Curious Pits of Cockle Scar

Cockle Scar is the distinctive escarpment half way up Roseberry.  It extends about the 200m contour from Newton Wood to the promontory at the northern tip of the hill. Along it there are approximately 40 pits of up to 50 feet in diameter and 3 to 6 feet deep. No one has come up with an explanation when and why they were dug. For they are most certainly man made. The pits are in a long line along the edge of the scar with a cluster on the promontory.

No excavations have been formally done but no less a person than Sir Alfred Pease (1857-1939) recounted digging flints and arrowheads out of the pits when he was a young lad.

Various theories have been proposed:

  • Mineral extraction
  • Pre-historic dwellings
  • Temporary shelters for tending summer grazing
  • Defensive
  • Ritual

All these have their problems. With mineral extraction, the geologists tell us that there is no stone of any value at this level. The Staithes sandstone which the scar comprises is too poor a quality for use as a building material and is 35m lower than the ironstone and jet layers. I guess pre-historic man could have been exploring for these rocks but then why dig so many pits so close to each other. As far as habitation is concerned a settlement on the scar would be in a very exposed position subject to the full force of north easterlies sweeping off the North Sea. Temporary summer dwellings seem more believable. Similar perhaps to the Scottish shielings. Defensive just doesn’t gel. What were they defending? I can understand a hill fort surrounding a flattish area that the local folk could retreat to. A lookout I get but again why so many?

Which leaves us with ritual. The archaeologists’ fall back. Maybe the pits had something to do with Roseberry being a holy mountain. The domain of shamans ‘protecting’ the hill. Or maybe the clue lies in the name, Cockle Scar. Cockle is derived from the French word coquille for a shell and we know the strata contains fossils in the form of ammonites. So maybe, just maybe, prehistoric man was looking for ammonites which would probably have had some ceremonial importance. Or have I begun to delve too much into fantasy.

Cockle Scar map


3 thoughts on “Curious Pits of Cockle Scar”

  1. Interesting stuff. Not really thought much about these ‘British Dwellings’ but perhaps they formed some sort of boundary ritual or practical.
    There is a double embanked pit alignment on Danby Low Moor to the north of the beacon which nowadays is viewed having been some sort of boundary. It shows up very nicely on Google Maps.,-0.8606183,371m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en
    To the south of the pits are 3 Bronze Age burial mounds and between the 2 prehistoric monuments 4 WW2 bomb craters.


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