Launch, Lunch & Reflections

Well, this is the last blog post from me (Debbie). The Rock Art Mobile Project is drawing to a close and this seemed like a good way to round it off.

Since the last post a lot has happened. Our super anoprinted signs were delivered and duly installed at the rock art sites (Lordenshaw, Weetwood Moor and Dod Law). Thanks to the Northumberland National Park rangers, Peter Hall, and Wooler Golf Club for all your help and patience!

Our newly arrived signs

After long hours, the mobile websites were completed (oh, how I miss those conversations debating photographs, wording and full stops!), the desktop site finished, and everything set for the official RAMP launch. Hurrah!

Luckily, Aron had booked a sunny day for the launch, and I’d remembered to book lunch, so we were all sorted. We (myself, Aron, Areti and Kate) were joined at Lordenshaw car park by friends, colleagues and all those invaluable people who had kindly contributed their time and thoughts to the project.

One of the signs at the launch, Lordenshaw

The launch was a great success with everyone seeming to enjoy themselves. Stan Beckensall himself was there, and it was lovely to see people again who’d come along to our workshops in September 2010.

But after the heady euphoria of the launch there was still work to do – and not just polishing off the leftover cakes. The beauty (and downfall) of websites is that they are never completely finished, something can always be tweaked and improved upon. So since the launch there have been some inevitable minor changes to adjust the look and feel of the sites.

The Website

For those of you eager to see the websites here you are:

Does it work?

We wanted to check to see how well the websites worked in a ‘live’ setting, so I spent a weekend in Northumberland meeting people and walking round Weetwood Moor and Lordenshaw with them to try and see if we’d managed to address all the points raised at our first workshops in September. And have we? More or less.

The content in general worked well, and the maps worked in that the cup and ring marks were all successfully found, although there were some usability issues which we’ve subsequently addressed.

The negatives? Mobile phone signal is ropey. We knew this of course, but to my mind it still remains the only feasible option. Bluetooth? Too complicated for people to use (I can count the number of times I’ve used Bluetooth on my mobile on one hand). An app? Too limiting; not everyone has an iPhone or Android. A downloadable audio tour? Well, we’ve kind of got that already – you can download the audio clips from the website before going, but this solution obviously assumes you know about RAMP before visiting.

It would have been nice to test the websites using the participants’ own phones but unfortunately most of the people taking part in the evaluation didn’t have Internet enabled mobiles, which meant using the project phones. Getting used to a new phone always takes some time, so surfing the web and testing a website on a new phone is even more taxing. However, our participants rose to the challenge admirably, and of course, a big thanks goes out to all of them.

And you mentioned ‘reflections’?

Ah, yes. Visiting the rock art again and listening to the ideas of a new set of people got me wondering. What do I think rock art means? Has my perception of rock art changed over the past 15 months?

Initially I simply viewed it as an element of the landscape. I remember feeling slightly awed but enthused by Kate’s rock art excitement on my first visit to Roughting Linn. Kate pointed out that simply the fact that someone had sat there all those years ago and put their hands where mine were now was quite incredible.

Later on, I was inspired by a storytelling workshop where we made up stories around the function of rock art. I heard two rich, powerfully visual tales in my group around wedding rituals (for example, the groom had to scale the rocky heights of a rival clan’s territory to carve a symbol before being deemed worthy of the bride) and told my own tale of a young boy surreptitiously carving a symbol into a sacred rock site – a rite supposedly only undertaken by women. These fictitious accounts have I supposed coloured my views. I now see the carvings as a part of some kind of ritual, only done by certain members of society, whether that be as a rite of passage or by a wise woman/shaman.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of any archaeologists! (I’m an interested digital media person, nothing more, nothing less.)

Wider project reflections however, are easier (and less controversial) to discuss. For me, it’s been a fascinating journey from discovering Northumberland, rock art through to meeting a lot of interesting people. I’ve even done a spot of dry stone wall building as a result of RAMP!

RAMP has been a challenging project, there’s no easy solution to developing a cultural heritage mobile phone experience in a rural setting. However, I hope we are in some way helping to enhance enjoyment of the rock art landscape, and instil a sense of respect around these ancient carvings through new technologies. I feel a strong sense of connection with these landscapes and rocks now, and I felt truly sad when I said goodbye to them at the project end.

Debbie

RAMP Team at Lordenshaw. L-R: Aron Mazel, Kate Sharpe, Areti Galani, Debbie Maxwell.

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About Debbie Maxwell

Researcher on Rock Art Mobile Project (RAMP).
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