Rock graffiti in Nymans woods

Archaeology volunteers recording rock carvings in the woods © Chloe Bradbrooke

Archaeology volunteers recording rock carvings in the woods

Latest update 28.04.2014 15:37

The sandstone outcrops of Pookchurch Wood near Nymans have drawn people for thousands of years – recent excavations at the base of the rocks have shown some evidence of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers here.

These overhanging cliffs, some up to 5m tall, have inspired myth and legend, such as the Reverend Pook who is said to have preached from the rocks to his congregation. Many of those who have passed through throughout history have left their indelible mark on the rocks – names and dates, messages and pictures, carved into the cliff face.

Using modern technology to uncover the past

This March we worked with volunteers from the Horsham District Archaeological Group and post-graduates from Southampton University, to set about recording the graffiti in Pookchurch Wood and Jack Reeding’s Wood. The team created a detailed plan of the 150m of exposed cliffs and used a variety of methods to record the individual carvings, from tracings and measured drawings to photogrammetry. Over 30 inscriptions were recorded, with examples from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The most impressive collection of graffiti was recorded at a detached section of projecting cliff known as Pulpit Rock. Here the entire reverse of the rock face, some 4m wide and 3m tall, has been used as a canvas to record dozens – if not hundreds – of dates and initials with examples going back to the early 1700s. An image of a man in profile, carved into a corner of the rock, may even date to the 16th century based on the style of the knitted cap he appears to be wearing.

The team will now work on bringing together all of this information, undertaking digital transcription from the photographs, examining the scripts and styles of the graffiti for dating evidence where a date has not been provided, and undertaking documentary research to see if any of the names can be traced.