Rock art is a very vulnerable, despite being made of stone. It faces many threats from the weather, from vegetation and animals, and from ourselves (see our Risks to rock art). It is important that we are aware of these threats so that we can try to prevent or reduce them, and preserve our rock art for future generations. In particular, we need to minimize our impact on the rock surface when visiting or recording rock art. To help safeguard our rock art, you might like to read the Rock Art Code for what to do (and not do!) when visiting prehistoric carvings. These guidelines were developed as part of the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project, and apply to all British rock art.
You can help to care for our rock art by recording its condition using a specially developed mobile app. This app enables anyone in the UK and Ireland to support the safeguarding of open-air rock art. You can provide information electronically about animal and human threats to rock art as well as the condition of panels and motifs.
The app has been developed by the CARE project. You can download it for free from Google Play (Android) or Apple iTunes (iOS), searching on ‘CARE Rock Art’.
Completing the app form is not a lengthy process and should take no longer than 5 to 10 minutes. The app is supported by an extensive ‘Help’ menu. App reports done in areas without an internet connection are queued for uploading later. Reports can also be completed using a paper-based form and then entered electronically on the web portal using the ‘Create Report’ tab.
You don’t need to be a rock art specialist to use the app. For more information, visit the CARE Rock Art website.
A number of rock art panels in Scotland are formally protected by law as Scheduled Monuments. This means that it is a punishable offence to interfere with them in any way, even if you intentions are good. Excavation, turf clearance, or other invasive activities need to apply for Scheduled Monument Consent before proceeding. You can search for Scheduled rock art in Scotland using our Advanced search facility.
Historic Environment Scotland (HES) looks after six prehistoric carved rocks in Scotland. These are part of HES’s Properties in Care portfolio and, like all Properties in Care, these rocks are closely managed, and monitored regularly. There are four in Kilmartin, and two in Dumfries and Galloway. All are publicly accessible.
Rock art is one of the most fascinating and enigmatic traces left by our ancestors. It has been created for thousands of years, and is still produced today in certain parts of the world.
The term rock art refers to human-made marks or images that are deliberately carved, painted, or sculpted on natural rock surfaces.
About a third of all prehistoric rock art known in Britain is found in Scotland. Most of the carvings are on rocks in the open landscape, but some were also used in monuments or re-used in later structures.
Britain and Ireland share a similar tradition of prehistoric carving. In the British Isles, carvings of cup-and-rings, cup-marks, and similar images were engraved on boulders and outcrops in many parts of the landscape.
Rock art is widespread in Europe and very varied, ranging from the Paleolithic Caves of Spain and France, to the Italian Alps, Southern Spain, and of course the Atlantic Art common to many countries in western Europe.
Rock art is a global phenomenon. Paintings and carvings have been created for thousands of years on walls, shelters, and rock surfaces in the open air in many parts of the world. Have a glimpse of some wonderful and mysterious rock art in this section.
The oldest written reference to rock art in the British Isles dates back to the 19th century. Interest in Britain's rock art has grown over the decades and it is now a well-established academic subject.
Dating rock art is very challenging. For a long time, it was thought that Scotland's prehistoric carvings were about 4000 years old, but recent research shows that they were probably made at least 5000 years ago in the Neolithic period.
What do the symbols mean? This is the question most often asked, but it one of the most difficult questions to answer. There are many theories about rock art's meaning, and you can find out more about what research has revealed in this section.