Death’s Head Carving (577), Askwith Moor, North Yorkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 17795 51235

Also Known as:

  • Carving no.577

Cowling's 1937 sketch

Getting Here

Follow the directions to find the Tree of Life Stone, then follow the main footpath uphill from it.  Once on the level, look out for a couple of large rocks abaat 100 yards to your left.  Check ’em out, cos it’s on one of ’em!

Archaeology & History

This is another decent carving living on these prolific moors.  Found near the end of a lengthy line of prehistoric walling that runs east-west over this part of the moor, the general Rorsharch-response to this carving is of some sorta skull or screaming face.  My impression of it the other day was, “it looks like a pig!”

Although mentioned by numerous writers, the first description of it was in Eric Cowling’s (1937) essay on the cup-and-ring stones north of Otley, saying:

“On an isolated table stone, situated at the upper end of the shallow valley which drains Snowden Carr, the writer found a marking having a strangely skull-like appearance, but which is really a group of three large cups which are linked by inter-turning curved grooves.”

Close-up of main design

The Death's Head Rock

He then strives to make links between this carving and the design on the Swastika Stone above Ilkley — which in some way is a little similar, i.e., as a three-armed triskele swastika; but the notion is perhaps as accurate as saying it represents a cloud, or a tree, or bird-flight, or any number of other natural phenomena.  Beckensall’s (1999) brief note of the stone — despite getting his grid-ref off by a few hundred yards — described it as “four cups linked and enclosed by grooves, unconvincingly suggesting a skull to some people.”  With Boughey & Vickerman (2003) saying:

“Fairly large, upstanding rock with surface sloping down to N. Figure of four cups linked by and enclosed by grooves: entire pattern resembles a skull, hence the name ‘Death’s Head Rock.'”


Beckensall, Stan, British Prehistoric Rock Art, Tempus: Stroud 1999.
Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, WYAS 2003.
Cowling, Eric T., “Cup and Ring Markings to the North of Otley,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, part 131, 33:3, 1937.
Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way: A Prehistory of Mid-Wharfedale, William Walker: Otley 1946.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

About megalithix

Occultist, prehistorian and independent archaeological researcher, specializing in prehistoric rock art, Neolithic, Bronze Age & Iron Age sites, and the animistic cosmologies of pre-Christian & traditional cultures.
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