Cairns - Removing the new to safeguard the old

21st September 2017

Prehistoric burial monuments or barrows, dating from the Bronze Age 3-4,000 years ago, are a very distinctive and relatively common feature of the North York Moors landscape. Their age and importance means they are nationally important and protected as Scheduled Monuments. Barrows are often situated on high ground with fine viewpoints and may be on well-used footpaths, particularly long distance routes like the Cleveland Way, where the modern practice of building walkers’ cairns can cause damage to the archaeology, putting it at risk.

In spring 2015 an assessment of Scheduled Monuments with walkers’ cairns showed that in some cases the modern cairns had originated as markers for estate or parish boundaries, but that they were now being added to by passing walkers. Damage caused to the monuments varied from very slight to extreme and eight had been so badly damaged by the construction of the modern cairn, or by erosion from walkers, that remedial work was identified as urgent.

To put things right, a programme of work is under way as part of the North York Moors National Park Authority’s Monument Management Scheme (MMS), a partnership project with funding from Historic England. This work includes frequent monitoring of the affected monuments by a group of our Historic Environment Volunteers, raising awareness of the issue within the walking community, and carrying out remedial work to repair the worst damage.

If you’re walking on the Cleveland Way on Live Moor you may notice a new sign next to a prominent Scheduled Monument  round barrow.  The modern walkers’ cairn on this monument had become so large that it was difficult to see where the edges of the prehistoric mound were. So it was removed by our apprentice team, supervised by archaeological consultants, to restore the monument to a more recognizable profile. We hope this sign will encourage walkers to protect the archaeology by leaving the surface stones undisturbed and preserve the monument for future generations of walkers to see. 

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Walkers Cairn before
Removing part of the Walkers Cairn
Walkers Cairn after reduction