THE meaning of rock art created in the North East thousands of years ago has baffled modern day experts.
And the prehistoric people who carved the rock images would be equally at a loss to understand today’s technology which is revealing their creations to a growing audience.
In a project by the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University, archaeologists have worked with digital media experts to create a mobile phone site enabling people to find the rock art panels.
The project sprang from the realisation that people were often left frustrated because they couldn’t find the rock art easily, as most of the markings are flat and often difficult to spot in thick vegetation and overcast conditions.
Dr Aron Mazel, who led the project, said: “Some of the stones are quite weathered and it’s not obvious unless you know where to look.
“You could be standing right next to it and not see it,”
Annotated drawings, recorded commentary and photographs can also be downloaded to a mobile phone to enable visitors to see the patterns more easily.
The research initiative covers three significant locations in Northumberland, at Dod Law and Weetwood Moor, near Wooler, and Lordenshaws, near Rothbury, and makes use of mobile phone barcodes, known as QR codes, which link into an interactive mobile website.
Visitors can either type in the website address found on illustrative signs at the locations, or scan the QR barcode to be taken to the site automatically.
“I’ve been talking to the public about rock art for about 30 years, but this is a very different approach for me,” said Dr Mazel
“Rock art has been here for about 6,000 years and we’re still no nearer to working out exactly what it’s all about and that’s what’s so exciting.”
The team, which consisted of Dr Mazel, Dr Areti Galani, and research associates Dr Debbie Maxwell and Dr Kate Sharpe, carried out five workshops in Rothbury and Wooler to discuss the project with local people and rock art enthusiasts and to develop design ideas.
“We wanted to give people the means they need to explore for themselves,” said Dr Galani, co-leader of the project and a digital heritage expert.
This project breathes new life into Hexham historian Stan Beckensall’s extensive rock art archive, which was digitized by Newcastle University, providing more than 1,000 carvings on a website.
The website is devoted to rock carvings made by Neolithic and early Bronze Age people in Northumberland between 6,000 and 3,500 years ago.
It is also a celebration of the work of Dr Beckensall, who has spent more than 40 years finding and recording the ancient rock art.
He donated his archive to Newcastle University and for more than two years he and Dr Mazel visited and photographed hundreds of rock art sites, finding 250 new examples.
For many years the study of rock art was left to individuals but it is now part of mainstream archaeology.
“When you consider the amount of quarrying, field clearances and other ways rock art has been destroyed over the centuries there must once have been several thousands of examples,” said Dr Mazel.
“That is a huge amount of rock art. Its creators were not doodling and it must have been of considerable significance for so much to have been produced.”
The sites are designed to work from a mobile phone in the field, not a desktop computer.
Pictured: From left: Dr Aron Mazel, Kate Sharpe (part-time RA on the project), Dr Areti Galani and Dr Debbie Maxwell