Excavating rock art in Strath Tay day 11: Further quartz deposits on the outcrop

Overcast skies this morning provided the ideal opportunity to capture a photographic archive of Trench 2. When the sun is shining, there are too many shadows to show the subtle details of soil textures and features.

bove: Richard photographing Trench 2 after it has been cleaned (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2017)


Above: Moyra, Maria and Ronnie stand by to assist with the photography (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2017)


Above: An elevated view of Trench 2 taken using a camera mounted on a pole (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2017)


Above: A 3D model of Trench 2. Click on the arrow to navigate (Photogrammetry: Aaron Watson, 2017)


Once the archival photography was complete, Moyra and Maria began work on excavating the fissures in-between the cup and ring markings.  


Above: Carefully excavating the fissures on the rock outcrop (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2017)


Moyra and Maria soon began to find numerous pieces of fractured quartz. Further analysis is required, but on first sight this appears to parallel findings from projects in the Kilmartin area and on Ben Lawers. Fissures on those sites had captured pieces of quartz hammerstones which had fractured while people were making rock art.

Then, just beside an angular block containing quartz veins, and which appeared to have been quarried, an artefact appeared. Then another two nearby. These looked very much like hammerstone fragments, and appeared to have been deliberately placed within the fissures and among the cup and ring marks. Were these the remains of the tools used to make the rock art?


Above: A placed angular fragment of quartz which may be the remains of a chisel or hammerstone used to make rock art (Photo: Aaron Watson, 2017)


Closing thoughts

Neolithic and Bronze Age rock art is often treated as something static and two-dimensional.  I think that, in part, this is because we  are so used to seeing these sites reproduced as images. I have often been involved in recording carved rocks using photography, photogrammetry and illustration. This documentation certainly provides a useful archive, but I’m uncertain of how helpful this is with interpretation.

Excavation suggests a quite different story. I have now excavated many decorated rocks in Scotland, in the Kilmartin area and on Ben Lawers. For me the results have emphasised have shown that the markings are only a part of the story.

We will return to Strath Tay in 2018 for further explorations.

This project took place in collaboration with Richard Bradley, Amanda Clarke, Ronnie Scott, Maria Cowie and Moyra Simon. Many thanks to the landowner and estate staff for their support.