Carved in stone: recording Scotland’s prehistoric rock art

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(PHOTO: Historic Environment Scotland)

Over the summer, archaeology students descended on Kilmartin, Argyll, to record the numerous examples of prehistoric rock art found in the Glen. Trained by staff from Edinburgh University and the Scotland’s Rock Art Project (ScRAP) team, and supported by the Kilmartin Museum, the students noted the location, orientation, scale, and various other notable characteristics of each carving, as well as creating 3D models using photogrammetry techniques (pictured above).

Kilmartin has a rich prehistoric landscape, with more than 150 monuments and over 100 known panels of rock art within a six-mile radius. Most of these examples are thought to date to the Neolithic or early Bronze Age, with many of the carvings being ‘cup and ring marks’ – a common design found across Atlantic Europe.

Yet before this project there was little contextual information about many of the carved rocks. Often only their rough coordinates had previously been recorded in the Canmore database – Scotland’s online catalogue of archaeology, buildings, and other heritage sites – sometimes with little or no additional detail provided. Through the efforts of the students, roughly half of these panels have now been fully recorded with new metadata and 3D models. This information will be made available through an online database – created as part of a five-year AHRC-funded initiative, called Scotland’s Rock Art Project (ScRAP) – hosted by Historic Environment Scotland in collaboration with Edinburgh University and Glasgow School of Art.

This is a 3D scan of the carved rocksheet, Allt Bealaich Ruaidh, created by some of the students. (IMAGE: Historic Environment Scotland)

The ScRAP project aims to record the many examples of prehistoric rock art found across Scotland. As was the case in Kilmartin, there is currently no standardised database and very little contextual information available for the approximately 2,700 examples of rock art so far known in the country. As a community-based initiative, archaeologists on the project are training volunteers across Scotland to record these prehistoric carvings and upload them to the project’s online database. Not only will the subsequent database allow the project team and other researchers to carry out in-depth analysis of patterns in the data with the hope of better understanding the rock art, it will, perhaps even more importantly, help to raise public awareness of these carvings.

To find out more about the project, visit

This article appeared in CA 344.

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