Heritage and Science: Working Together in the CARE of Rock Art

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


Open-air rock art panels are an iconic component of the UK's prehistoric heritage. Over 3500 rock art panels still exist across the UK from the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods, between 6000 and 3800 years ago. However, this art is non-renewable and there is growing evidence that the rate of panel deterioration is increasing in association with environmental change. As such, management interventions are urgently needed, but the underpinning science essential to guide approaches and decisions is still quite limited, especially for identifying panels at greatest risk and developing holistic strategies to sustain rock art survival into the future.

With this background, we performed various scientific investigations over the past three years on the environmental and mineralogical basis of rock art deterioration in Northumberland to identify factors most associated with panel deterioration. This highly successful work showed that panel condition was strongly correlated to local soil salinity and the height of each panel, and also showed that panel deterioration was a non-linear process over time. Therefore, we have a growing understanding of the scientific basis of deterioration. However, this early work employed a condition assessment method that was excellent for research, but did not consider the uniqueness of panel attributes for prioritising panel care nor was it fully usable by non-specialists without assistance; both traits we feel are essential for widespread implementation.

This project will rectify these initial shortcomings by co-producing a user-friendly condition assessment, risk evaluation (CARE) toolkit and how-to-guide. The proposed work fits perfectly into the AHRC's innovative "Care for the Future" theme as it provides us with an opportunity to expand our successful scientific research, but then uses an arts and humanities approach to translate our "science" into a more workable human tool for protecting rock art.

We first will use a participatory/co-production approach with heritage managers, end-users (e.g., land managers/owners and volunteers) to define required CARE outcomes. New environmental data then will be obtained for rock art new locations in Northumberland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland to further calibrate and validate the CARE tool. In parallel, focus groups and pilots in Northumberland will be used to co-produce outcomes amenable to non-specialists. Ultimately, we will generate a scientifically-grounded, user-friendly toolkit, which includes a "how-to-guide" for field use that will assist end-users in making decisions on panel care without specialist expertise. In essence, we will create an "early warning" system for use by non-specialists, which will aid heritage managers in their safeguarding of rock art.

The project employs cross-disciplinary scholarship (i.e., environmental science, management, and resource expertise) and co-production with local communities and end-users. The work endeavours to make the core science behind our recommendations easily understood and publicly available via a range of dissemination routes, and to contribute to the growing ethos of Open Science reflected in the cultural/heritage sector and the natural and physical sciences. Our project specifically builds on two AHRC/EPSRC-funded Heritage and Science Cluster themes, "Decay of ancient stone monuments" and "Transformation and resilience of our landscapes, archaeology and built heritage: defining responses to societal and environmental pressures". Both Clusters assessed the role of environmental resilience on stone monument protection, which we now combine in our efforts to further develop the CARE outcomes. The project involves academics from Newcastle University, Queen's University, Belfast, and University of West Scotland with Project Partners from English Heritage, Northumberland County Council, and Northumberland National Park. All activities will be guided by a Steering Committee.

Planned Impact

The enthusiastic public response to the award winning AHRC-funded Newcastle University's (NU) Beckensall Northumberland Rock Art website demonstrated substantial public interest for rock art. This website was launched in early 2005 and by mid-2008 had received some 115,000 unique visitors and over 500,000 pages had been visited. Public interest in, and commitment to, rock art was confirmed by the extensive efforts that local volunteers and amateur archaeologists have dedicated to its recording and interpretation since the 1970s (e.g., the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Pilot project and Rock Art on Mobile Phones projects). This project, which uses a condition assessment risk evaluation (CARE) approach, builds on and enhances this interest in, and concern for, rock art. Project beneficiaries and users include i) Heritage Managers; ii) Land Managers/Owners; iii) Local Communities/Volunteers/Public; and iv) Tourism/Local Economy. These groups will be impacted on in a variety of ways:

i) Heritage Managers: will gain new knowledge and insights regarding the evaluation/monitoring of vulnerable rock art, and the associated scientific factors. Furthermore, the impact on managers is that CARE project will create greater public awareness of the safeguarding of heritage resources, especially rock art; enhance public interest in their heritage organisation's work; and help inform and contribute to heritage management regional and national strategies and policies.

ii) Land Managers/Owners: will be empowered, through learning more about the heritage resources on their property, to understand their role in managing the panels for future generations; know how they can intervene to ensure the longevity of rock art panels (and by implication other heritage resources that they have responsibility for), and possibly gaining an appreciation of the heritage science approach. We will encourage this group to convey the benefits and rewards of heritage stewardship among their neighbours and colleagues who might have responsibility for other heritage resources; thereby, cascading the impact to a broader grouping of land managers/owners.

iii) Local Communities/Volunteers/Public: will benefit from a series of impacts, including increasing awareness and local pride of heritage resources, and especially rock art; satisfying a strong public appetite for information on rock art; and providing volunteers with the opportunity to engage with Open Science through learning about, and participating in a heritage science safeguarding project and assisting with the evaluation and monitoring of rock art.

iv) Tourism/Local Economy: often are reliant on heritage attractions, therefore, CARE will increase the profile of rock art and encourage its visitation; thus, bringing more people into the rural areas in which they exist. Ultimately, safeguarding rock art panels into the future will promote the sustainability of this vulnerable and non-renewable heritage resource. Opportunities will be sought for CARE to contribute to improving visitor interpretation of rock art in visitor centres and museums in the North East of England.

An additional impact on project beneficiaries and users is their involvement in the development of a multi-pronged dissemination strategy, which will consider content and medium used to deliver CARE outcomes to the greatest number of people with maximum impact. Our approach will allow project beneficiaries and users the opportunity to contribute to the message/narrative emanating from the CARE project. Where possible, they will be encouraged to contribute to NU press releases and public talks. All groups also will be encouraged to play a central role in the horizon-scanning that will be carried out as part of the project, where current issues and media focus are identified that the CARE project can either tie in and/or use as a springboard to gain further publicity for the project.


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Description The data obtained is still being processed and will be reported on at a later stage.
Exploitation Route The insights will contribute to understanding the threats associated with the safeguarding of ancient Neolithic and Early Bronze Age rock art and the results, when published, can/will form the basis for further research. In addition, the mobile websites will enable other research and members of the public to contribute information regarding the known risk variables associated with the resources and possible mitigation of them.

In 2016 we launched a rock art monitoring app as part of the ongoing CARE project objectives. Information about the app can be found on the CARE portal: https://rockartcare.ncl.ac.uk/
Sectors Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://research.ncl.ac.uk/heritagescience/
Description The research has alerted a range of stakeholders to the vulnerability of ancient rock art in the UK and Ireland. This has included heritage managers, members of the public and landowners and land managers.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Article for 'The Conversation' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Article: Mazel, A. and Giesen, M. 2017. What Neolithic rock art can tell us about the way our ancestors
lived 6,000 years ago? The Conversation. 20 December. ?Read by 4295 people (as at 13 Feb2018)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://theconversation.com/what-neolithic-rock-art-can-tell-us-about-the-way-our-ancestors-lived-6-...
Description Development of a Flyer to advertise the CARE app 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An A5 flyer was developed to promote the CARE app. 895 flyers were distributed to 15 organisations/individuals for display purposes to encourage people to download and use the app.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
Description Popular article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Popular article: Mazel, A and Giesen, M. 2017. Safeguarding Rock Art: using a mobile app to get the job done. Rock Articles 17: 9. Intended to inform people interested in rock art about the monitoring app that we developed and to encourage them to use it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Press release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Press release entitled: 'Preserving rock art at the touch of a button' Intended to inform the public and others about the work of the project, introduce them to the newly developed rock art app and encourage them to use it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/archive/2017/11/rockartapp/