ARS Ltd has a major research interest in prehistoric rock art, and has undertaken one of only a handful of dedicated excavations of open-air rock art sites in Britain at Hunterheugh Crags, Northumberland. The excavation took place in March 2004 and was intended to test the validity of excavation on and around carved rock panels.
What emerged was multi-phase archaeological remains and clear evidence for the antiquity of the rock art. The carvings showed two distinct phases, with the earliest on the natural rock surface displaying heavy weathering. The second phase of much fresher carvings had been applied to new rock surfaces formed by quarrying, which in some cases had broken the earlier carvings. The difference in condition between the two phases was so dramatic that the inescapable conclusion is that their construction was separated by a substantial period of time. With the later carvings overlain by an Early Bronze Age cist, this pushed the date of the earlier carvings back further, presumably into the Neolithic period.
Rock art is a hot research topic, and the flagship project in Britain, the ‘Beckensall Archive Project’, was conceived and part-managed by ARS Ltd staff together with the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. This website, while offering an attractive and informative look at rock art for the casual observer, is also an extremely powerful research tool with the capacity to produce new maps and data using the interactive database functions.
The Beckensall Archive Project won first prize in the 2006 British Archaeological Awards in the ICT category of the Channel 4 media section.
This project is being followed up by the English Heritage funded ’Rock Art Project’ which is designed to take forward the work of the Beckensall Project. The project will run for two years and aims to complete an extensive field survey and program of recording of the rock art and its context; to create a database and website to document the findings; to develop guidance on the conservation and management of the sites; to increase the access to the sites and to improve the presentation and publicity of rock art.