Ancient Monuments

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Prehistoric cairnfield on Birkby Fell, 360m south east of Raven Crag

A Scheduled Monument in Muncaster, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.3595 / 54°21'34"N

Longitude: -3.3295 / 3°19'46"W

OS Eastings: 313701.692306

OS Northings: 496807.271103

OS Grid: SD137968

Mapcode National: GBR 5L51.Z0

Mapcode Global: WH718.TPQB

Entry Name: Prehistoric cairnfield on Birkby Fell, 360m south east of Raven Crag

Scheduled Date: 24 November 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019433

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32868

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Muncaster

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Muncaster St Michael

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


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.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

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
nationally important.

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.

Source: Historic England


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

Source: Historic England

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