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Condition assessment and preservation of open-air rock art panels during environmental change

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Myra GiesenORCiD, Dr Beate Christgen, Dr Aron Mazel, Professor David Graham



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Thousands of Neolithic and Bronze Age open-air rock art panels exist across the countryside in northern England. However, desecration, pollution, and other factors are threatening the survival of these iconic stone monuments. Evidence suggest that rates of panel deterioration may be increasing, although it is not clear whether this is due to local factors or wider environmental influences accelerated by climate change. To examine this question, 18 rock art panels with varied art motifs were studied at two major panel locations at Lordenshaw and Weetwood Moor in Northumberland. A condition assessment tool was used to first quantify the level of deterioration of each panel (called "staging"). Stage estimates then were compared statistically with 27 geochemical and physical descriptors of local environments, such as soil moisture, salinity, pH, lichen coverage, soil anions and cation levels, and panel orientation, slope, and standing height. In parallel, climate modelling was performed using UKCP09 to assess how projected climatic conditions (to 2099) might affect the environmental descriptors most correlated with elevated stone deterioration. Only two descriptors significantly correlated (p < 0.05) with increased stage: the standing height of the panel and the exchangeable cation content of the local soils, although moisture conditions also are potentially influential at some panels. Climate modelling predicts warming temperatures, more seasonally variable precipitation, and increased wind speeds, which suggest stone deterioration will very likely accelerate in the future due to increased physiochemical weathering. We recommend key panels be targeted for immediate management intervention, focusing on reducing wind exposures, improving site drainage, and potentially immobilizing soil salts.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Giesen MJ, Ung A, Warke PA, Christgen B, Mazel AD, Graham DW

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Cultural Heritage

Year: 2014

Volume: 15

Issue: 1

Pages: 49-56

Print publication date: 01/01/2014

Online publication date: 05/03/2013

Acceptance date: 30/01/2013

Date deposited: 12/06/2014

ISSN (print): 1296-2074

ISSN (electronic): 1778-3674

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.culher.2013.01.013


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Funder referenceFunder name
AH/G015163/1UK AHRC Science and Heritage Programme