What is rock art?

The term ‘rock art’ is used to describe prehistoric markings on stone surfaces. Rock art is found around the world and may be painted, engraved, incised, or ‘pecked’ onto outcrops, boulders or megaliths. Whilst songs, stories, dances, and gestures are unrecoverable, these enduring residues of ancient cultures demonstrate the spiritual abundance of our oldest ancestors and provide direct evidence of their presence in the landscape. 

In Northern Britain, rock art consists of pecked abstract motifs commonly known as ‘cup and ring marks’.  These curious marks vary from simple, circular hollows known as ‘cups’ to more complex patterns with cups, rings, and intertwining grooves. Around 6000 examples, known as ‘panels’ have been documented. Many are in spectacular, elevated locations with extensive views, sometimes overlooking fertile valleys, natural harbours, or lakes, and others are found on monuments such as standing stones and stone circles, or within burial mounds. The carvings were made by Neolithic and Early Bronze Age people between 3500 and 6000 years ago. The original meaning of the symbols is now lost but they provide a unique personal link with our prehistoric ancestors.


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