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Diagnosis and monitoring of rock art sites in “4D · arte rupestre” projects

Juan F. Ruiz López, Elia Quesada Martínez et José M. Pereira Uzal
p. 63-68

Résumés

Depuis 2013, les projets « 4D · Arte rupestre » ont concerné plus de 20 sites le long de la moitié orientale de la péninsule ibérique, inclus dans la liste du patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO depuis 1998. L’objectif était d’élaborer des protocoles de diagnostic et de surveillance des sites d’art rupestre à l’aide de nouvelles technologies, y compris la modélisation 3D basée sur la photogrammétrie rapprochée, la photographie gigapixel, la mise en valeur par des algorithmes de décorrélation, le contrôle colorimétrique, les analyses physico-chimiques in situ, les analyses biogéochimiques de l’altération ou l’imagerie thermique.
Le succès de ces projets multidisciplinaires, en ce qui concerne le diagnostic des altérations sur un panneau d’art rupestre et le suivi de leur évolution dans le temps, montre que les technologies actuelles peuvent contribuer de manière significative à la préservation de si précieux biens culturels. Cela est particulièrement vrai pour contrôler l’évolution des grottes et des sites d’art rupestre alors que se multiplient les signes de réchauffement climatique.
Enfin, certaines de ces technologies peuvent concourir à sensibiliser le public à la fragilité et à l’importance culturelle des expressions graphiques préhistoriques. L’art rupestre peut être apprécié par le grand public à l’aide de pages web et des dépôts numériques qui permettent une meilleure expérience pour les sites difficiles à conserver.

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Texte intégral

The different editions of “4D · arte rupestre” projects have been funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports in the competitive calls of 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 for intervention in sites inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Other funds were achieved in competitive calls of the Departments of Education and Culture of Autonomous Communities of Valencia and Castilla – La Mancha in 2014. We are grateful for the support and additional funds provided by Amics Valltorta in 2014 and 2015.
These projects could never have been undertaken without the commitment of our colleagues María Sebastián, Àfrica Pitarch, Silvia Fernández, Maite Maguregui, Anastasia Giakoumaki, Irantzu Martínez, Juan Manuel Madariaga, Julene Aramendia, Antonio Dólera, Juan Carlos Lorente, Ramiro Alloza and Rubén Pérez. We would like to express our gratitude to them, and to the representatives of local administrations that eventually helped to the completion of these projects.

Introduction

1Rock art and cave art are among the most vulnerable cultural properties in the world. Hundreds of thousands of rock art sites and millions of individual motifs are currently known at a global scale, so their preservation is extremely significant for the memory of humankind since its beginning. However, even when well preserved, most of these rock art sites show clear signs of decay that could quickly increase in the next decades because of the effects of global warming. Natural weathering, anthropic vandalism and, of course, their remarkable antiquity are some of the factors that explain their current preservation issues.

2The undeniable cultural significance of rock art demands specific actions oriented to investigate their alteration processes and their evolution over time. These have been the objectives of a series of research projects focused in the diagnosis and monitoring of rock art sites that have been carried out in Mediterranean Iberia. These multidisciplinary projects were called generically “4D · arte rupestre” (rock art in Spanish) projects and have been undertaken since 2013 in more than 20 sites, including open-air rock art shelters with post-Paleolithic pictographs and shallow caves with Paleolithic pictographs. These projects were designed following the conclusions raised in the colloquium held at Alquézar (Huesca, Spain) in 2012 (Juste et al. 2012), where the specific preservation issues of the Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin of the Iberian Peninsula, cultural property included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1998, were analyzed. It was clear in 2012 that it was needed a reliable tool to face the preservation problems of hundreds of open-air sites included in this cultural property, and that it was urgent to find it. But a similar situation could be described for most of the open-air rock art assemblages around the world. Rock art preservation is quickly becoming a global concern that demands a new kind of research focused in the intrinsic complexity of the rock art system. The projects “4D · arte rupestre” brought a series of proposals for the diagnosis and monitoring over time, which represented a pioneer reply to this global problem.

Rock art system

3For decades, rock art researchers have been mainly focused on iconography, leaving aside that the current state of those ancient images is the result of very complex interactions between anthropic interventions on a rock panel and the substrate where they are preserved over a very long period of time. This is a crucial point to understand the present situation of a rock art assemblage and the taphonomy of decayed pictographs or engravings and compositions in a panel.

4The rock art system can be defined as the set of elements involved in a dynamic interaction in every rock art panel. It includes abiotic components (the geological base of rock art), biotic components (the organism living on or into the rock surface), anthropogenic actions (the rock art imagery and their effects on the abiotic and biotic components), and the ecosystem (weather, microclimate, exposure to light radiation…). The interaction between all these factors is extremely complex and it is not currently well-known, even when some pioneer research has been carried out in the last decade (Arroyo et al. 2011; Giesen et al. 2014; Green et al. 2017; Hoerlé 2005; Jopela 2010; Lacanette et al. 2013; MacLeod & Haydock 2008; Rogerio-Candelera et al. 2012). This complexity is inherently increased by the action of time, a factor that in the case of rock art could be sometimes numbered in tens of thousands of years.

5A comprehensive knowledge of the interaction mechanisms between all these factors could provide with better opportunities to implement preventive conservation policies that mitigate the inescapable long-term effects of decay in rock art sites. We should remember that rock art sites are chronic patients that need palliative cares to stay in their present conservation for as long as possible. Cultural authorities should encourage the research of the rock art systems as a tool in the service of their management duties and their preservation.

The “4D · arte rupestre” projects

6The aims of “4D · arte rupestre” projects have been the investigation of the particularities of rock art systems in Palaeolithic and post-Palaeolithic rock art sites in eastern half of the Iberian Peninsula. They have involved archaeologists, geologists, restorers, chemists, engineers and biologists from different Spanish universities. Name 4D is referring to the time factor, and to the three-dimensional nature of any kind of rock art. The changes over time of a rock art panel and our opportunities to identify them using cutting-edge technologies were in the roots of these projects. Reaching that point is clearly dependent on the ability to diagnose the present situation of a panel, and of our possibilities of monitoring its change over time (Ruiz et al. 2017; 2016).

7Finally, the results achieved could be used to promote preventive conservation policies and to increase public awareness about the cultural significance and fragility of these rock art sites.

8Most of the sites included in these projects have Levantine style pictographs (fig. 1). Some of them include different kinds of Iberian schematic rock art pictographs as well, but the only site entirely schematic included in the projects was Cueva del Mediodía (Yecla, Murcia). All of them are open-air shelters with different geological substrate including limestone, reddish sandstone, and biocalcarenite, in mid-range mountains subjected to a typical Mediterranean climate or to a mountain Mediterranean climate. Four sites with Palaeolithic pictographs have been included in these projects as well, located in Cieza (Murcia), all of them on a limestone substrate (Ruiz et al. 2018).

Fig. 1. Locations of the rock art sites included in the “4D · arte rupestre” projects.

Fig. 1. Locations of the rock art sites included in the “4D · arte rupestre” projects.

Schematic art: 1. Cueva del Mediodía (Yecla, Murcia). Levantine art: 2. Abrigo del Buen Aire I (Jumilla, Murcia); 3. Abrigo Grande de Minateda (Hellín, Albacete); 4. Cañaica del Calar II (Moratalla, Murcia); 5. Solana de las Covachas III and VI; 6. Torcal de las Bojadillas VII, and 7. Prado del Tornero (Nerpio, Albacete); 8. Selva Pascuala, Peña del Escrito I and Peña del Escrito II (Villar del Humo, Cuenca); 9. Cueva del Tío Modesto (Henarejos, Cuenca); 10. Cova dels Cavalls; 11. Mas d’en Josep, and 12. Coves del Civil (Tírig, Castellón); 13. Cingle dels Tolls del Puntal and 14. Cova Alta del Llidoner (Coves de Vinromà, Castellón); 15. Abrics I and V d’Ermites (Ulldecona, Tarragona); 16. Cova Centelles (Albocàsser, Castellón); 17. Abrics IV, IX and X of Cingle de la Mola Remígia and 18. Les Dogues (Ares del Maestrat, Castellón); 19. Racó de Nando II, IV and VII (Benassal, Castellón); 21. Hoz de Vicente (Minglanilla, Cuenca); 22. Torcal de las Bojadillas I (Nerpio, Albacete). Palaeolithic art: 20. Cueva del Arco I and II, Cueva de las Cabras and Cueva de Jorge.

© Juan F. Ruiz.

9Since 2013 this series of projects have been developing systems of diagnosis and monitoring of rock art. Diagnosis have been carried out by several methodologies including in situ physicochemical characterization of alterations, biogeochemical analyses of bedrock, crusts and biofilms (Ruiz et al. 2016a), visual identification of processes and products of alteration, and thermal imaging (Ruiz et al. [unpublished]; Ruiz et al. 2018). Several cutting-edge technologies have been tested for monitoring some of the implicit dimensions in a rock art site (fig. 2). The volumetric changes in rock art sites were monitored by comparing different 3D models, produced by close range photogrammetry based in computer vision techniques (Ruiz et al. 2016a). The current state of pictographs was checked by means of the comparison between the old analogic tracings and gigapixel images enhanced with decorrelation stretch techniques. The evolution of pigments and bedrocks at a physicochemical level was controlled with measurements of the same spots over given intervals of time using in situ spectroscopic techniques like µ-Raman and pXRF. Another dimension that could be monitored is the colorimetry of pictographs, based in color measurements made on pictures (Ruiz & Pereira 2014). In this last case, we have not gone further than taking all the photographs following the protocol described elsewhere (Pereira 2013; Ruiz & Pereira 2014; Ruiz et al. 2016a) in order to allow future comparisons of the same color spots in a pictograph.

Fig. 2. Conceptual scheme of the monitoring system in the “4D · arte rupestre” projects, including volumetric changes, pictographies changes, weathering changes and physicochemical changes.

Fig. 2. Conceptual scheme of the monitoring system in the “4D · arte rupestre” projects, including volumetric changes, pictographies changes, weathering changes and physicochemical changes.

© Juan F. Ruiz.

10Although it was not the final objective of the projects, it is obvious that a side effect of the diagnosis and monitoring carried out was the production of new recordings of panels, sometimes involving new tracings based on digital media. In this sense, we always considered that the first steps towards a preventive conservation policy should start from an accurate recording of as many dimensions as possible in a rock art site.

11Finally, one of the most crucial aspects of these projects has been the effort to increase the public awareness about the cultural significance of rock art. Preventive conservation policies can decrease the effects of some of the natural alteration factors but cannot prevent against vandalism. Education and public awareness are the best options to avoid it; of course, this is a long-term process that requires that the society have a first-hand knowledge of rock art. However, this is not always possible for conservation concerns, or simply because of the difficulty of access to some of these sites. The technologies used for recording and monitoring in our projects can be easily transformed into digital dissemination products. Accordingly, several webpages were developed where some of the results of the projects are hosted. In some cases, quality of images can outperform the experience of observation of faded pictographs in situ. These digital by-products can help to the socialization of knowledge of rock art and to the management of these sites.

Case studies

12Two of the most remarkable methodologies used in the “4D · arte rupestre” projects are the monitoring of volumetric changes in a rock art site, and gigapixel imaging. Based on the comparison between 3D models, volumetric changes monitoring has been able to identify tiny losses in rock art panels. Gigapixel imaging, on the contrary, has been used as an extremely high-resolution documentation technique. This gigapixel pictures have been used for a comprehensive recording of panels, as an exploratory technique, as a long-term comparison element, and as a very useful tool for the dissemination of results. Both techniques are complementary for capturing a very accurate recording of a rock art site.

Monitoring volumetric changes

13The ability to detect small changes in the volume of a rock art panel has greatly increased over last years. In the course of “4D · arte rupestre” projects, it has been performed by the comparison of two 3D models captured in different temporal moments. We have been able to detect negative changes or losses produced by the drop of small panel pieces, the disappearance of spider webs, or the fall of leaves of plants growing on the walls by means of these comparisons. We have detected as well positive changes, or growths, mainly produced by biological factors such as growth of plants over their vegetative cycle, appearance of webs wove by spiders, or increase in the piles of excrements left in shelters by different animals.

14The changes in a shelter can be of interest for several purposes regarding the preservation of rock art sites. The risks addressed by communities of rupestrian plants can be evaluated by their growing speed, displacements of rocks produced by their roots, or abrasion caused by leaves and branches in contact with a panel. The sporadic presence of mammals in open-air shelters can polish lower parts of panels and produce mechanical weathering; the frequency of occupation by these large animals can be estimated by the increase in the excrements left in a shelter over monitoring period. In this way, rock art managers can decide about the risk posed to rock art preservation by the activity of these animals or plants.

15The most dramatic change that can be detected in volumetric monitoring is the drop of small chips of rock from a panel, because it can clearly demonstrate the decay rhythm in a rock art site. In the course of “4D · arte rupestre” projects, most of the rock art sites have shown a remarkable stability. But this is not always the case; around 15% of monitored sites have suffered losses in their panels over monitoring periods of around six months.

16Two of the most remarkable losses happened at Abrigo del Buen Aire I and Solana de las Covachas VI, which were detected during monitoring of 2013. In the first of these sites, large-scale losses, between 5 and 500 cm3, were identified over the period of monitoring, mainly located in the lower part of the shelter. These displacements of rocks could be attributed to the sporadic presence of wild goats and some mustelids. The effects on rock art were negligible, because it was located under the level of pictographs and in the base of the shelter.

17In Solana de las Covachas VI a very small chip drop was detected during the monitoring between spring and summer of 2013. This loss was located just 7 cm away from one of the Levantine pictographs, posing a serious risk for its preservation (fig. 3). This drop was just of 0,4 cm3 and it is the smaller we have identified up to now. A preventive intervention was planned afterwards, in which specialized restorers (L. Ballester and E. Guillamet) sealed the cracks in the whole panel to prevent new drops. This panel was monitored until 2016 detecting nothing but the changes in rupestrian plants.

Fig. 3. The loss of a piece of rock near to a Levantine pictograph in Solana de las Covachas VI was detected between May and July 2013.

Fig. 3. The loss of a piece of rock near to a Levantine pictograph in Solana de las Covachas VI was detected between May and July 2013.

© Juan F. Ruiz.

18The volumetric comparison between 3D models is carried out by CloudCompare, an open-source software, that is able to compare two dense point clouds and identify differences between them. In summary, this software allows scaling and repositioning of the point clouds, a process that can be done almost automatically with 3D models that share the same set of coordinates. Once the models have been registered, point clouds can be compared for an estimation of Euclidean distance between them, in order to identify the changes over a period of time (fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Example of the detection of volumetric changes in Abrigo del Buen Aire I using CloudCompare.

Fig. 4. Example of the detection of volumetric changes in Abrigo del Buen Aire I using CloudCompare.

© Juan F. Ruiz.

19In the projects “4D · arte rupestre”, comparisons were made between high-resolution 3D photogrammetric models reconstructed with Agisoft PhotoScan Pro. Equivalent results could have been produced using laser scanners. In these models were included several points of reference shared across the 3D models of the same site, in order to build a common system of local coordinates. The position of every point of reference, between 10 and 20 per scene, was measured using a laser total station. In these 3D models the estimated distance between references and coordinates captured by the total station was around or below 2 mm.

20Accuracy of photogrammetric 3D models and laser scanners is currently comparable. This high level of accuracy is a requirement for a successful volumetric comparison between 3D models, and it is totally dependent on the quality of photos. It is necessary that pictures have a high level of detail in order to reconstruct tiny features, like cracks, texture of the rock, micro-reliefs and so on. Pictures with shallow depth of field, excessive noise or out of focus areas are problematic, and make it difficult to obtain the desired results in 3D modelling and in volumetric monitoring.

Gigapixel imaging

21By definition, a gigapixel picture is a bitmap image with a resolution larger than 109 or 1,000,000,000 pixels. This image size is not currently available for commercial cameras, so these huge images are the result of stitching a mosaic of photos taken by a conventional photographic sensor. We have used a robotic camera mount, and different combinations of cameras and lenses. The stitching has been performed with several software packages and in different projections.

22This technique has played a significant role in the recording protocol of “4D · arte rupestre” from the beginning, with a number of specific aims. Gigapixel images have been used as an exploratory tool of rock art panels. Traditionally, attention of researchers was focused on individual motifs that could be easily seen. Our use of gigapixel imaging is not focused just on those pictographs or engravings, but in recording an overall view of a given panel in a specific moment in time. Faded images and physical features of panels are this way recovered for further archaeological analyses, even when they could go unnoticed during the documentation. Connections between imagery and topographical features of a panel have been neglected very often too, because it is usually out of scope of the main interest of research.

23Gigapixel images were made by stitching together dozens or hundreds of pictures taken usually with a 100 mm lens in a camera with a crop factor of 1.6×; therefore, the detail level of these panoramas is close to a macro level, allowing the clear observation of the tiny features typical of Levantine art. However, many of the pictographs in these panels are faded or ill-preserved, so their observation by naked eye is sometimes quite hard. The enhancement of gigapixel panorama with DStretch has produced remarkable results (Ruiz et al. 2016b; Quesada & Harman [in press]) increasing the visibility of those motifs, and at the same time allowing the discovery of previously unnoticed pictographs. One of the main roles played by gigapixel imaging in “4D · arte rupestre” projects is the comparison between pre-existing analogic tracings with the results of enhanced panoramas to verify the current state of individual pictures, including partial losses, or even their total disappearance. New rock paintings have been found using this methodology in Abrigo del Buen Aire I, Solana de las Covachas VI (Ruiz et al. 2016a), Cingle dels Tolls del Puntal, Cova Alta del Llidoner, Abrics IV and X from Cingle de la Mola Remígia, Racó de Nando VII (Ruiz et al. [unpublished]), Abrics I and V d’Ermites, and in the last months in Hoz de Vicente. One of the most remarkable findings happened at Abric V d’Ermites where a white naturalistic zoomorph was found in 2015 (Ruiz et al. 2016a).

24This figure is exceptional, because it is the first Levantine pictograph completely painted in white discovered out of the limits of sierra de Albarracín, more than 150 km away from Ulldecona (fig. 5). On the negative side, this methodology has identified missing pictographs since previous tracings in Abrigo Grande de Minateda, Les Dogues and Abrics I and V d’Ermites. Obviously, the figures that were torn apart in Cova dels Cavalls and Coves del Civil were detected as well.

Fig. 5. Gigapixel image of the ceiling of Abric V d’Ermites, in a spherical projection. A white pictograph was detected after a DStretch enhancement was applied, that can be seen on the detail on the left.

Fig. 5. Gigapixel image of the ceiling of Abric V d’Ermites, in a spherical projection. A white pictograph was detected after a DStretch enhancement was applied, that can be seen on the detail on the left.

© 4D · arte rupestre.

25These panoramas have a complementary role to the textured 3D models. The higher pixel resolution of the gigapixel images have been used as a support for the 3D digital tracings. But, in “4D · arte rupestre” projects, they have a particular role for dissemination. In our webpages, for example in http://vull.4darterupestre.com, reduced size version of the gigapixel allow a satisfactory experience for general public as much as for researchers exploring these huge images.

Conclusions

26The experience accumulated over six years of “4D · arte rupestre” projects demonstrates that current technologies may contribute significantly to diagnosis of pathologies suffered by rock art sites and to monitor their evolution over time. The results achieved are highly significant for their contribution to preservation, management, recording, discovery and dissemination of rock art, and show the feasibility of gaining a greater control over the changes that rock art sites inescapably experience over long-term periods. This greater control should be adequately managed because it is not enough to stop decay in rock art sites. The results of “4D · arte rupestre” indicate a new path into preventive conservation, that should start from a widespread diagnosis of the current state and individual risks in rock art assemblages. This is a colossal task for assemblages with hundreds of rock art sites distributed along huge geographical areas, but strictly necessary to decide where a monitoring intervention is more urgent. We are currently working to propose the more adequate time span between capturing seasons, in order to streamline the required financial efforts. In our opinion, the preservation for future generations of rock art, and its unvaluable glimpses into the memory of humankind, is a global challenge that is going to demand additional efforts to face the unforeseeable effects of the climatic change. However, we are currently in an improved situation to contribute to this ambitious objective.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Locations of the rock art sites included in the “4D · arte rupestre” projects.
Légende Schematic art: 1. Cueva del Mediodía (Yecla, Murcia). Levantine art: 2. Abrigo del Buen Aire I (Jumilla, Murcia); 3. Abrigo Grande de Minateda (Hellín, Albacete); 4. Cañaica del Calar II (Moratalla, Murcia); 5. Solana de las Covachas III and VI; 6. Torcal de las Bojadillas VII, and 7. Prado del Tornero (Nerpio, Albacete); 8. Selva Pascuala, Peña del Escrito I and Peña del Escrito II (Villar del Humo, Cuenca); 9. Cueva del Tío Modesto (Henarejos, Cuenca); 10. Cova dels Cavalls; 11. Mas d’en Josep, and 12. Coves del Civil (Tírig, Castellón); 13. Cingle dels Tolls del Puntal and 14. Cova Alta del Llidoner (Coves de Vinromà, Castellón); 15. Abrics I and V d’Ermites (Ulldecona, Tarragona); 16. Cova Centelles (Albocàsser, Castellón); 17. Abrics IV, IX and X of Cingle de la Mola Remígia and 18. Les Dogues (Ares del Maestrat, Castellón); 19. Racó de Nando II, IV and VII (Benassal, Castellón); 21. Hoz de Vicente (Minglanilla, Cuenca); 22. Torcal de las Bojadillas I (Nerpio, Albacete). Palaeolithic art: 20. Cueva del Arco I and II, Cueva de las Cabras and Cueva de Jorge.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/nda/docannexe/image/5398/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 875k
Titre Fig. 2. Conceptual scheme of the monitoring system in the “4D · arte rupestre” projects, including volumetric changes, pictographies changes, weathering changes and physicochemical changes.
Crédits © Juan F. Ruiz.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/nda/docannexe/image/5398/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,6M
Titre Fig. 3. The loss of a piece of rock near to a Levantine pictograph in Solana de las Covachas VI was detected between May and July 2013.
Crédits © Juan F. Ruiz.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/nda/docannexe/image/5398/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,8M
Titre Fig. 4. Example of the detection of volumetric changes in Abrigo del Buen Aire I using CloudCompare.
Crédits © Juan F. Ruiz.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/nda/docannexe/image/5398/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,6M
Titre Fig. 5. Gigapixel image of the ceiling of Abric V d’Ermites, in a spherical projection. A white pictograph was detected after a DStretch enhancement was applied, that can be seen on the detail on the left.
Crédits © 4D · arte rupestre.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/nda/docannexe/image/5398/img-5.jpg
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Juan F. Ruiz López, Elia Quesada Martínez et José M. Pereira Uzal, « Diagnosis and monitoring of rock art sites in “4D · arte rupestre” projects »Les nouvelles de l'archéologie, 154 | 2018, 63-68.

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Juan F. Ruiz López, Elia Quesada Martínez et José M. Pereira Uzal, « Diagnosis and monitoring of rock art sites in “4D · arte rupestre” projects »Les nouvelles de l'archéologie [En ligne], 154 | 2018, mis en ligne le 17 juin 2019, consulté le 15 août 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/nda/5398; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/nda.5398

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Auteurs

Juan F. Ruiz López

Department of History. Universidad de Castilla–La Mancha. Laboratorio de Arqueología, Patrimonio y Tecnologías Emergentes (Instituto de Desarrollo Regional). Avenida de los Alfares, 44. 16002 Cuenca. Spain. Centre de recherche et d’études pour l’art préhistorique Émile Cartailhac.

Elia Quesada Martínez

Department of Geography and Territory Sciences. Universidad de Córdoba. Spain.

José M. Pereira Uzal

Independent researcher.

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