Decay of Ancient Stone Monuments

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: School of Arts and Cultures


Ancient stone monuments (ASMs), such as standing stones and rock art panels, reflect Britain's rich prehistoric past. Often isolated in the countryside, ASMs present a primordial allure and provide evocative visual links with our prehistoric ancestors. These unique, non-renewable heritage resources have great cultural and aesthetic value; frequently, acquiring national significance. However, they also have economic consequence due to their value to tourism and the image of Britain. Despite their apparent robustness and resilience, they often reside in rural landscapes that are under continuous threat from human and agro-industrial activity as well as the vagaries of climate change, especially changes in precipitation patterns. Further, the majority of previous research into stone monuments has focused on built structures, which are similar in some ways to ASMs, but they also differ significantly because ASMs exist within the landscape and more ecological factors influence their fate.

This cluster will gather experts to address scientific and heritage questions needed to conserve and manage ASMs in the countryside. Although this ASM Research Cluster (ASMRC) crosses several Science and Heritage Programme themes, it is submitted under 'resilience and adaptation' because ASM decay is intrinsically affected by environmental variability. As such, the ASMRC will bring together experts from environmental sciences, such as geochemistry, molecular microbiology, ecology, geomorphology, botany, and hydrology; heritage studies, such as archaeology; and managers of heritage resources within government and non-profit agencies. The technical goals of the cluster will be to identify environmental processes that promote ASM decay (e.g., biological, chemical, and physical weathering); determine how such processes might be affected by changing climate and environmental conditions; prioritise research to generate more effective treatments of decay to improve conservation practices; investigate monument monitoring procedures in light of new scientific methods; and develop ASM heritage science as a platform for future heritage and scientific investigation.

To ensure the most appropriate cluster team, we will follow a two-phase development plan. A strategic planning group (SPG) will first meet to prioritise key issues and identify 'outside' experts needed to fill gaps in the knowledge pool. Commitments have already been obtained from 11 experts to work in the SPG, including 6 'scientists' and 5 'heritage professionals' from academia and heritage agencies. The SPG then will identify and recruit an extended complement of experts (tactical working group; TWG) from which sub-teams will be formed and proposals prepared to ensure continuation of the ASMRC. This plan will be fulfilled by 2 two-day workshops that will include field visits to sites in North East England to help individuals less familiar with ASMs to visualise context and an advertised public meeting to inform broader science and heritage communities of the goals and actions of the cluster.

ASMRC results will be disseminated through three 'popular' articles on heritage science issues related to ASMs; one for the heritage community on science issues related to conservation; one for the science community on heritage issues as platforms for scientific inquiry; and one aimed at the general public on heritage science and ASMs. Further, a web-based dissemination programme will be developed, including an emailing distribution list, an internet blog site, and news and information nodes cross-linked among web pages of participants. In addition, knowledge derived from the cluster will contribute to research-led teaching and students will be encouraged to attend the TWG workshop, which will be promoted via the NU Press Office. Finally, we will motivate all participants to act as 'heritage science ambassadors" within their own professional circles to expand links between science and heritage.


10 25 50
Description No significant research findings can be reported at this time, however, we would like to emphasize that the meetings of 9 and 10 March and 24 and 25 June were great successes and all the participants were supportive of the aims of the cluster and contributed positively to the discussions. This included identifying complementary research themes and researchers as well as developing series of ideas for potential projects.
No media coverage external to the university has been generated but we would to draw attention to the following:
Newcastle University Newslink article (20 January 2009): Joining together to protect our ancient monuments (

Workshop 1: 9 & 10 March 2009: Thirteen attendees from: Bradford University; English Heritage; Newcastle University, Northumberland County Council; Queen's University, Belfast; and the Science and Heritage Programme. The morning of 9 March included these presentations and discussion topics: Aron Mazel: Introduction Decay of Ancient Stone Monuments; David Graham: Science pertinent to ancient monuments in natural landscapes; Mark Seaward: Lichens: Agents of monumental destruction; Patricia Warke: Between a rock and a hard place: condition assessment of historic stone and appropriate intervention; Ian Head: Molecular biological tools for answering heritage questions; and Discussion: Using environmental sciences to support heritage management. The afternoon was spent visiting rock art panels (Lordenshaw). On 10 March, the participants discussed: stone and mineral types used in ASMs; environmental, ecological, and geological contexts of ASMs; weathering and other environmental processes that jeopardise ASMs, especially those affected by climatic changing; areas of scientific research that provide innovative solutions to conservation issues; and monument monitoring procedures. The group also identified specialist to strengthen the cluster and contribute to Workshop 2.

Workshop 2: 24 & 25 June 2009. This was divided into 2 components: a public meeting (Day 1) and cluster sessions (Day 2). The Day 1 public meeting, entitled Ancient Stone Monuments: Integrating Management Needs and Scientific Analyses, was attended by 37 people, and included 3 sessions: 1. Becoming Familiar with Ancient Stone Monuments: Sara Rushton: What, Where and When? An Overview of Ancient Stone Monuments in Northumberland; Chris Jones: Threats to Ancient Stone Monuments in Northumberland National Park; Rob Young Ancient Stone Monuments, the NE Regional Research Framework and 'Heritage at Risk'; 2. Ideas and Science Methods for Heritage Systems: David Graham: Resilience of Ancient Stone Monuments in a Changing Climate; Chris Hayward: Characterisation of Geological Materials, Landscape Processes, and the Preservation of Cultural Heritage; Haida Liang: Non-Invasive Methods for in situ Assessing and Monitoring the Vulnerability of Rock Art Monuments; 3.Integrating Science and Heritage: Mark Seaward: Lichens, Agents of Monumental Destruction; Patricia Warke: Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Assessing Change and Prioritising Need; Paul Younger: Interdisciplinarity and the Strategic Importance of Heritage Science: a View from the North East. Day 2 cluster sessions revolved around the question: utilising the wide range of tools and information that are available what kinds of projects do you think would best serve the safeguarding and management of ASMs? Research directions were clarified and a series of potential projects were identified.
Exploitation Route This was taken forward in the AHRC/EPSRC funded research project:

Heritage and Science: Working Together in the CARE of Rock Art
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The research involved a public facing workshop, which was attended by a wide range of people.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural