A single panel case study in the greater Letter West rock art concentration

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Lambe, Aoibheann
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University College Cork
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An outcrop in boggy upland pasture inscribed with megalithic-era petroglyphs has been the subject of a close and sustained study at a scale unprecedented in Irish and British rock art research. Taking a ‘micro to macro’ approach, the petroglyphs (known in Ireland simply as 'rock art') on this single panel are recorded down to the level of the individual pickmark while the panel in its entirety is considered, at ever expanding scales, in the context of the greater Irish rock art distribution. At the macro-level, the quantity of rock art panels island-wide was calculated using data drawn from a diverse range of sources which include the sites and monuments records for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, antiquarian journals, dissertations and the grey literature. At c.1000 (and rising), the total is appreciably higher than recorded in the official records for the respective jurisdictions. Surveys were also conducted, in part to challenge assumptions about the preferred landscapes for rock art, gaps in the distribution also targeted. Reports submitted to the National Monuments Service on foot of these surveys have increased the known number of rock art panels islandwide by over 10%, many of the newly identified panels located in low elevation areas suitable for settlement. The overview of Irish rock art focuses on techniques of carving, landscape settings and considers the evidence for distinctive regional styles while also identifying many shared characteristics of rock art throughout Ireland. The map of Ireland’s rock art created in ArcGIS more accurately reflects the original island-wide distribution than any such map previously. Not alone does the map include a greater number of rock art panels than ever before plotted but maps also those panels whose original location is known only to the townland, the latter often in regions where rock art is not otherwise recorded. With some 60,000 townlands in Ireland, the inclusion of such panels on an island-wide rock art map more accurately reflects the original islandwide distribution than would their absence. At the micro-level, the internal chronology of the case study panel is analysed, distinct phases of carving evidenced by superimpositions, motif modification, motif erasure and surface preparation. Previously unrecorded performative characteristics of rock art include ‘motif pairing’, ‘motif extensions’, ‘intermittent lines’, over-picking to modify a cup-and-ring variation into a double-coiled spiral among the many examples of superimposition. The rock art was recorded not alone on the upper surface of the panel, numerous grooves also continue down the near-vertical faces of the panel in a form of ‘all-over-decoration’. The panel, while exceptional, is not necessarily unique in respect of its complexity and internal chronology, similar results likely to have been achieved had a different but similarly complex panel been selected for a study of this nature. An extensive catalogue to the case study panel includes images and descriptive data for over 500 distinct features recorded on this single panel alone, the interactive map of the panel enabling the user to toggle back and forth between the map and the relevant catalogue entry. A comprehensive rock art terminology was devised, not alone because many of the features and performative qualities referred to above had not previously been described, but also to address shortcomings and inconsistencies in the overall rock art terminology. The methodologies used to record the case study panel include laser scanning, photogrammetry, photography, drawing and field observation, the most valuable tool perhaps the mindset taken, each mark treated as one made with intention - concepts of random, abandoned or amorphous anathema to this approach.
Petroglyph , Rock art , Superimposition , Modification , Distribution , Terminology , Micro-level , Macro-level , Catalogue , Laser-scan , Photogrammetry , Landscape , Island-wide , Characteristics , Performance , All-over-decoration
Lambe, A. 2021. A single panel case study in the greater Letter West rock art concentration. MPhil Thesis, University College Cork.