Case Study: Community engagement with rock art - the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project

Case Study 29

Community engagement with rock art: the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project

Tertia Barnett

Prehistoric carvings (cup-and-ring markings) are believed to date mainly to the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age (c. 2900–2000 BC). Over 6000 examples of this type of carved stone are known, of which over a third are found in Scotland. Although the carvings have endured for several thousand years, they are continually eroding. Many have also disappeared through human agency, and those that survive are threatened by human impact on the landscape. Public awareness of the carvings is low, and only a small number are legally protected. Capturing and sharing detailed information about the carvings and their setting is crucial for future understanding, research and conservation management.

Figure 1: NADRAP recording at Gled Law. © Tertia Barnett

Figure 1: NADRAP recording at Gled Law. © Tertia Barnett

In 1999, English Heritage (EH) commissioned the Rock Art Pilot Project (RAPP) to assess the state of the carvings. The RAPP concluded that rock art is poorly understood and undervalued, and made recommendations for future improvements. This led to the launch, in 2004, of the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project (NADRAP). NADRAP aimed to work in partnership with local people to develop a standardised recording methodology, and establish a comprehensive and consistent digital database. The project presented an exciting opportunity for community co-production of a resource that would benefit future research and heritage management, while raising public awareness.

Over 50 volunteers were recruited through local publicity. Following extensive training, participants were split into teams, each covering a specific geographical area. Teams were tasked with testing recording methods, including techniques such as low-cost 3D data capture (photogrammetry), and compiling data for all the 1400 carved panels in Northumberland and County Durham. Teams were also responsible for data management and upload to the digital archive.

Through their dedication and enthusiasm, NADRAP participants generated a consistent recording methodology, a detailed database for all the known sites in the region, and a national rock art website with online access to the England’s Rock Art archive (ERA). A key component of the recording methodology was to assess current condition and potential threats to each rock art panel for informing conservation management strategies. Consequently, a number of high-risk sites were added to the list of scheduled monuments, and land managers were advised on best practice. Although no formal long-term monitoring scheme was instigated, several participants took on the role of checking sites. The project also had an important intangible legacy. Many participants became self-appointed rock-art ‘ambassadors’, raising awareness locally through guided walks, talks, publications and exhibitions.

NADRAP was pioneering in several respects: forging a new dynamic between communities and heritage institutions in which local people assumed a pro-active role in research and awareness-raising; trialling the use of specialist techniques by communities; focussing public and institutional attention on the rock art; and establishing a national archive for public access, research and heritage management. The work of NADRAP has since been extended through initiatives such as Stones Investigation: Rombalds Moor (CSI).

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Figure 2: NADRAP Team 2 at work at Glantlees. © Tertia Barnett