Into the Rock Art Groove; Long before Michelangelo, Rodin and Henry Moore Picked Up Their Chisels, Prehistoric Sculptors Were at Work in the North East Cutting Mysterious Carvings in Rocks. Many Are Still There Today, While New Discoveries Are Being Made by Amateur Archaeologists Such as Paul Brown. MIKE KELLY Spoke to Him

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Byline: MIKE KELLY

THERE'S nothing better than being caught between a rock and a hard place for husband and wife archaeologist team Paul and Barbara Brown.

They're not talking about any old rocks, but ones with carvings on dating back 4,000 years to the Neolithic period.

And, by a trick of geology, the North East is one of the best regions in the country to find them.

The term "rock art" is used to describe these prehistoric carvings. They range from simple circular hollows - known as cups - to complex combinations of cups, rings, grooves, spirals and chevrons. Some occupy spectacular locations in the landscape, while others are found on prehistoric stone monuments or in burial mounds. They were created by the Stone Age people who once lived in these lands, and around 2,500 carved surfaces or "panels" have been recorded in England over the last few centuries, many by a handful of dedicated antiquarians and specialist amateur archaeologists such as Paul and Barbara, as well as Graeme Chappell.

Paul and Graeme - with the help of Barbara - have recently updated their book Prehistoric Rock Art In The North York Moors, first published in 2005, which has proved a labour of love for them.

Paul said: "I met up with Graeme about 20 years ago.

"He had been looking in an area in the North Yorkshire Moors and we decided to do some surveys on Fylingdales, and we amassed quite a lot of information. We published our findings in a number of local journals before turning to a publisher." After the first book hit the shelves, their work continued with Paul, an electronic engineer by trade, his wife and Graeme spending much of their free time seeking out new sites and discovering more about the Stone Age people who left them. "A lot of them were farmers - immigrants from abroad - who brought this signing of the landscape with them," said Paul of Bishop Auckland, County Durham. "With the rock art we look at monuments. As well as looking at prehistoric monuments we look at standing stones, stone circles, even habitation sites. A lot of this is entirely gleaned from surveys done by community projects." In England, the carved stones tend to be found in clusters, with major concentrations in north Northumberland, on Barningham Moor and Gayle's Moor on the North Yorkshire/Durham border, on Rombald's Moor in West Yorkshire, and, as Paul and Graeme discovered, on Fylingdales Moor on the east coast of North Yorkshire. The meaning of these symbols is not known but they had significance to the Stone Age people who used the moors not only as a hunting ground but also as a place to bury their dead - there are literally thousands of cairns and barrows that cover the moors area. And many of these burial places included carved rocks. This northern distribution may be partly related to the underlying geology. Paul said: "The geology changes from sandstone and volcanic sediment rocks in the North to chalks and limestones down south. If they did mark them on chalks and limestone they would just erode away. "Other things which could have been marked are trees - they may have done a piece of leather on a tree but, of course, this wouldn't survive." However, there are occasional finds down south. Amazingly, one of them was just 40 years ago on Stonehenge, where carvings of axes were discovered following a laser survey. The meaning of rock art has become lost in the mists of time. No mention of it appears in the historical record until the late 17th century, when reference is first made to marks found on stones from the Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland. In England it was not until the 1820s that the cup and ring-style of rock art was first noted at Old Bewick Hill in Northumberland by John Charles Langlands and reported by the local antiquarian, George Tate. Many theories have since been put forward to account for the carvings, but no one has been able to unlock their secrets. Dating rock art precisely is extremely difficult, but researchers now believe that it is rooted firmly in the Neolithic about 4,000 to 6,000 years ago. …