Recording Rock Art


Good recording is essential. If we are to improve our understanding, knowledge, and sustainability of our prehistoric rock art, we need a detailed record of every carved rock surface in Scotland. We also need a better idea of where the rock art is (and where it is not) located so we can learn more about its relationship with the landscape, and its importance for the people that created it.



Rock art recording aims to:

  • Collect data for research to improve our understanding of how and why rock art was created and used

  • Create a lasting record of material that may become damaged or destroyed. This information can also be used to help preserve and protect the rock art through monitoring, conservation and protection.

  • Provide information for education and public awareness.



The way that we record rock art has changed dramatically in the last decade or so as our attitudes and technology have developed. There has also been a shift in what we record. Rather than only studying the carvings, researchers are now interested in a more holistic view that includes the rock surface, the physical setting, and the relationship with other archaeological features. Traditionally, documentation focused on the motifs and their arrangement on the rock surface. This information was usually captured through visual techniques such as drawing, rubbing, tracing, or even taking casts to make replicas of the carvings. These approaches are not ideal as they often miss out important information and their accuracy varies. They can also damage the rock surface, particularly if repeated several times on the same panel. You can find out more about these approaches in our notes on traditional recording methods


We now have better tools for recording which enable everyone to capture detailed information of the carvings and their contexts quickly and accurately. This technology is evolving rapidly, and there may well be new developments over the next few years that we can experiment within this project.



Between 2017 and 2021 we worked with trained Community Teams across Scotland to investigate and record over 1600 prehistoric carved rocks. The Teams documented panels that are already known, many of which had very limited accessible information, and also searched for unrecorded rock art. We used the same methods to record each rock art panel. This enabled us to compare and analyse the carvings, and produce detailed information available for research, management, and public interest.


The most important rule for rock art documentation is that it should be entirely non-destructive. Rock art is a very fragile resource and any impact on it contributes to its decay. Our recording methods were built on previous experiences with similar community initiatives, such as the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project (NADRAP), and the Carved Stones Investigations: Rombalds Moor Project. You can find out more about these projects on the England’s Rock Art website. Our methods included:


You can find out more about these techniques and how to use them in our Fieldwork section. If you would like to look for rock art, you can find more information on our Finding rock art page.

taking Accurate Grid references 

working out Orientations 

Understanding the local geology

Understanding the local geology 



Filling out dedicated site sheets

Filling out rock art recording forms


Photographing rock art

Creating a Photographic Record


Photographing the carved rocks in context

Photographing the carved rocks in context. 


Photographic survey for 3D modelling



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.


Finding Rock Art

Finding rock art is very rewarding, but often quite difficult! In this section we offer a few tips that may help you find those 'hidden' panels. 


Getting Started

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! 

Fieldwork Preparation

Follow these simple steps to prepare for a fantastic day out doing fieldwork and recording rock art. Don't forget your wellingtons and waterproofs! 


Doing Fieldwork

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. 

After Fieldwork

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. 

Data Entry

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.