ScRAP Conference Abstracts


Dr Alison Sheridan, National Museums of Scotland

Rock art studies in Scotland: looking back, looking forward

Scotland’s Rock Art Project has revolutionised our understanding of the distribution and nature of rock art in Scotland, and it continues a tradition of rock art research in Scotland that extends back over at least 150 years, in one form or another. The existence of a broader, Atlantic rock art tradition extending from Scotland to Iberia has been acknowledged since at least the mid-20th century, and the character and connectivity of this tradition has recently been illuminated by Joana Valdez-Tullett’s research. Yet key questions remain: What was rock art for? What does it mean? How was it used? When was it created? This lecture looks back through the history of rock art research in Scotland (and elsewhere) to see what clues already exist, and suggests ways in which we might get closer to some answers.

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Session 1

Alan Thompson, North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS)

Highland rock art: more than just cups and rings

The style and character of Highland rock art varies immensely. This is not captured in simple records of how many cups or rings there are on a panel. Through ScRAP I have visited and recorded over 200 panels in the Highlands, and some have made a great impression on me. For this talk I have selected a few which for me have a special character, and I’ll try to explain why this is.

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Nick Parish, Callander Rock Art Team

Rock art, quarrying and querns

In late summer 2020, I visited Broughmore Wood, a remote moorland location near Stirling, to record the rock art there for ScRAP. This revealed a far more complex and extensive site than anticipated. Not only were rock art motifs present but what proved to be an extensive quernstone quarry was partially uncovered and a possible stone axe polishing surface was identified. This was brought to the attention of the Stirling District Archaeological Officer, Dr Murray Cook, and a volunteer-based excavation of the site is now underway under his supervision, which may extend well into next year. This presentation provides an overview of the Broughmore Wood site and how observations made here might be read across to other rock art sites. Questions are raised as to whether or not some 'rock art' may be a misinterpretation of extraction activities, and a possible association of the rosette motif at such sites is pointed out. A number of illustrative examples will be presented which have been gathered from a systematic examination of rock art records available online.

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Session 2

Dr Elizabeth Shee Twohig, University College, Cork

Composing Megalithic Art in Ireland (and Orkney)

In this presentation I will summarise the main features and the dating of Irish megalithic/passage tomb art, based on recent work in preparing the corpus of art at Knowth, County Meath for publication by the Royal Irish Academy later this year. I will refer briefly to similar art in Wales and in Orkney. I will discuss how this type of art may relate to Irish rock art, with particular reference to the occurrence of both rock art and passage tomb art at Loughcrew, County Meath (see Journal of Irish Archaeology 19, 2010, 1-28).

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Jennifer Roberts, Kirkcudbright Rock Art Team

Kirkcudbright: an artist’s town for 5000 years

The presentation will give a brief introduction to the history of rock art recording in the Stewartry, Dumfries and Galloway. It will then describe the unique landscape of the area, and how the rock art fits into this landscape. Some of the motifs that were found during field work will be described, including the most common and the more unusual motifs. The talk will discuss how the group tried to increase public engagement with their area’s prehistory, and look at some of the problems facing the preservation of rock art with modern farming techniques, with some suggestions for further research. Finally, this talk will explain the reason for the title, exploring some examples of more modern rock art in the area, some of the work commissioned by professional artists, and some vernacular examples which show the tradition of enigmatic carving has continued over the 5000 years since prehistoric people made their mark.

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Will and Margaret Rudd, Julia Hamilton, Kilmartin Museum Team

Dragons and circles

Kilmartin Glen has one of the greatest concentrations of prehistoric activity in Europe with more than 800 ancient monument and historic sites lying within a six mile radius of the Museum. This includes an abundance of Rock Art sites. A small team of volunteers has been working on behalf of the Museum to record a number of the rock art panels in the area. We illustrate two, one at Achnabreck and one called locally Dragon Rock. These are described in detail including field work and photogrammetry. Finally, there is a tentative postulation of the local meaning of these panels.

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Session 3

Dr Kenny Brophy, University of Glasgow

Urban cups and rings: rock-art, schools, and communities in the central belt of Scotland 

In this talk I will explore the social and educational value of rock art in urban places. Generally, we associate rock art with rural landscapes, but urban sites offer easier access to visitors, a ready-made community, and educational opportunities. I will make the case that such sites deserve more attention, using case-studies based on my own research and public engagement activity. I’ll focus on urban rock-art found in green spaces in built-up areas in Glasgow, Falkirk and West Dunbartonshire council areas. It is time we started to celebrate Scotland’s urban rock art for the benefit of communities and schools.

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Ewen Smith and Ian Marshall, Association of Certificated Field Archaeologists (ACFA)

Lost and found: Rock art in west central Scotland

When invited by Tertia to volunteer in Scotland’s Rock Art Project, ACFA members were enthusiastic participants. We are all trained and experienced in field archaeology and felt both that we had something to contribute in researching one of Scotland’s most significant and enigmatic features and, more selfishly, that there was a great deal we could learn during that process. Our talk, therefore, 'Lost and Found', will endeavour to share what we have learned about locating and identifying rock art panels, and the obstacles (losses) and successes (finds) we have encountered, as a means of sharing these lessons with others." After all, 'Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves' (Thoreau).

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Donald Kinnear and Patrick O'Sullivan, Rock Art Bute (RAB)

A story without end...

Bute has long been known for its rock art, with around 100 sites documented on the island before ScRAP started. Patrick and Donald’s presentation discusses the main concentrations of rock art, all located towards the North end of the island. We will illustrate the rich variety of cup marked stones on Bute, and highlight some of the rarer, more complex carvings that have come to light through photogrammetry and new discoveries. We will also explore other monuments, especially the range of Neolithic and Bronze Age cairns, stone circles and standing stones, that tell us more about the island's prehistory. The Scotland's Rock Art Project has certainly extended the knowledge of those who were aware of cup marked stones on Bute and opened the eyes of several who were unaware or knew little of their existence.

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Session 4

Dr Tertia Barnett, ScRAP Principal Investigator, Historic Environment Scotland

Community co-production and the challenge of ScRAP

There are over 3000 rock art sites currently recorded in Scotland, making it one of the country's most prolific prehistoric monument types, and comprising well over a third of all rock art in Britain and Ireland. It is perhaps surprising then that Scotland's rock art is not widely known among the general public, and is relatively under-represented in heritage practice. This presentation examines the challenges facing ScRAP in promoting awareness and understanding of rock art, and discusses how these are being addressed through community co-production. It also highlights how community co-production within the context of ScRAP can help inform future engagements with Scotland's rock art. 

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Dr Joana Valdez-Tullett, ScRAP Research Assistant, Historic Environment Scotland

The character and connectivity of Scotland’s rock art

The cup-and-ring rock art tradition is widespread across western Europe, and the term ‘Atlantic’ was first used by Irish researcher Eóin MacWhite, when comparing the carvings of Ireland and Galicia (Spain), in the 1950s. Despite this, the different countries developed their own regional research agendas. Richard Bradley’s work in the 1990s offered a wider approach to the phenomenon, popularising the term 'Atlantic Rock Art', still used today, which encompassed the geographic scope of his study. The recent increase of interest in prehistoric connectivity has also been extended to rock art research, and the relationships between the countries with Atlantic Rock Art have been explored more systematically. This talk will provide a state-of-the-art point on discussions of connectivity and cultural transmission of the tradition. It will analyse data gathered during the Scotland's Rock Art Project, establishing regional variations within Scotland, and also assessing connections with other parts of the Atlantic world.

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Linda Marie Bjerketvedt, ScRAP Data Analyst, Historic Environment Scotland

Carving a place, leaving a mark: Scotland’s rock art in context

Since the 1980s, rock art research has increasingly considered the relationship between rock carvings and their surrounding landscape. Setting and context have been explored to better understand the meaning and role of rock carvings in prehistory, with long-distance visibility and pathways often argued to be important facets of their location (Bradley 1997). This presentation focuses on the regional variation of rock art across Scotland in different landscapes. It presents the results of computational analysis using data from the ScRAP database, applied to various case study regions. Using this approach helps decipher visibility and mobility patterns in a quantitative way, providing us with a clearer understanding of the relations between rock art and landscapes in Scotland.

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