How a community digital heritage project has helped to imagine the circumstances of Pictish symbols in the Wemyss Caves, Scotland

Joanna Hambly, Marcus Abbott, Michael Geoffrey Arrowsmith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Former sea caves in East Wemyss, Scotland are special because of historic carvings within them. These include 26 surviving Pictish symbols, a possible Pictish boat carving, and numerous early Christian crosses. The caves have been well-documented by Antiquarians and archaeological investigations show activity on the site from the early Iron Age to the post medieval period.
Since the mid-20th century, the effects of coal mining, coastal erosion, vandalism and anti-social behaviour has eroded the setting of the caves, damaged the carvings and detracted from the research potential of the Wemyss Caves.
The challenge of better managing the threatened heritage for the long-term and enabling a current generation to understand their significance and history inspired the Wemyss Caves digital documentation and visualisation project. Working collaboratively, the local community, archaeologists and digital heritage specialists applied a range of techniques to document and communicate the rich heritage of the Wemyss Caves.
The management outcome of a sophisticated dataset against which to monitor change is further enhanced by the flexibility of the digital resource. This has allowed us to recreate lost Pictish spaces and closely examine the placement of the carvings within caves. Improved understanding of the catalogue of material has enabled us to explore connections between the Wemyss Caves and other Pictish carvings found in cave and rock outcrop contexts, and connections between the uses of the caves in all periods.
This has helped us reach back in time to better imagine the sacred place of the Wemyss Caves in first millennium Scotland.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBetween Worlds: Understanding Ritual Cave Use in Later Prehistory
EditorsL Büster, E Warmenbol, D Mlekuž
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-99022-4
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-99021-7
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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