Climate Fears on Prehistoric Rock Art Sites; 4,000 Years of History Could Be Wiped out by Weather

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Henderson Environment Editor? 0191 201 6224 ? tony.henderson@ncjmedia.co.uk

ROCK art which has been a part of the North East landscape for at least 4,000 years could be wiped out by climate change, fear experts.

Decades of scouring the countryside by Hexham scholar Stan Beckensall has uncovered around 1,500 examples of prehistoric cup and ring stones in Northumberland alone.

But urgent action is needed to prevent the rock panels, dating from the Neolithic to the early Bronze Age, from disappearing, warn Newcastle University scholars.

In 2005, Stan donated his archive to Newcastle University and, for more than two years, he and archaeologist Dr Aron Mazel visited and photographed hundreds of rock art sites, finding 250 new examples.

The resulting website - rockart.ncl.ac.uk - has since received more than 17 million hits.

Now researchers from the university's International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies (ICCHS) and School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences have studied the condition and surroundings of selected prehistoric rock art panels in Northumberland.

David Graham, Professor of Ecosystems Engineering, said: "We wanted to understand the scientific reasons why these stones may deteriorate.

"Our findings show that predicted changes to our broader environment - such as more wind and warmer, wetter weather - could have a devastating effect on these artworks.

"If we want to keep them, we need to start looking at how we can preserve them now."

Prof Graham said that the temperature rise from 6,000 years ago to 1960 had been 1C but from 1960 to today this had increased to 3C and was projected to rise to 9C by the end of the century.

Although there had been climate swings in the past, Prof Graham said: "We are talking about something quite different in orders of magnitude." The study investigated the current condition of the rock art panels and also geochemical and physical factors in the surrounding area such as soil moisture, salinity, pH levels and height. …