Anyone can look for and record rock art! Finding rock art can be extremely rewarding, but also very challenging. The panels are often hidden by vegetation, or overgrown by turf. Many of the carvings are very weathered, and can be difficult to see, even if you know what to look for. It is very easy to walk straight past a carved rock without noticing the motifs.
Although rock art is sometimes found by chance, most of it is discovered by searching deliberately. Hundreds of ‘new’ carved panels have been found in different parts of Scotland over the last 10 years by people looking for rock art, and there are probably hundreds more prehistoric carvings waiting to be discovered.
Before you start, please assess the conditions that you will be working in, and their potential risks to your safety. You can use our Risk assessment form to help identify and note these risks each time you do fieldwork.
You can read more about What to do if you find new rock art at the bottom of this page. If you find a rock art panel and want to record it, our Fieldwork section and the guidance notes in our Resources section will provide all the information you need.
Prehistoric rock art is easier to see at certain times of day or year because the carvings are usually quite shallow and show up best in low sunlight. They can be almost invisible in the middle of the day, or on dull, overcast days, but incredibly clear in the morning or evening, or in the winter.
Rock art is more visible from late October to late April when there is less ground vegetation to cover the carvings, and the sun is at a lower angle.
When you find the panel you are looking for, it is always a good idea to thoroughly explore the surrounding area as there may well be other carvings nearby that have not been recorded.
Look for rock art with other people – the more eyes the better!
Please always follow the Rock Art Code!
A good way to begin is by visiting carved rocks that are already known. You can find out where these are by using the rock art map or database search tools on this website. Once you have identified which panels you want to look for, use the grid reference to navigate to the right place. Sometimes the grid references are not very accurate, or the panel has become overgrown, so you may need to spend some time looking. Please do not start removing any vegetation unless you plan to make a detailed record of the rock art to add to our database.
Once you find the rock art you are looking for, it can be very rewarding to explore the surrounding area. Rock art panels are rarely isolated, and you have a good chance of finding other carvings or archaeological features.
There are many places where you can look for unrecorded rock art. New panels are often found close to known rock art, but also in areas where no carvings were ever recorded. Prehistoric carvings are regularly found in new locations, and our map of Scotland’s rock art is constantly changing. If you keep looking, over time you may develop an understanding of the types of landscapes where you are most likely to find rock art (such as hillsides and valleys rather than mountain tops).
An understanding of how the landscape has been used and changed over time can help with locating rock art. For example, if land has been cleared for agriculture, either recently or in the past, the rock art may have been moved, or even destroyed. It is worth looking at piles of stones (field clearance cairns) and field walls around the edges of the cleared ground, as these sometimes contain the remnants of carved rocks. You can learn more about this in Reading the landscape.
If you want to look for rock art it is good practice to find out who owns the land, and ask their permission to visit the carvings. This is for your own safety, as well as ensuring that you are welcome. It is particularly important to get permission to access areas used for crops, livestock, stalking, or private land. The land owner or farmer will be able to tell you the best time to do your fieldwork. They may also have valuable information about the panel, or know of other, unrecorded panels.
Always keep your impact on the rock art and the landscape to a minimum, and always use the Rock Art Code.
Identifying rock art can be tricky, even when you are in the right place. Motifs can become very weathered with time, making them difficult to see. Cupmarks (circular depressions) are often shallow and difficult to distinguish from natural features on the rock surface. You can find out more about how to identify prehistoric carvings in guidance notes on Recognising Rock Art. However, if you persevere you will soon develop a ‘specialized eye’ for spotting rock art, and the more you look, the more you will see!
If you are not able to find the rock art you were looking for, do not be disappointed! It can often take several visits to find a panel. It is also possible that the available grid reference is inaccurate, the carvings are covered by thick vegetation, or the panel has been removed or destroyed. If this is the case, please let us know.
If you think you have found a new rock art panel, there are several things you can do:
1. Check that it is not already recorded. You can do this by searching our rock art map and database. Bear in mind that some grid references and descriptions for existing records may not be accurate unless the panel has already been recorded by the ScRAP project. If it has not been recorded by ScRAP, you may need to spend time exploring the surrounding area to check that you have found the correct panel, even if has a different grid reference from the record.
2. Make sure it really is prehistoric rock art rather than a natural feature or something created at a later date. You can find out more about this in our Recognising Rock Art guidance notes. When in doubt, try to get a second opinion, and go back in different light conditions.
3. Get in contact with Historic Environment Scotland (HES) with the following information:
Grid reference taken with a GPS or mobile phone
Description of the carved rock and how to find it
At least four photographs clearly showing (a) the carved rock and (b) its setting in the landscape. Check our Photography for Rock Art guidance.
Any other information you think will be useful
You can contact HES at email@example.com, and they will direct your email to most appropriate person.
4. Once you are sure that your discovery is unrecorded rock art, we recommend that you make a detailed record of it and report it to Discovery and Excavation in Scotland (DES). There is more information about what and how to record, and how to report it in our guidance Recording Rock Art and Sharing Data.
The Scotland's Rock Art Project trained and worked with Community Teams to build a consistent, publicly accessible database of prehistoric carvings using specific recording methods.
Creating detailed, digital records of Scotland's rock art is essential for better understanding, sustainability, and public awareness. You can find out about our recording methods in this section!
Before going out and looking for rock art, there are some important things that you should be aware of. You will also need to know what equipment to use. You can find out all about it here!
Follow these simple steps to prepare for a fantastic day out doing fieldwork and recording rock art. Don't forget your wellingtons and waterproofs!
Like any other type of archaeological fieldwork, rock art recording uses specific methods and techniques. Learn how to record rock art, and find out what types of information you should be documenting.
Fieldwork is only one part of the method for recording rock art. In this section you can read about how to process information captured in the field, and how to build 3D models of the carved rocks.
Once you have processed all the information collected in the field, your photographs, and your 3D models, you can upload it to Canmore. Find out how in this section.