Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age (c. 2500-2000BC)

The Folkton Drums


©: East Riding Archaeological Research Trust

Mystery has surrounded these three enigmatic stone cylinders since they were excavated in the late 19th Century by Canon Greenwell from a barrow associated with a child’s burial but with no datable grave goods, in Folkton, near Filey in East Yorkshire. Known as the Folkton Drums, they range in size from 146mm in diameter through 124 mm diameter down to the smallest at 104mm in diameter. The drums are unique in the archaeological record – nothing similar is known anywhere in the British Isles from any time in the prehistoric period. They are now on display in the British Museum.

Each of the drums bears a unique incised design, covering the sides and domed tops. The essentially geometric decoration is organised in panels with stylised human faces looking out from two of the drums. The tops bear concentric circle decoration. The whole design is reminiscent of Passage Grave motifs, but the strongest resemblance is to the Grooved Ware ceramic style from the Late Neolithic period, with suggestions of Beaker-style decoration from the early Bronze Age, circa 2500-2000BC.

Doubts have been expressed over the material of the drums, with claims that they are made either from local chalk or from magnesian limestone from a source up to 45 miles away. But recent examination by a team of experts has finally resolved the argument. Light and electron microscopic examination has revealed microfossils typical of the late Cretaceous (e.g. coccoliths), confirming chalk. The drums therefore were clearly manufactured from a local supply. The problem of their precise cultural significance, however, remains unresolved.

(Middleton, A., Young, J. R. & Ambers, J. 2004, ‘The Folkton Drums: chalk or cheese?’, Antiquity, 78)