Prehistoric cairnfield on Birkby Fell, 360m south east of Raven Crag
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1019433
Date first listed: 24-Nov-2000
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This copy shows the entry on 18-Feb-2019 at 22:25:44.
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Copeland (District Authority)
National Park: LAKE DISTRICT
National Grid Reference: SD 13707 96784
Reasons for Designation
The Cumbrian uplands comprise large areas of remote mountainous terrain, much
of which is largely open fellside. As a result of archaeological surveys
between 1980 and 1990 within the Lake District National Park, these fells have
become one of the best recorded upland areas in England. On the open fells
there is sufficient well preserved and understood evidence over extensive
areas for human exploitation of these uplands from the Neolithic to the post-
medieval period. On the enclosed land and within forestry the archaeological
remains are fragmentary, but they survive sufficiently well to show that human
activity extended beyond the confines of the open fells. Bronze Age activity
accounts for the most extensive use of the area, and evidence for it includes
some of the largest and best preserved field systems and cairn fields in
England, as well as settlement sites, numerous burial monuments, stone circles
and other ceremonial remains. Taken together, their remains can provide a
detailed insight into life in the later prehistoric period. Of additional
importance is the well-preserved and often visible relationship between the
remains of earlier and later periods, since this provides an understanding of
changes in land use through time. Because of their rarity in a national
context, excellent state of preservation and inter-connections, most
prehistoric monuments on the Lake District fells will be identified as
Cairnfields are concentrations of cairns sited in close proximity to one another. They often consist largely of clearance cairns, built with stone cleared from the surrounding landsurface to improve its use for agriculture, and on occasion their distribution pattern can be seen to define field plots. They were constructed from the Neolithic period (from about 3400 BC) although the majority of examples appear to be the result of field clearance which began during the Bronze Age (2000-700 BC). The considerable longevity and variation in the size, content and associations of cairnfields provide important information on the development of land use and agricultural practices. Cairnfields also retain information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisation during the prehistoric period. The prehistoric cairnfield on Birkby Fell 360m south east of Raven Crag survives reasonably well and forms part of a large area of well-preserved prehistoric landscape extending along the fellsides of south west Cumbria. In conjunction with a wide range of other prehistoric remains in the vicinity it provides evidence of long term management and exploitation of this area in prehistoric times.
The monument includes a prehistoric cairnfield located on the northern slopes
of Birkby Fell 360m south east of the summit of Raven Crag. It represents
Bronze Age exploitation of this landscape and includes a small number of stone
banks and approximately 70 circular and oval-shaped clearance cairns up to a
maximum of 0.7m high. The circular cairns measure between 1.7m to 6.8m in
diameter while the oval-shaped cairns measure between 4m to 9.4m long by 2.8m
to 5.7m wide. Some of the cairns have been disturbed by later ploughing while
the absence of cairns in the vicinity of a modern wall suggests that the
surface remains of cairns in this area have been robbed to provide material
for the wall. Pollen cores taken from the sediments of nearby Devoke Water
have revealed the changing vegetational history of this area over the last
5000 years and show episodes of forest clearance and a development of
grassland during the prehistoric period. During one of these episodes most
trees were cut down and were soon replaced by extensive grassland. This
clearance is associated with the Bronze Age on the basis of its similarity to
a clearance episode from Seathwaite Tarn 9km to the east, which has been
scientifically dated to around 1000 BC
The wall on the cairnfield's south western side is excluded from the
scheduling although the ground beneath it is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 32868
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Leech, R, Birkby Fell Survey Catalogue, (1983)
Quartermaine, J, Leech, R H, Upland Settlement of the Lake District: Result of Recent Surveys, (1997), 60-73
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing