Stonework grew out of a conversation between archaeologists Rose Ferraby and Mark Edmonds. We asked them to tell us a little about the thinking behind the project: “There is a particular elevated volcanic outcrop that meanders through the central Fells of Cumbria. The rock goes by many names;hornstone, greenstone, tuff and others long forgotten. It is dense and fine-grained, shifting between green and grey and blue depending on the light and where you are. At various places along this outcrop, particularly around the Langdales, a scramble brings you to quarries that are as much as 6000 years old. Littered with screes of working debris, the benches and ledges that break up the crags bear the scars of extensive working, most of it directed towards the making of stone axe blades.

Back then, in the Neolithic, these axes mattered. Most saw use as tools and, from time to time, as weapons. But they were more than just hardware. The skilful making and using of blades said something about people, about the places they occupied in their communities and in the broader world. Axes also built up biographies as they moved from hand to hand, circulating in exchanges that defined bonds between people. Some probably had names.

Archaeologists have written about this material many times. What interested us was finding a new way to explore the work that has left such an abiding mark upon the crags. We wanted to better understand what the experience of visiting and working the outcrop involved; what the work, and the axe, meant to people at the time. How was the stone understood? What did it mean to take on skills with hammer and stone? This led us to experiment with a different way of telling that, to paraphrase Henry Moore, offered a more appropriate truth to materials. A use of words and images that was responsive to the nature of the work, to the qualities that people recognised in the stone and the values that they realised, unspoken, through their bodies.



Geology is history

Spirit, source and sign

A story of origins inscribed

And still ongoing

In the stone

Each bench and ledge

A hammer blow

Each scree the debitage

Of work that makes the world.




There is stone

At the river’s edge,

In the throw of an oak,

Where the sea sifts shingle

On the final cast of the tide.

Weathered eggs to crack and hatch

The magpie mottled flint.


You take what is given,

Grateful for the gift.


But some gifts carry weight.

They dictate

Where stone is won,

How things are done and

What they mean.

This is how it is.

How it has always been.




The cloud comes down,

The world beyond the work

Withdrawn from view,

Nothing now but close attention,

A truth to material.


Tap, strike, tap, strike, tap


The work is soon a rhythm,

Hammers dancing on the edge

Between each blow,

Roughouts turning in the hand

Each time the hammer rises,

The scar of each removal

Marking time along the stone


Strike, tap, strike, tap, strike


The hammers fall together,

Against one another, then

Together again, percussion

Moving in and out of phase

As the old men rise and fall to the task.



It takes time

To move around the work,

To take your place in it for granted,

But as you do it finds you.

A relationship begins,

The line between hand and material

Losing its sharpness.


And for all that is inscribed on stone

Much is also written in the body,

Scars of service, build and heft

The body falling into certain shapes,

Like a hammer that drops

Without thinking,

In just the right place.




Rose Ferraby is an archaeologist and cultural geographer focusing on our cultural relationships with landscape. She is interested in the ways in which we story and narrate the landscape, particularly through authorial illustration. She currently works for Exmoor National Park, and is co-director of the Aldborough Roman Town Project.  @roseferraby


Mark Edmonds is Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of York. He has published a number of books on prehistory and on the archaeology of landscape, and has a particular interest in arts-based approaches to interpretation. His most recent book,The Beauty Things, is a collaboration with the writer Alan Garner. He lives in Orkney.