Scotland’s Rock Art Project (ScRAP) – Progress so far

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The story of the Project and NOSAS’s involvement up to the end of May 2017

by Alan Thompson (NOSAS)

Background to the Project and NOSAS involvement

Scotland’s Rock Art Project is a five-year project to record and research prehistoric rock art. The scheme is run by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The aim of the project is to improve understanding and awareness of Scotland’s rock art through research.  In order to research the carvings, we need to first develop a comprehensive, detailed record of where they are and what they look like.

As many of you will already know, NOSAS is a partner in this project.  Our specific role in 2017 is to work with Tertia Barnett and her team to pilot and test the recording methods to be used.  Beyond that we will be one of a number of Community groups recording rock art across Scotland.

As with all such projects, there is a challenge in ensuring that small groups, working independently in the field, make their records in a sufficiently consistent and comprehensive way that the results are meaningful for analysis by Tertia and her academic partners.

Tertia has extensive experience in recording rock art in England, including in the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project (NADRAP).  At that time photogrammetry was still somewhat specialised and could only be used selectively, but despite that some great results were obtained demonstrating that rock art is an ideal subject for photogrammetry.  The progress of technology since then means that our project will major on the use of photogrammetry – we intend that all panels (each discrete exposure of a piece of rock art is called a panel) should be recorded this way.

Tertia also plans an App for recording, the idea being similar to that used by the Scharp/Scape project which some of you have used.  That will take a little time to specify and program, and so in the meanwhile (for the pilot work) we are using paper forms.

Discussing how to record this CMS. (Photo Anne Cockroft)

NOSAS Involvement in the Pilot Project

NOSAS has committed to work with Tertia to record enough panels in our local area in 2017 to fully test the methods she is developing.  35 members have indicated an interest and most of these have already become involved.  If other members are interested they should contact John Wombell or Alan Thompson.

Progress to date

The project is now underway.  We have held two ‘familiarisation’ afternoons at Clava, plus training sessions with Tertia at Dingwall and Drumore.

– Familiarisation Sessions at Clava

Because of the numbers we held the session twice, once on a weekday and once at the weekend.  We chose to visit Clava because of its convenient location, easy parking and access for a large group.  It is of course famous for the Clava Cairns, but in addition there are a series of panels built into the cairns and at nearby locations.  We were able to compare the records with what we could locate, and examine and discuss the panels.

Cup Marked Stone (CMS) built into the kerb, NE cairn.  (Photo Anne Cockroft)

Part of a CMS now in a garden wall.  (Photogrammetry Alan Thompson)

Each group also took a set of images for photogrammetry, which was subsequently processed and put onto sketchfab.  We can see that this experiment was not entirely successful as not enough pictures from around the stone were taken.

Processed results from photogrammetry experiment.  (Photogrammetry Alan Thompson)

– Formal Training Sessions

The sessions were attended by about 20 members.  On the first afternoon Dr Stuart Jeffrey (Research Fellow, School of Simulation and Visualisation, Glasgow School of Art) demonstrated both photogrammetry and RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging).  He took us over to the churchyard at Dingwall church and we examined the standing stone with Pictish symbols as well as cup marks.  Stuart then demonstrated how he would take a set of pictures for photogrammetry, and many of us also took sets of pictures using other stones as examples.

Stuart setting up RTI equipment.  (Photo Tertia Barnett)

A sharp shower then drove us back inside, and we proceeded to go through the stages of photogrammetry processing using photoscan.  When the rain cleared, we went out again but conditions were not suitable for an RTI demonstration, which was disappointing.  We went back inside and Stuart set up a simple demonstration of the method, which showed the approach to data capture, and the stages in processing and presenting the results.

Conditions unsuitable for RTI outside.  (Photo Jonie Guest)

At the end of the afternoon, Tertia issued us all with draft recording forms and other documents to read (It’s worth remembering that we are the pilot group and therefore the first to test these out).

On the following day we met in Dingwall, and then went in convoy to Drumore farm as arranged by John.  In the morning we examined a large and very mossy CMS in the garden of Drumore farm and Tertia talked us through the approach to cleaning the stone, and the content and logic of the draft recording form.

Tertia explaining recording methods at the smaller stone in the garden.  (Photo Alan Thompson)

In the afternoon, we went up to an area where there are a number of CMS, split into groups of about four, and each group had a go at cleaning, completing the form, photography, and taking pictures for photogrammetry.  At the end of the afternoon we looked at each CMS in turn with the group which had been recording it.

Group recording the CMS.  (Photo Tertia Barnett)

CMS with coins marking cups – how many rings?  (Photo Anne Cockroft)

After returning home we processed the results using photoscan.

Processed results.  (Photogrammetry Alan Thompson)

As a result we have been able to give Tertia some substantial feedback about the forms, about the approach to photogrammetry, and processed examples for her to consider.

Lessons so far

From a practical NOSAS point of view (and it will be the same for other community groups doing recording) we need to be sure we know enough about:

– How to find the rock art in our area.

This is not as easy as it sounds!  The obvious first sources are Canmore and the local HER, but we know that not only are these records seriously incomplete, but also that many of the records especially in Canmore are of Cup Marked Stones (CMS) which cannot today be located.  John Wombell led the Ross-shire Rock Art Project (RRAP) and recorded about 150 panels in Ross-shire alone, many of which are not yet on the official record.  Even for those on the record, many have only 4 or 6 figure grid references and may now be overgrown or even relocated.  Others may be as yet undiscovered.  So we’ll have to decide how much searching we should do.  As someone said, ‘we can’t dig up the whole of Scotland’.  For the pilot stage however John has many suggestions for us.

– How to prepare the panel for recording (cleaning)

Most panels are covered at least in part in grass, moss and lichens.  Some are scheduled.  Our recording methods (photography and photogrammetry) may be non-invasive but in order to get good results we still need to clean the panels.  We are therefore testing agreed minimum impact methods and suitable tools for one-off use.

– How to make the necessary records (in the field)

The Recording form and guidelines are in draft, and cover for example panel dimensions, description and sketch of the panel itself, description and sketch of the location of the panel, and condition of the panel – ultimately this will be entered directly into an App, although the paper option will be retained.

We will also take photographs.

Defining exactly what pictures to take for photogrammetry remains under discussion.  Good photogrammetry is key to the success of the project.  The issue is that we won’t know for sure that we have a good set of images until we take them home and process them.  The exact ‘rules’ we follow in the field to decide the position, direction, and number of pictures to take therefore need to be simple practical and clear.

RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) will be used selectively with certain panels only.  As yet we have no experience with this technique.

– How to process and complete the records for submission to the database

We have some experience of using Photoscan to process the 3D models, and our main concern is that we produce models of sufficient quality to be useful for the research, without being excessive in numbers of pictures or processing times.

Next Steps

The general approach will be recording in small groups of 2-4.  After visiting Drumore we have decided that we should first concentrate on that area so that we can go in a bigger group and then split up and work on nearby panels.  This will help with learning as we can share experiences and problems and is a good way of involving more of the group who were not able to attend the first sessions.

Once we have the updated forms and guidelines we will arrange dates for this and advise the group.

8 thoughts on “Scotland’s Rock Art Project (ScRAP) – Progress so far

  1. Timothy Flinn

    I have researched the diameters of over 360 neolithic carved stone balls in Scotland, and the ridge gaps of over 300 cup-and-ring marks in Scotland, England, both Irelands and the Canary Islands, and await details from Switzerland. From this I have extrapolated the likelihood that the neolithics developed a neolithic inch of 23mm±2 based on the length of the final section of a man’s little finger. This figure is a mean as obviously the little fingers of the craftsmen varied amongst them in length. However, to this day 12 x that finger tip length is the size of the man’s foot, and 36 x that is his average stride.Thus inches, feet and yards. Averages only!

    How can I use the data collected by Tertia and Company to access the above metrics for other carved stone balls and ring marks without having to trek across moorlands (I am 80)?


    1. nosas Post author

      Thanks for for your observations Tim. In our experience cup marks vary considerably in shape, size and degree of erosion, also we do not recognise the term ‘ridge gaps’. As regards the question of accessing ScRAP data, the project is still in its infancy. I would advise waiting until the national website is launched and contacting the team directly through that. John Wombell


  2. Timothy Flinn

    Thanks for this. I agree that the cups vary in size, BUT I was measuring the rings, not the cups (which many rings lack).

    How can you not recognise ridge gaps? They are present in every ring mark that I have checked across five countries. Consistently (ie on average) the summit of one ridge to the summit of its nearest neighbour is 23mm±2m. The same applied to the valleys in between. This applies even in ring marks that are not true circles. Obviously there is some built in variation if my theory is correct as the final part of each creator’s little finger, ‘the neolithic inch’, will also vary a tad, but that average gap seems pretty constant. This has to be explained and I offer a plausible explanation (an apprenticeship test piece and/or practise for such a test), even if a better one is on offer one day,


    1. nosas Post author

      ‘Ridge gaps’ is not a term used or recorded by rock art researchers but we understand what you are measuring and we shall have a think about it. In Highland we have no rings on their own, only cups on their own and cups with single rings along with a variety grooves and more complex motifs. We have just a single example of a panel with two rings carved around cups. For multiple rings around cups or rings on their own you would do best to look at the rock art of Argyll, in particular Achnabreck near Kilmartin. Another most unusual example of multiple rings is in the Lake District at Chapel Stile in Langdale. John Wombell


      1. Timothy Flinn

        Thanks for that. I didn’t know that the Highlands were so disadvantaged re ring marks. You have saved me a trip! I wonder why that is? Perhaps the north concentrated on carved stone balls instead? (diameters 3x23mm±2) I have measured every site around Kilmartin and most of those in Northumberland and several in Cumbria. Ireland is very productive-if one can ever find them. It’s those in Europe I now need details of. Tim Flinn.


    1. Timothy Flinn

      Many ring marked stones lack any cups; and vice versa. I suggest the genuine ones share the 23mm±2mm metric. Oddly (?) the same diameter as the UK £1 coin. (Not the ±2mm bit!)



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