British Rock Art Group Conference 2014

ICCHS poster for BRAG 2014ICCHS was well represented at the annual British Rock Art Group (BRAG) conference at the University of Edinburgh on Saturday 3 May 2014. Organised by Dr Tertia Barnett (School of History, Classics and Archaeology), the programme comprised 14 papers, seven posters, and several interactive sessions, including a stone carving workshop!

Myra Giesen presented a paper ‘Expanded results in the CARE of rock art in the UK and Ireland’, on behalf of the CARE project team at Newcastle University and Queen’s University Belfast . She updated the conference about the fieldwork that has been completed in Northumberland, Dumfries and Galloway, and Donegal and some of the insights that this has generated. This includes a possible link between the deterioration of rock art and the height of rock art panels and salt content in soils. The possible relationship between these factors and climate change is also being explored (Giesen et al. 2014). Myra’s presentation was complemented by a poster entitled ‘Heritage & Science: Working Together in the CARE of Rock Art’ which highlighted the CARE fieldwork and results and also mentioned the focus group meetings that the CARE team held in Northumberland to obtain feedback from a range of stakeholders on the monitoring toolkit that is being developed.

Aron Mazel’s presentation covered his research into the richly painted Didima Gorge in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountains in South Africa where Harald Pager recorded 3909 paintings in 17 rock shelters in the 1960s. Aron has linked the abundance of rock art in the gorge to its acoustic qualities (Mazel, 2011) and is now investigating the distribution of painting themes along the 5.5 km gorge.

Visit Andy Curtis’s Heddon on the Wall local history blog for more commentary about BRAG 2014.

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Rock Art in the Negev and Beyond

Har_Michia_rock_art_3In March  Aron Mazel was invited to share experience and findings from his work on Northumberland rock art with international colleagues at ‘The First International Conference on Rock Art in the Negev Desert and Beyond’ (27 – 28 March, 2014) in Sde Boker, Israel.

Organised to coincide with the inauguration of the new Negev Rock Art Center this superbly organised and interesting conference included speakers from 11 different countries who deal with rock art, its management and interpretation, in the Negev and in surrounding countries such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Oman, Egypt and Jordan. Aron’s presentation ‘On the ground and on the web: interpreting Northumberland rock art for the public since 2002’ dealt primarily with Aron’s work on the Beckensall website and Rock Art on Mobile Phones  (RAMP) projects and the insights and lessons that have been gained from this research. Interpretation was a highly relevant issue for the conference as the Negev Rock Art Center is in the process of creating a rock art park, which will involve interpreting rock art for the public.

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During and after the conference the participants were shown some of the rock art that will form part of the park. They had the opportunity to interact with representatives of the local Bedouin community to exchange thoughts and feelings about the creation of the park, with particular reference to the economic benefits through tourism, and the different approaches that should be taken to its management and interpretation.

Rock Art CARE Project Northumberland focus group

Focus group members at West Lordenshaw 1D.

Focus group members at West Lordenshaw 1D.

At the beginning of November the Heritage and Science: Working Together in the CARE of Rock Art project held its second focus group, this time for rock art non-experts.

The event involved nine non-experts. Along with the project research team, the group visited the rock art site at Lordenshaw in Northumberland National Park to test out the draft tool kit, which is one of the key deliverables of the project. A discussion was then held in Rothbury to gain feedback on possible improvements and changes to the tool kit.

The participants were mainly drawn from North East ramblers groups so they were certainly prepared for any conditions. However as it was the weather was perfect. The low autumn sunshine really picked out the rock art in a spectacular way.

West Lordenshaw 2C in the autumnal morning light.

West Lordenshaw 2C in the autumnal morning light.

The feedback on the tool kit was vital as part of project aim is to co-produce its resources. There was lots of very useful feedback provided by the group, such as pointing out it was sometimes hard to distinguish a difference in the condition of motifs. An expert, such as Dr Mazel, is so used to seeing many motifs that this issue hadn’t been considered.

The end product will help protect open-air rock art by creating a means for anyone to quickly evaluate the condition of rock art based on scientific research into potential risks to the stone.

To join the wider discussion about rock art in the UK and Ireland visit the project on Facebook.

Rock Art CARE Project Donegal Fieldwork

The project team.

The project team (left to right): A. Mazel, P. Lewis, P, Warke, M, Giesen, R. Enlander.

The Heritage and Science: Working Together in the CARE of Rock Art project completed its third and final data collection exercise in early September. The team included Dr Aron Mazel, Dr Myra Giesen and Peter Lewis from Newcastle University with Dr Patricia Warke and Dr Rebecca Enlander from Queen’s University Belfast.

The team visited several rock art sites in Donegal, Ireland, to gather further scientific data on the contributing factors to rock art decay. Twenty four panels were analysed in a variety of conditions, some almost perfect but others were very eroded. This was very helpful in providing a variety of data that can be used to analyse the factors affecting rock art condition. Despite very high concentrations of rock art, especially in an area called Doagh Island, all the sites were on private land and not signposted or easily accessible.

Donegal rock art.

Example of rock art in an excellent condition.

As usual soil samples were taken at each site but unfortunately, and not for the first time, the XRF machine broke down so it was impossible to analyse the rock composition. This will now be done at a later date. The findings, along with the written recordings of risk factors at the panels, will help to further shape the tool kit and management guide that aim to help protect rock art.

With the data collected for the Donegal sites, the fieldwork element of the project is now complete. The next phase of the project will focus on continuing with consultations over the toolkit and management guide with a view to disseminating the final products in January 2014.

Find out more about the CARE project and the forthcoming toolkit and management guide visit http://research.ncl.ac.uk/heritagescience/

To join a wider discussion about rock art and rock art sites visit the Rock Art of the UK and Ireland page on Facebook.

Rock Art CARE Project Dumfries and Galloway Fieldwork

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The project team at High Banks; left to right, P. Warke, M. Giesen, P. Lewis and A. Mazel

The Heritage and Science: Working Together in the CARE of Rock Art project completed its second data collection exercise in mid-July. The team included Dr Aron Mazel, Dr Myra Giesen and Peter Lewis from Newcastle University and Dr Patricia Warke from Queen’s University Belfast.

The team visited several rock art sites in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland to gather further scientific data on the contributing factors to rock art decay. Soil samples were taken and an XRF machine used to analyse the rock composition. These will be analysed at Queen’s University Belfast. The findings, along with the written recordings of risk factors at the panels, will help to further shape the tool kit and management guide that aim to help protect rock art.

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This shield motif at High Banks is stunning and probably unique in the whole of the UK, yet there are no protective measures in place. Cattle are clearly trampling over the panel with other potential damage from such as significant moss growth

Nearly thirty panels were analysed in Dumfries and Galloway with most being in a poor condition. Some of the risks identified to these panels were significant, including cattle roaming over the rocks and even cattle feeders placed on or adjacent to panels. None of the team had been to the majority of the panels and it was felt that many lessons were learnt here, even above what the team expected before starting.

The next fieldwork carried out by the team will be in Ireland in early September.

Association of Southern African Archaeologists biennial conference, Botswana

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Aron Mazel attended the biennial conference of the Association of Southern African Archaeologists (ASAPA) that took place at the University of Botswana, in Gaborone, between 3 and 7 July 2013. It was Aron’s first ASAPA conference since 2000. The conference covered a range of archaeological topics from the Early Stone Age over a million years ago to the building of bridges in the industrial era. Aron did two presentations:   (i) ‘It’s about time: reflections on recent papers about Didima rock art and the construction of hunter-gatherer history in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg’ and (ii) ‘Politics, Education and Archaeology: a personal reflection on the period between 1979-1994.’ The first paper was a continuation of research he has been doing over an extended period which (i) investigated the reluctance of rock art specialists to engage with information generated from the excavation of rock art shelters and surface collections in addressing hunter-gatherer history and (ii) continued with the process of integrating information from rock art studies with excavation research work done in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg to construct a richer hunter-gatherer history. The second paper reflected on the author’s experiences of archaeology in South Africa between 1979 when he joined the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, and 1994 when South Africa voted in its first democratic government. He used his experiences (and that of colleagues) to challenge the comments made by Shepherd (2003) that: ‘The defining characteristic of archaeology under apartheid was the growing separation between archaeology and society.’

First CARE project focus group held

At the end of June the “Heritage and Science: Working Together in the CARE of Rock Art” project held its first focus group for rock art enthusiasts.

The event involved 16 rock art enthusiasts who, along with the project team, visited the rock art at Lordenshaw so that they could test out the draft tool kit, which is one of the key deliverables of the project. A discussion was then held in Rothbury to gain feedback on possible improvements and changes to the tool kit.

There was a significant interest in the event, which was oversubscribed. Participants’ feedback suggested that they all really enjoyed the day and indeed one sent a letter afterwards suggesting “the event was a five star rating”!

the focus group tests out the draft tool kit on Lordenshaw main rock

the focus group tests out the draft tool kit on Lordenshaw main rock

discussion on improvements to the tool kit in Rothbury

discussion on improvements to the tool kit in Rothbury

The feedback on the tool kit is vital as part of project aim to co-produce its resources with the assistance of rock art enthusiasts, heritage professionals, non-specialists and end-users. The end product will help protect open-air rock art by creating a means for anyone to quickly evaluate the condition of rock art based on scientific research into potential risks to the stone.