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Gamelands embanked stone circle. A distant view looking down on Gamelands stone circle from the limestone ridge to the north of the site. Photo by Douglas Mitcham © YDNPA.

Gamelands – final results of a community archaeology project

Monday 25 March, 2024, by Douglas Mitcham

Gamelands, an embanked stone circle in Cumbria, is a prehistoric monument which likely dates from the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age period (c.2,900 BC to 1,600 BC). It is also a designated Scheduled Monument, meaning it is legally protected against any disturbance or change. Gamelands was the focus of one of the cultural heritage projects undertaken as part of the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership. The work focused on carrying out non-invasive surveys of Gamelands as a community archaeology project. This included undertaking a new earthwork survey of the site, providing an opportunity to engage and teach volunteers to undertake archaeological survey work. Geophysical surveys were also undertaken as part of the project both by a contractor and Lunesdale Archaeology Society.

The purpose of the survey was both to re-assess the condition of the site, to look at what might have changed since the original survey in 1880, as well as to further investigate the site to see if we could learn anything new. We also hoped it would allow a better understanding of the site in terms of its immediate landscape context.  You can read our previous blog about undertaking some of the fieldwork on the site here.

In this blog, we will take a brief look at some of the final results of the work focusing on the earthwork survey. The original survey was undertaken in September 1880. It was published in the Cumbria and Westmorland Archaeological and Antiquarian Society (CWAAS) Transactions first by F. Bland and later by R.S. Ferguson along with a short article. You can access both of these online (Bland 1881; Ferguson 1883). It recorded the stones of the circle, a short section of a nearby wall and several hollows thought to be former stone sockets.

Whilst Gamelands is classified as an embanked stone circle, there is little visible sign of this bank now remaining. One of the more significant results of the new earthwork survey was to identify some very slight remnants of the former bank of the stone circle. During the course of the survey work these more subtle traces began to be recognised at the site, that are not readily apparent when first visiting. There are a number of slight traces of a former bank around the circumference of the circle (figures 1 and 2). But these are very difficult to see on the ground. In places, there is just a very slight bank remnant, with a slope on the inside and outside of the stones outlining its profile. These exist only in a few short segments, whilst in other areas there is just a slight slope on one side of the stones. The discontinuous nature of these bank remnants is likely a result of erosion and their truncation over time, although it is possible this may have been by design. Being able to see them partly depends on light conditions and the extent of vegetation growth.

Partial view of the northern arc of Gamelands stone circle, showing slight traces of its former bank.
Figure 1: Partial view of the northern arc of Gamelands stone circle, facing southwest. Whilst difficult to see, slight slopes in places either side of the stones suggest remnants of its former bank. Image ©YDNPA.

This does provide further corroborating evidence to support the classification of the site as an embanked stone circle. The results of the geophysical survey by Lunesdale Archaeology Society also supported this discovery, with the resistivity results suggesting further evidence of the remnants of a stony bank around the arc of the circle in places. These bank traces are not those discussed by Clare (2007: 106) and as far as we are aware have not been recognised before. The evidence now suggests that Gamelands likely did have a circular bank, at least around part of its arc (the northern arc). The stones may have been set into this bank, or the bank constructed around them after the stones were erected.  

The banks discussed by Clare 2007 in close proximity to the stone circle, include a bank to the south underlying the present field wall which partly envelops some of the stones of the southern arc, as well as a short segment running across an apparent gap in the circle on its south-western side (banks G and F, in Clare 2007: 106). These were both surveyed and recorded in detail for the first time on the drawn survey plan. Clare discusses in detail the difficulty of interpreting the relationship between these banks and the circle itself, noting that the southern bank appears to envelop the stones (Clare 2007: 106). Whilst the new survey cannot provide a definitive answer, it does appear most likely that both the southern and southwestern banks are likely to post-date the stone circle and relate to the later layout of field system boundaries in the area, rather than the prehistoric monument itself. Both seem to follow a straighter alignment than the slight bank traces around the northern arc of the circle which appear to follow the arc of the circle.  As a result of the southern bank enveloping the site and some of the stones of the southern arc, it is not possible to identify clearly any traces of the prehistoric bank forming part of the circle in this area. Or to tell them apart from the likely later bank now enveloping the stones. It is also possible the later field system bank may have buried traces of the former bank of the circle in this area.   

Previous authors have drawn attention to the landscape context of Gamelands, highlighting its location at a valley head, with a potential association with a possible spring or a palaeochannel (an old watercourse) around which the site may have been constructed (Evans 2005: 174; Clare 2007: 107) (figure 2). Some of the geophysical survey work provided further supporting evidence of this palaeochannel running through the circle and it can also be seen on Environment Agency LiDAR data.

Figure 2: A view of Gamelands facing southeast, showing part of the northern arc in the foreground. Slight traces of the former bank are again very difficult to see, obscured by erosion hollows around many of the larger stones. A broad hollow is also evident within the circle, a feature noted by Clare 2007. This slight topographic feature likely reflects the palaeochannel running from the tripod (centre right) towards the left side of the image. Image © YDNPA.

The new work at the site also identified further changes in its condition since the time of the original survey in 1880. This included the apparent disappearance of stones then visible, either through their complete removal or having become buried and no longer visible. A small number of stones which were not recorded in 1880 were also found during the work in 2020 and 2021, these likely having emerged through erosion since the late 19th century. Some of these are very small stones in close proximity to the known and more visible stones of the circle that are not easily seen. Several of these were identified as being of a different type of stone, with several appearing to be sandstone. Some of these stones could be packing stones or further stone settings in themselves. The majority of the stones at Gamelands are Shap Pink Granite, although one has long been recognised as distinctly different, being of limestone, something noted by Ferguson in the original survey in 1880 (1883: 184).

Overall the project has helped to clarify our understanding of the site and provided an up-to-date record of the stone circle and the earthwork element of the site, something which the 1880 survey did not fully record. This record will also help to inform the management and conservation of the site in the future. It shows the potential value of re-examining known sites, even where they have been subject to surveys previously.

If you would like to read in more detail about the results of the project, you can access the archaeological report below.    

Gamelands was one of several cultural heritage projects delivered by YDNPA for the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership, led by Friends of the Lake District and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

Bibliography

Bland, F. 1881. A Link between two Westmorlands. Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. Volume 5: 24-25.

Clare, T. 2007. Prehistoric Monuments of the Lake District. Stroud: Tempus.

Evans, I.H. 2005. Prehistoric Landscapes of Cumbria. Vol.1. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, Department of Archaeology. Available from: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/228134613.pdf

Ferguson, R.S. 1883. Stone Circle at Gamelands, Bland House Brow, Township of Raisbeck, Parish of Orton, Westmorland. Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Volume 6: 183-185.

Gamelands Embanked Stone Circle. National Heritage List for England. Scheduled Monument, List entry number 1011138. Historic England, official listing entry. Available from: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-

Mitcham, D.J. 2023. A Report on Earthwork and Geophysical Surveys at Gamelands Stone Circle for the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership. Bainbridge: Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Unpublished report for WDLP.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Picture of Douglas Mitcham

Douglas Mitcham

Doug is our Community Heritage Officer

Website: www.yorkshiredales.org.uk

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