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Final Report of First Phase of first phase December 2014

The main aim of this report is to record how the money kindly given to FONS by corporate and individual donors was spent and also to place on record the significant and much appreciated donations both of datasets that would otherwise have been hard, if not impossible, to obtain, and also the use of sophisticated and expensive software and hardware, plus operator time, donated by interested specialists Dr Steve Drury and Dr Andrew Evans. The
research was particularly stimulated by the two sets of high definition, low altitude oblique aerial photographs obtained and made available to the project by Barry Stacey and Simon Ledingham.

The second phase of the above project, particularly the geophysical site surveys requiring commercial consultancy inputs, completes the intended range of non-intrusive site survey methods. These have all been funded by corporate or individual grants to FONS, as listed in the Financial Statement below. Non-grant funded activities by Friends of Nine Standards continue; the literature search has been extended to pre-Conquest historical sources and widened to include Scottish and local landowner archives, as well as a greater depth and range of available archaeological literature.

From the start of the project, findings of the main activities have been periodically summarised on this website: as they have become available. Conclusions about the site and its features have changed, and are still by no means final. This report provides brief background information on the principal techniques, with reasons why they were used: selected illustrations of the results can be seen on the website, along with the conclusions drawn from them. The helium balloon survey, ‘viewshed’ analysis and low elevation/high angle oblique photography were compared with conventional high altitude stereo pairs, anaglyph-generated contouring and the most up-to-date geological mapping to identify and map a complex range of features across the site.

The exact nature and chronological dating of these features remain speculative at present, though some current thinking about the changing ways the site and its surroundings have been viewed and used by mankind over the centuries is offered below. It is now thought that one or two days of probing, and perhaps test-pitting, at three or four key locations beside the main cairn ridge would indicate whether excavation there is justified, and what form it might take. After that, a decision about any further project activities and phases will be discussed with the relevant authorities. But it is already clear that a full understanding of the site can only be achieved by extending the area of study to include the relatively flat peatlands to the north, and the upper catchment as far as the small tarn near the county boundary to the south.

Research on the Nine Standards cairn ridge
Before the historical material was published in 2008, most authorities – if they had studied them at all – dismissed these drystone cairns as late Mediaeval (post-1700) at best. The English Heritage database, perhaps following the 1856 Ordnance Survey and local guidebooks, described them as standing stones. It is now known that they have been on the skyline above Kirkby Stephen for at least 800 years, and probably much longer. The modern cairns
we see today have been rebuilt continually over the centuries, most recently in 2005, and aerial photos since 1947 show they have varied in number from seven to 12 or 13. Photos of the cairns taken at ground level over the last 100 years show remarkable persistence of shape, strongly resembling the monastic beehive cells found in western Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but no earlier drawings or descriptions are known. Their positions on the ridge have
also changed over time, and the original, possibly Bronze Age, cairns are now only visible – at the northern end – as grassed-over low circular mounds on which the present cairns stand; and at least one of these mounds now has no cairn on top.

Any survey had to start with the cairns, the most dominant feature on the ridge, but no available technique could actually look underneath the cairns for any signs of burials, and dismantling them was not an option. Equally, since the cairns have not always been in the same positions, anything once buried beneath them may now be accessible close to the ground surface. The electromagnetic ground conductivity (EGC) survey identified two large voids near the central cairns, one empty and one infilled, and together with the ground penetrating radar (GPR) data defined a long ridge of loose material with numerous voids, interpreted as an accumulation of postglacial bedrock debris or a man-made long cairn of flagstones and sandstone slabs, on top of which the modern cairns now stand.

To the east of the cairn ridge, running parallel to the four northern cairns, the EGC survey identified long continuous fissures at least 15m in length. Since the ground rises steeply to the south, and the equipment only penetrates to 1.8m depth, the fissures probably continue beyond the 15m mark. Examined in combination with the GPR traverses, a marked SSW-NNE linearity of alternating fissures and bedrock was noted throughout the length of the survey block, possibly the result of glacial scouring of the bedrock, or post-glacial meltwater erosion. In addition, on the eastern side of the survey block, two large rectangular areas of markedly higher conductivity were identified, where the bedrock appears to have been excavated to some depth and then backfilled with softer, more absorbent material such as boulder clay, peat or refuse of some kind, possibly burials, the latter assumption supported by one or more rectangular sets of earth-fast small orthostats around the south end of the cairn ridge .

No domestic hearths were found by the magnetometry survey, nor any signs of domestic buildings within the surveyed block; it was a very smooth dataset though not without some features of interest. The high ‘spikes’ in the data were interpreted as metal fragments either from tools used in quarrying and shaping flagstone material for the cairns, or more likely aluminium pull-rings and soft drink cans dumped by walkers. The curious curved lines in the surface layers of the ridge were interpreted as crevices or surface faulting that had become infilled with soil and peat over the centuries. This technique was recommended as a first step, and had to be tried, though it is hard to imagine this exposed ridge being chosen as a site for permanent settlement.

Curiosity about Nine Standards Rigg was greatly increased by the recent acquisition of numerous low level oblique aerial photographs taken during several airborne surveys, notably by Barry Stacey in a helicopter and by Simon Ledingham in his gyrocopter. These show an oval or subrectangular enclosure around the summit, with the cairns lying diagonally across it. This summit enclosure is only apparent on these photographs because they were taken at very low altitude and therefore offer unusually high definition of the detail. They are close, oblique views and not vertical, and also benefit from a low incident angle of sunshine; this optimal lighting probably explains why the mound and enclosure have not previously been identified. In places the boundary of this enclosure can be seen on the ground as a low discontinuous mound, possibly of fine rubble but more likely of peat. Some sections of it can also be seen on the wire-frame model produced by the helium balloon survey, and comparison with the anaglyph model and up-to-date geological mapping shows it is not a lithological boundary, and therefore very likely to be man-made. Initial impressions suggested a hillfort, but closer inspection of the protective mound indicates it is much more likely to be a cashel, with a ritual rather than a defensive purpose, possibly linked to the five Iron Age settlements a few kilometres to the north west. The Drift Editions of the earlier geological maps show that this cairn ridge is the only fell top area without hill peat; suggesting that at some time the peat has been deliberately cleaned off.

Two other features on the summit area call for brief comment; the features themselves lie on the edges or are actually outside the two geophysical survey areas, but some useful information can be derived. First, the two buildings: some 50m south east of the cairns is a ruined rectangular shepherds’ hut. In the late nineteenth century, the shepherds from Swaledale dismantled four of the cairns on the ridge and used the flagstones for their hut but Canon Simpson from Kirkby Stephen as Head of Quarter Sessions summoned them to court and ordered them to rebuild the four cairns. This may explain why the southernmost four cairns are out of line, and appear less sturdy than the rest. The hut remained, but the material to rebuild the cairns was extracted where it was needed. The other building, commonly described as a sheep-pen, is a much older, longer and oblong or kidney-shaped enclosure, some 30m south east of the southernmost cairn. It is divided into two compartments and has been deliberately built into the fellside, with some very large slabs in its foundations. It occupies the south east corner of the hilltop enclosure, with the mound in evidence on its southern edge. GPR Traverse 5 indicates that the mound consists of a loose material, rich in voids and is likely man-made. This is the only actual structure on the ridge that would repay further investigation

Second, on the east and north sides of the ridge, the First Edition of the OS 6 inch map shows a number of what it calls ‘quarries’. These vary in size and shape, but have all been used to extract flagstones; some may also have been trial pits and/or mineral workings; many still have their spoil heaps and stacks of unused flagstones. No doubt they have been used over a long period, and would be hard to date. To the east, two have very straight adits and large spoil heaps, and each points directly to one of the main cairns: GPR traverses were located to check if these lead into tunnels under the main ridge, but the signal did not penetrate deep enough to discount the possibility of passage graves. To the north, two of the depressions may be the exit points of the two fissures, tunnels or adits noted in the EGC survey, and these also merit further study. These, like the adits, drain the whole site, and may be enhanced fissures used to bring water to the cairns from the small tarn near the county boundary. One further feature deserves mention; the western face of the ridge has extensive areas of flagstones on the surface enclosed by the mound; this may originally have been a complete coverage though small patches are now
overgrown with grass and thin peat. There are no such flagstone pavements on the geologically identical eastern facing slope of the ridge, so the light coloured flagstones may have been deliberately laid on the side facing down the Eden Valley to make the monuments highly visible from far away. The viewshed image shows that this ridge is visible from all over the upper Eden Valley, from the monument complex at Eamont Bridge near Penrith, and from as far away as the Solway Firth and the Dumfries area. As a seasonal meeting place for rituals, it also has a clear horizon across Stainmore to the North Sea coast and the summer solstice sunrise.

This ridge consists almost entirely of sandstone and gritstone layers; the nearest limestone is several hundred metres away. Although the steep north face of the ridge is caused by a fault zone, no evidence of mineralisation or of lead and/or silver deposits has been found. Also it has never been used as a source of flagstones or sandstone slabs to be extracted and taken for use elsewhere, for drystone walls or roofing material for buildings, so the term
‘quarries’ may be misleading. As an exercise, the total volume of quarries, pits, holes etc all over the site was calculated (total 81m3), and compared with the total volume of stone in the cairns, plus the stacks of unused flagstone, the stone in the walls of the sheep-pen, the shepherds’ hut and even the walkers’ sofa, and finally the flagstone cover on the western slopes and elsewhere on the site (total 89m3). Although admittedly a relatively crude calculation, it was carefully and systematically done, and the two totals agreed within 10%, suggesting that what was quarried on the site stayed on the site.

The above summarises the main points about the cairn ridge in relation to the geophysical and other surveys recently completed. A comprehensive statement and full presentation of results would require a much longer document, and this should also cover the results of the extended literature and archival research that is ongoing. Unfinished business on the ridge is mostly down to fieldwork, focussed on key places. While questions remain, the ridge and its monuments, known and as yet unknown, are more likely to have been used for purposes associated with the dead than the living as no evidence of substantial settlement has been found. Yet it is clearly a high status site, dominating a vast swathe of the upper Eden Valley and beyond, situated at the focus of the major rivers flowing east to the North Sea (Swale and Greta) and west to the Irish Sea (Eden and Lune), and close to major routes across the northern Pennines via Stainmore, Swaledale and Yoredale. Perhaps the focus should be widened.

The great unknown in this research lies close at hand. To the north of Nine Standards at the foot of the cairn ridge, there are several springs and a large expanse of relatively flat land. This area is now covered by peat to a depth of up to 3m which has accumulated since around 1000BC; the peat extends across the whole area, but the depth decreases to less than 1m on the higher parts, as shown by the GPR traverses 15 and 16. Near the springs and beck channels, it can be seen that the peat is underlain by impermeable glacial clays and debris. Well sheltered from the prevailing winds by the cairn ridge, on flat or gently sloping land with a water supply, this is a much more suitable place for seasonal or even permanent settlement, so there may well be buried archaeological features such as building ruins, field boundary walls/fences, livestock enclosures etc; indeed one of the English Heritage aerial photos does show such a feature. It would be a highly suitable meeting point for Neolithic hunters, Bronze Age herders and nomadic pastoralists and possibly long distance traders, as well as more recent shepherds, mineral prospectors and quarrymen. This is not fanciful conjecture: adjacent fissures in the millstone grit yielded a Bronze Age gold torc in the late nineteenth century. This is a less dramatic target, but in the long run it may well prove to be a more productive and revealing area to research.

Presentation of results
Over the course of the project, presentations of results have been made at irregular intervals when invited by various local organisations. These have included the Upper Eden History Society (twice), the Reeth Museum, Kirkby Stephen Rotary Club, the Penrith Regional Group of the CWAAS, Appleby Rotary Club and the Ravenstonedale History Society. Towards the end of the project, a detailed project presentation was also made to the Annual General Meeting of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society on Saturday 12 April 2014 at Ings near Kendal as an example of work supported by the CWAAS Research Fund. The presentation was based almost entirely on material already posted on the FONS website. In addition, as a more formal record of results obtained by the project, copies of the following grant-funded reports by professional archaeologists commissioned by FONS have been deposited with Mark Brennand, Senior Historic Environment Officer, at Cumbria County Council Offices, Kendal, LA9 4RQ.

1. Archaeological Services, Durham University, July 2012. ‘Nine Standards, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria: geophysical survey; Report 2963’, Archaeological Services, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE. Cost £1,020 inc VAT.

2. Met Geo Environmental, July 2013. ‘Nine Standards Rigg, Kirkby Stephen: Geophysical Survey 11435-552’. Southgate House, Pontefract Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 1SW. Cost £1,500 inc VAT.

English Heritage at Swindon already hold a copy of the Durham report. A copy of the Met Geo report will be sent to them when a CD containing the final data and text is received.

Technical data on survey methods and results
Mapping survey results on the Nine Standards Rigg required accurate positioning of the cairns in relation to the topography, and a detailed contour map to locate accurately all visible features, particularly the alleged mound encircling the summit of the cairn ridge.

LIDAR – Based on the LIght Distancing And Ranging (LIDAR) technique by survey aircraft, the most detailed surveys to date can produce data points at 1m and 2m intervals, but only cover population centres, or specially commissioned areas of interest. The most detailed LIDAR coverage available for Nine Standards is at 5m intervals, so 10,000 data points of x, y, and z coordinates were purchased and plotted out by hand, then used to interpolate contours at 1m intervals. The contours enabled topographic profiles across the cairn ridge to be plotted, showing that the ‘mound’ forms a now discontinuous boundary around a hilltop enclosure. Its oval or subrectangular shape prompted questions as to its natural or man-made origin; comparison with the most up-to-date geological mapping showed that the mound intersects lithological boundaries at about 30 degrees, indicating a man-made origin (assuming the geological boundaries have been correctly mapped).

Helium balloon survey – This was undertaken by Jamie Quartermaine of Oxford Archaeology North in July 2012. In all, 250 photos were taken by a time-lapse digital camera linked to a GPS, and mounted below a helium balloon. The very windy conditions created great difficulty for the surveyor and the equipment, and it was found on processing that certain limited areas of the target were only covered by photos of poor resolution and quality. The 150 sharpest photos were selected and analysed with Magisoft processing software to extract the highly variable natural colour and create a monochrome wire-frame model in 3D that can be examined on a computer from any angle and height, under variable lighting conditions. This is a brilliant technique for looking at every feature of interest.

‘Viewshed’ – By analogy with the better-known term ‘watershed’, this term describes a technique that creates a monochrome background against which all the land that can be seen from any particular point on the Earth’s surface can be highlighted in some highly visible colour. It was developed to analyse the visual impact of hill top windfarms as seen from the surrounding countryside, to evaluate how intrusive they might be, for example in National Parks, AONBs etc. The data set used for the Nine Standards analysis was obtained from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (SRTM), which collected global coverage at 3 arc seconds (ie data points at 90m intervals) to create a digital elevation model found to be accurate to circa 16m. This accuracy is comparable to a good 1:10,000 scale topographic map, and the software allows for curvature of the earth. Technically, the elevation data is hole-filled seamless SRTM data V1 of 2004 from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) at Cali, in Colombia. The processing was done by Dr Andrew Evans of the Geography Department at the University of Leeds.
Stereo air photo pairs of all 16 available flights over Nine Standards Rigg since 1945 were purchased in April 2012 from English Heritage at Swindon as digital files scanned at high resolution. These included the following flight by Meridian Airways Ltd., 1972 Run 5, plates 1672 265 and 1672 266 at 6 inches to the mile (1:10,560) scale, as 9 inch x 9 inch first generation contact prints; as a special order, these were scanned at 1200 dots per inch (twice the resolution of a normal high resolution scan) to give 25cm resolution (and huge files) for the anaglyphs described in the next section.

Geology – Dr Steve Drury, Visiting Senior Research Officer, a geologist with the Open University, processed the ultra-high resolution data files and created anaglyphs (composite stereoscopic pictures printed in contrasting colours to get 3D effect), to produce 1m contours for the whole area around Nine Standards. Using customised software, he ‘draped’ the contour maps created from the anaglyphs over a digital version of the Ordnance Survey 1st Edition 6 inch topographic maps dated 1856, and combined the results with the most up-to-date geological maps of the area from the British Geological Survey to show the best available version of the lithology on the cairn ridge at Nine Standards. These two products, the 1m contour maps and the lithological boundaries draped over the 3D anaglyph model, have copyright restrictions, and must be labelled ‘Crown Copyright Reserved’.

Magnetometry – a geomagnetic technique called fluxgate gradiometry was recommended by archaeologists as a first step; it uses hand-held magnetometers to detect and record anomalies in the vertical component of the earth’s magnetic field. An area of 130 m x 60 m was surveyed using a Bartington Grad 601-2 dual fluxgate gradiometer, with a nominal sensitivity of 0.03nT, a sample interval of 0.25m, and a traverse interval 1m. The Global Positioning System (GPS) used a Leica GS15 global navigation system (GNSS) with real-time kinematic (RTK) corrections typically accurate to 10mm. The survey was led by Duncan Hale, Senior Archaeologist, University of Durham Archaeological Services, July 2012.

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) – The original intention was to deploy a 200 Mhz antenna capable of penetrating to some 3.0 - 3.5m below the surface. However, this was found to be very heavy and extremely unwieldy, and given the need to carry it manually to the site some 3km from the nearest road, the icy access roads and felltop snow cover on the agreed day made a quick and accurate field survey an impossible ambition. It was realised that use of such equipment would require a quad bike with trailer, more manpower, better weather – and possibly a rethink about the desired penetration depth. Eventually a very competitive and imaginative proposal was offered and accepted, to carry out a combined survey using two geophysical methods on the same day, using GPR along selected traverses and a survey block of 30m x 80m orientated NNE to SSW along the ridge, observing electromagnetic apparent ground conductivity. The surveys were done in July 2013 by archaeologist Sam Roberts, Director of Operations, Geophysics and Utility Mapping at Met Geo Environmental Ltd. of Leeds. GPR equipment was a GSSI SIR 3000 system with 400 Mhz antenna (and wheel). This is lighter, and more compact, but still needs contact with ground. Data were processed with Sandmeier software Reflex - Win, V7.1, then converted to Autocad plan using LSS (DTD software). GPR data were observed along 16 transects, with a total length of 1094m; 10 transects of 609m ran roughly east-west across the ridge, the rest ran north-south along the ridge. Survey lines were selected before the fieldwork to sample specific features; but in practice, these transects were adjusted to coincide with conductivity survey gridlines where sensible.

Electromagnetic Apparent Ground Conductivity (EGC) – Ground conductivity was observed using a GF Instruments CMD Mini Explorer on an area of 80m x 30m, with 1m traverse spacing. The Mini Explorer collects six sets of data, measuring both the conductivity and the in-phase responses from 3 coils, corresponding to the cumulative conductivity at depth ranges of 0.5m, 1.0m and 1.8m. Data are then gridded and analysed with Golden Software’s Surfer 7. Instrument positions in x, y and z coordinates are observed with a Leica Smart Rover GPS. Due to a combination of poor signal reception up at the Nine Standards site, and faulty software, the survey results needed a lot of post-processing of the topographic data: thus the final version of the report was received in June 2014.

Financial Statement
FONS income and expenditure to October 2014
Cash Grant Donations
Corporate: CWAAS (Penrith Region) £50
Hadfield Trust £1000
Upper Eden Rotary £200
Westmorland Motorway Services £200
Upper Eden History Society £400
CWAAS Research Fund £1500
Individual: 11 Friends £550
Miscellaneous donations £90.11
Total: £3990.11

FONS Expenses paid by FONS
Website 3 years @ £132 £396
Archaeological Assistant in field £100
Oxford Archaeology North £600
Durham University Arch. Services £1020
Met Geo Environmental Ltd Leeds £1500
FONS postage £33.35
Total: £3649.35

FONS expenses paid by others
Hire of quadbike and trailer 1 day £150.00
Field assistant 1 day £100.00
GetMapping digital imagery £24.68
5m LIDAR coverage as ASCI data £46.00
English Heritage aerial photos – oblique & vertical £193.20
– extra-high resolution airphoto scans £201.60
Centremaps digital 1:50,000 geological mapping £12.00
Total: £727.48

FONS research material and time donated by specialists – through the generous support of individuals. The costs quoted are purely nominal amounts; purchase of data, use of equipment and personnel at commercial chargeout rates would greatly exceed the amounts specified. No attempt has been made to include all the unpaid hours of work by Stephen Walker; Dawn Robertson and James Koronka, whose huge contribution is hereby very gratefully
1. Anaglyphs and derived 1m contour maps of Nine Standards ridge based on English Heritage ultra-high resolution airphoto digital scan files processed by Dr Steve Drury using Crown Copyright Open University software – allow £500
2. Viewshed analysis based on US Space Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (SRTM) hole-filled seamless 90m V1 DEM data, 2004, by Dr Andrew Evans University of Leeds, courtesy of International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) Colombia – allow £650
3. Low altitude oblique monochrome and colour aerial photographs from helicopter and gyrocopter sorties by Barry Stacey and Simon Ledingham respectively – allow £1300
Total: £2450

Financial Summary
Bank transactions:
FONS cash grants (corporate and individuals) income = + £3990.11
FONS expenses paid by FONS subtotal = – £3649.35
FONS balance in bank Oct 2014 = + £340.76
Total FONS expenses to date:
FONS cash grant expenses £3649.35
FONS expenses paid by others subtotal £727.48
FONS research data analysis and time donations from specialists £2450.00
Total costs (experts, equipment, research materials, processing) = £6826.83

We already have quite a few friends who are helping with the project but more needed - please see the friends page for more information about becoming a friend or helping with the project.

To see copies of the original documents mentioned on the History page, see the documents page.

To read an exploration of the linguistic background of Nine Standards, see the what's in a name page.

There are quite a few old maps which mention Nine Standards and these can be found on the mapspage.

Nine Standards is a wonderfully photogenic place from any angle and we have added photographs to many of the pages of this website.


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