Cock o’ the North

Ok, I known it’s a name more usually associated with the much smaller Brambling but I thought it suited this cock grouse guarding its territory. A territory which includes the pre-historic cairn cemetery and earthworks of Great Ayton Moor.

The centrepiece is undoubtedly a Neolithic chambered cairn upon which the grouse is perched. It comprises eight large flat stones leaning together with a headstone forming a chamber now filled in. When it was excavated in the 1960s, no skeletal remains were found but given the acid conditions that is not surprising. Various pottery shards, and flint and stone objects were found, but it was pollen analysis that helped date the site to the Neolithic. A linear bank to the south-west and an oval enclosure to the north-east is also attributed to this period.

Neolithic sites are rare on the North York Moors with less than a handful being definitely definitive of this period.

The cairn is within an area of moorland which is rich in prehistoric features. Bronze Age ring cairns, round barrows and clearance cairns abound and there is an Iron Age enclosure 500m to the east. Looking now from the 21st-century it is easy to forget that when these features were built, the chambered cairn had already been an established part of the landscape for perhaps a thousand years.

The Neolithic is the period of the first farmers, when animals such as cattle and sheep were being domesticated and cereal crops such as wheat and barley planted. A more settled way of life when pottery was first used and more permanent funerary customs such as chambered cairns.

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