Swastikas over the Moor

Ilkley Moor’s most famous Swastika. This is a modern replica place next to the original which has become too eroded to see clearly.

Ilkley Moor’s most famous Swastika. This is a modern replica place next to the original which has become too eroded to see clearly.

Last week I was interviewed by a researcher from the BBC about the use of the Swastika in prehistoric rock art. I talked to him about the Swastika stone on Ilkley Moor and, much to my surprise, some of my comments were printed on the BBC website.

The carving is probably one of the most visited rock art sites on Ilkley Moor – so much so that the local authorities have laid out an easy-to-follow gravel path all the way to the fenced off enclosure which contains the Swastika Stone.

The carving itself is very eroded – not surprising really given that it has had to face the elements for approximately four thousand years but the modern replica placed next to it allows you to see the outline clearly. It’s quite a sophisticated design with a curved groove working its way around the eight hollows or cups to form a swastika. To this has been added another appendage with its own hollow. It’s a good test of visual memory.  Perhaps in your childhood you had a party game called Kin’s Game inflicted on you. A number of objects would be brought in on a tray covered with a tea towel. The tea towel would be whisked off for 60 seconds and then replaced. All you had to do was list the items which you could remember…

Try something similar now. Look at the image for a count of 60 and then turn off your screen. Now try to draw the Swastika design. It’s not a simple as you might think.

No-one knows why this design (or any of the other designs on the Ilkley Moor carved rocks) was created. Don’t be fooled by such archaeological phrases as ‘It’s a ritual object’. All it means is that no-one (particularly the speaker) has no idea about the object’s use at all.

Famous as the Swastika Stone might be, it’s not the only one on the Moor. There’s another on the Badger Stone. The south face of this rock has long attracted attention on account of the intricacy of its designs but it was not till a couple of years ago that an act of thoughtlessness drew my attention to the fact that there is also a swastika carved on the Badger Stone. Someone had used charcoal to outline the patterns incised on the surface of the stone. I can’t say that I approve of the practice (rubbing things into a friable rock face will just make them erode more quickly) but I have to admit that it has certainly made the design clear.

The layout of this modern maze was inspired by the Swastika Stone.

The layout of this modern maze was inspired by the Swastika Stone.

Many people in Ilkley and the surrounding district will know of the Swastika Stone. In fact the stone is so famous that it was used as the inspiration for a modern maze on the edge of the Moor.  I suspect that fewer of Ilkley’s citizens will know about the Swastika on the Badger Stone but all this has made me begin to wonder: perhaps there are still other Swastikas out there on the Moor waiting to be found …

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