If you look closely enough, an ancient art can be found in the Wicklow countryside – on its mountains and hills, in its valleys, sometimes reused in graveyards as burial markers, built into stone field walls, and occasionally turning up in people’s front gardens! This prehistoric art is known as open-air rock art, as it was carved into boulders and rocks in the landscape, out in the open air. The art is comprised of abstract geometric shapes – mainly circular hollows called cupmarks, and cup-and-ring motifs, which consists of a cupmark enclosed by one or more rings. This type of art is found along the Atlantic coastline of Europe, and there are a number of concentrations in Ireland, including the Wicklow-Carlow region. This prehistoric rock art dates back to the Early Bronze Age at least, possibly to the Neolithic, and could be more than 5000 years old. Unfortunately in more recent times this ancient art has fallen out of view – in a literal sense, where the rocks have become overgrown and hidden from sight, but also with relation to the general public’s awareness of its existence – many people might not know that this ancient art is present in Wicklow.
In order to address this blindspot, the Wicklow Rock Art Project was established by the UCD School of Archaeology to explore ways to raise awareness while also protecting open-air rock art in a sustainable manner. The project uses a technique called photogrammetry to record these sites. Photogrammetry involves taking a series of slightly overlapping images of the same object, with these photos then processed by specialist software to create 3D computer models. 3D models offer greater flexibility for researchers and also facilitate virtual visits and engagement with the rock art for the wider public. 18 known rock art sites have been recorded to date using this technique, and the results will be available for all to enjoy when the Wicklow Rock Art Project website (www.wicklowrockartproject.com) is launched on Monday 25th May as part of the Roundwood Historical Society lecture series. The website will be a place where people can learn a bit more about Wicklow’s rock art, see photographs and 3D models of often hard-to-reach sites, while also providing a forum where the general public can get involved by identifying new rock art sites in Wicklow.
To mark the launch of the website, the project co-ordinator, Dr Clíodhna Ní Lionáin will give a talk entitled “Wicklow’s Rock Art – its past, present, and future” at 8.30pm, Monday May 25th. It will look at this prehistoric rock art in Wicklow and further afield, examine its history, discuss its present situation, and explore ways of ensuring how this unique part of Wicklow’s heritage can be preserved for future generations.
Click on the pdf below to download a poster on the Wicklow Rock Art Project