Heritage Expert Is Rocked by a Big Birthday Surprise

Article excerpt

Byline: TONY HENDERSON

FOR more than 40 years, Stan Beckensall beavered away alone in often remote parts of the Northumbrian landscape, finding and recording prehistoric rock art.

But, last weekend, Stan had plenty of company. To mark his 80th birthday, a public conference on rock art had been arranged at the Queen's Hall in Hexham.

The event, in Stan's home town, also celebrated his decades of work on the mysterious rock cup and ring patterns, which are at least 4,000 years old.

Around 130 people attended, plus a line-up of top speakers on the subject.

And it was all a surprise to Stan who, when he left home, had been told he was going to have lunch with his daughter in Alnwick.

"I had no idea what had been planned. It was incredible. People had come from all over Britain," says Stan. "It was brilliant and I was quite overwhelmed."

The conference focused on Stan's achievement in turning the study of rock art into a mainstream academic and archaeological subject.

It was a far cry from the years when Stan worked very much by himself in locating rock art sites in Northumberland, taking photographs and rubbings, making drawings and recording details.

He had become interested in archaeology while teaching in Sussex and had taken part in excavations.

Teaching abroad saw his interest further captured by the rock art spirals in Malta. When he returned to the UK to work at Alnwick teacher training college in the 1960s, he came across his first Northumberland rock art at Old Bewick.

"It posed the question of what are these things? I became very interested indeed," says Stan, who was later headmaster at Rothbury Middle School.

"It started from there. I began to look around and I found a lot more."

In 1974, he produced his first rock art book - the first of around 15 he has written on the subject. He has now recorded about 1,500 examples of rock art in Northumberland.

He says: "It started as a solitary thing. It was a Cinderella subject and I was doing it myself. It wasn't regarded as respectable by archaeologists because they didn't understand it.

"It didn't have the kudos of excavating a Roman fort. If you found a panel of rock art in the middle of nowhere, there was very little you could latch on to. …

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