Prehistoric Rock Art in Scotland: archaeology, meaning and engagement

Over the past 50 years or so, the later prehistoric open-air rock art of Scotland has received much useful attention with the sterling work of researchers Ronald Morris and Stan Beckensall. It is only recently, though, that interest through Historic Scotlandโ€™s โ€˜Scotlandโ€™s Rock Art Projectโ€™ (ScRAP) has fully recognised the uniqueness of this sometimes idiosyncratic archaeological assemblage. The project, operating between 2017 and 2021, covered large tracts of the highland landscape with a dedicated term of professionals and volunteers. The preliminary results reveal a series of prescribed ritual landscapes that embrace both rock art and burialโ€“ritual sites.

The results of the project are eloquently revealed in a new, very readable publication: Prehistoric Rock Art in Scotland. The book, sponsored by Historic Environment Scotland, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the University of Edinburgh, and the School of Simulation and Visualisation (The Glasgow School of Art)is divided into four short chapters, briefly covering all aspects of the project, including the age-old generic questions of โ€˜What is rock art?โ€™ and โ€˜What does it mean?โ€™.

The bookโ€™s contents provide the reader with a brief but enthusiastic introduction to what prehistoric rock art is all about: its history, form, methods of engraving, and landscape. Each chapter is supported by excellent photography, mapping, and line drawings, providing an essential visual narrative with superbly evocative images of Scotlandโ€™s finest rock art sites. The authors also provide an important context in terms of where Scotland stands within a wider European Neolithic and Bronze Age.

Similar to its counterpart for rock art south of the border, The Prehistoric Rock Art of England: recording, managing and enjoying our carved heritage (English Heritage, 2008), Prehistoric Rock Art in Scotland provides the reader with an excellent introduction to one of northern Europeโ€™s busiest rock-art landscapes.

The ScRAP team should be congratulated on this publication and the way they have embraced public engagement with a project such as this. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding prehistoric rock art and the diverse landscapes in which it stands.

Review by George Nash
Prehistoric Rock Art in Scotland: archaeology, meaning and engagement, T Barnett, J Valdez-Tullett, L M Bjerketvedt, et al., Historic Environment Scotland, Free download from www.rockart.scot/resources/downloads