The view across Loch Tay from one of the excavated rock art panels on Ben Lawers.


Ben Lawers

I co-directed this project with Richard Bradley between 2007 and. Our objective was to investigate some of the highest rock art in the British Isles, set around 500 metres up on the Ben Lawers mountain range in central Scotland.

The aim of the project was to test whether rocks that were decorated were treated in special ways. Excavations around outcrops with cup and ring marks revealed substantial evidence of broken quartz and a fragment of flint. There were also exotic materials such as volcanic glass from Arran and a beach pebble, possibly from the Atlantic coastline. In contrast, undecorated rocks revealed none of this evidence at all. Previously unknown images were also revealed.

The broken quartz most likely resulted from hammerstones breaking during the act of making the rock art. Some of the rocks contained large quantities of mica that caused the carvings to glisten and sparkle, very similar to the shimmering surface of the loch below. One outcrop even had compacted ground in the optimal area to view a complex motif set against an impressive view of Loch Tay. This might have been where a Neolithic audience stood to view the image, or even to witness some kind of performance upon the rock.

Alongside working on the excavations, a touring exhibition of photography was staged by National Trust Scotland. We were also interviewed by the BBC Alba television documentary, Talamh Trocair.

Further reading

Ben Lawers: Carved Rocks on a Loud Mountain, by Richard Bradley and Aaron Watson. 2012. In Visualising the Neolithic: abstraction, figuration, performance, representation, edited by Andrew Meirion Jones and Andrew Cochrane. Oxford: Oxbow.
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Excavations at Four Prehistoric Rock Carvings on the Ben Lawers Estate, 2007-2010, by Richard Bradley, Aaron Watson and Hugo Anderson-Whymark. 2012. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 142, 27-61.
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Four Sites, Four Methods, by Aaron Watson. 2012. In Image, Memory and Monumentality, edited by Andrew Meirion Jones, Joshua Pollard, Julie Gardiner and Michael J. Allen. Oxford: The Prehistoric Society and Oxbow, 307-27.
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