in these boundaries, this is simply the present extent of our fieldwork.

Bibliography for this South Pennines Prehistory Section

The Ridge Rough Project report: An archaeological investigation of features on Ridge Rough, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire - November 2014 to August 2015: Excavation Report by D Shepherd, F Jolley, K Gibson of the South Pennine Archaeology Network. Download report (Dec 2015)

Variations on a Theme: An Account of some possible Kerbed Boulders in the South Pennines and Cumbria by David Shepherd. Download report (Dec 2015)

Update: September 2019

A riveting summary of the Ancient DNA Project by Professor Ian Armit (Bradford) was presented to the Prehistoric Society in the Autumn. Techniques for examining DNA have progressed so far that secure results are now possible from a huge range of ancient human remains. More results are emerging all the time. Essentially, it seems that the Neolithic population of these islands was replaced by Bronze Age newcomers. There is no evidence of any kind of warlike invasion, rather it seems that the Bronze Age folk, originating in the European steppe, carried a pneumonic plague virus, to which the people already here had no immunity. It looks as though settlers moved into a largely unpopulated landscape.

Locally, it appears that rather than a gradual change from mobile hunting to settled farming, as ideas and techniques spread, there is a new population with different beliefs and conceptions of the world. For iconic sites like Stonehenge, where there is evidence of continuous Neo/BA use, we now need to look at repurposing. This applies similarly to sites in Calderdale where the Neolithic is elusive but the Bronze Age presence is clear. Sorting out what was going on is our present preoccupation. We’re involved with excavations of Mesolithic sites on the western side of the Pennine watershed and comparisons with material from 'our' east side are continuing. This has been left vague as there are 'treasure hunters' out there and unrecorded Mesolithic material does crop up on eBay...

We have been giving continuing support to a PhD student undertaking fieldwork in Wharfedale.

We await a disastrous drought to press on with the possible Mesolithic tent rings located at one of our local reservoirs. Essentially we need better-preserved examples for comparison and radio-carbon dating.

Other visits have included the annual Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Student Symposium, where doctoral students give progress reports. Details of the 12+ fascinating papers from across Europe, see this website. Recent work at Victoria Cave above Settle was presented by Dr Phil Murphy (Leeds) at a meeting of Leeds Geological Association. The cave contains a unique succession of sediments such that 13 Ice Ages have now been distinguished, and relate our local climate to the global climate variations displayed in ice cores from Greenland. This succession of cave deposits was used in the C19 by Tiddeman to prove that ice ages were cyclical - ground-breaking stuff then; he was a near contemporary of Darwin. There are other caves with similar succession still to be examined.

Here in Calderdale there are sites that might reveal the activities of Upper Palaeolithic hunters following the movements of reindeer as the last ice age was ending. Sadly these lie on grouse moors where we are not welcome.

Update: Autumn 2018

Meetings and conferences attended since the turn of the year:

  • Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Research Students Symposium at Preston
  • The British Rock Art Group Annual Meeting at Ilkley.
  • The Prehistoric Society Europa Conference at York.
  • A talk on Yorkshire Henges presented to the Yorkshire Archaeological Society at Leeds.

As a part of our continuing link with Aaron Watson, mainly pursuing the thread of 'ambiguous archaeology', we spent a day at a fascinating excavation around the rock art at Copt Howe in Langdale directed by Aaron and Richard Bradley (Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Reading and one of the most important prehistorians in Europe).

Those interested might do best to Google any of the above, my summary would be inadequate. Other search engines are available.

Our attention was drawn to a report of a possible orthostatic wall near Norland by Calderdale Council with a view to advice about restoration.

John Billingsley drew our attention to his neighbour's curious balls.

Local fieldwork has been limited by time, weather and illness/injury, but we have high hopes of reservoir water levels falling further...

Fieldwork in Cornwall focused on propped stones on West Penwith and Bodmin moors. They are just like the propped stones found in the South Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales and two papers will appear later in the year. Details of local examples have been uploaded to Megalithic Portal.

Three talks were delivered, to Midgley and Mytholmroyd Historical Societies and to Halifax Antiquarians.

Unfortunately the backlog of images to upload to the HBLHS site has yet to be addressed. Dave Shepherd

Update: Autumn 2017

Thus far this year we have attended meetings in Saddleworth, Skipton and London: hearing Andy Myers (Greater Manchester Archaeology Service) speak on the Mesolithic in the North West; Mary Saunders (University of Bradford) describing her work on the Grassington field systems; and a Prehistoric Society conference hosted by the Society of Antiquaries, with the theme Uplands and Lowlands, where national and international speakers spoke to issues around the influence of landscape on prehistoric activity.

We have continued our informal series of 'exchange walks' where we, and archaeologists concerned principally with Rombalds Moor, the Dales and Cumbria lead each other around 'highlights' of our home areas.

Fieldwork in Calderdale has been somewhat constrained by high reservoir levels, since two lines of current enquiry need access to the exposed valley sides. An unusual cup-marked stone has been recovered and recorded in 3D. It is now archived at Birchcliffe.

Dave Shepherd

Update Spring 2017

Members of the prehistory section have worked with Calderdale Museum Service to set up the Widdop from 6000 BC Exhibition in Heptonstall Museum. Descriptive panels and artifacts in the display cabinet inform visitors regarding the occupation of the Widdop area from 6000 BC to the nineteenth century. The exhibition complements other items on display in the Museum that depicts Calderdale life. Jeff Wilkinson co-ordinated the setting up of the display on behalf of the Calderdale Museum Service. The exhibition opened on 4th March and continues on weekends and Bank Holidays until 29th October.

Museum opening times are from 11:0 am to 4:00 pm. All the display panels were created and provided by the Hebden Bridge Local History Society.


Orthostat walling at Rishworth recently surveyed
by the section (Brian Howcroft)

2014 Report from David Shepherd and Brian Howcroft

2013 Report from David Shepherd

Updates 2015

Updates 2011-2012

Updates to 2007 - 2010

2008 update

2007 update

Autumn 2021 newsletter

Download Newsletter

Family History

The group runs a popular programme of workshops and drop-in sessions at the Birchcliffe Centre

Churn Milk Joan

Upper Calderdale's suitability for the preservation of local cultural tradition is nowhere shown as strongly as in its wealth of folk tales about places, many of which are still being passed on by word of mouth.

Midgley Moor

For some years now a small group of friends has been exploring the evidence for prehistoric activity in the South Pennines.