Between Worlds pp 221-249 | Cite as

How a Community Digital Heritage Project Has Helped to Imagine the Circumstances of Pictish Symbols in the Wemyss Caves, Scotland



Former sea caves in East Wemyss, Scotland, are special because of their historic carvings. 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-twentieth century, the effects of coal mining, coastal erosion, vandalism and antisocial behaviour have altered the setting, damaged the carvings and detracted from the research potential of the Wemyss Caves. The challenge of better long-term management of this threatened heritage and enabling the 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.


Cave Digital documentation Early Christian Laser scan Pictish symbols Photogrammetry Reflectance transformation imaging 



We are indebted to SWACS who made this project happen. Members of SWACS and volunteers from the local community generously contributed their time, knowledge, memories, stories, photographs, RTI skills and acting talent. Many of the archives used in the research and website, and referred to in this paper, were tracked down by Pam Cranston. We are extremely grateful to Fife Council, Historic Environment Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund for their funding and support.


  1. Alcock, E. A. (1988). Pictish stones Class I: Where and how? Glasgow Archaeological Journal, 15, 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allen, J. R., & Anderson, J. (1903). The early Christian monuments of Scotland. Reprinted 1993. Balgavies: Pinkfoot Press.Google Scholar
  3. Armit, I., Schulting, R., Knüsel, C. J., & Shepherd, I. A. G. (2011). Death, decapitation and display? The Bronze and Iron Age human remains from the Sculptor’s Cave, Covesea, north-east Scotland. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 77, 251–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blackwell, A. (2016). Silver and symbols: Glenmorangie Project research on the Norrie’s Law Hoard. Accessed 16 May 2017.
  5. Campbell, E., & Lane, A. (2000). Dunadd: An early Dalriadic capital. Oxford: Oxbow Books.Google Scholar
  6. Champion, M. (2015). Medieval graffiti: The lost voices of England’s churches. London: Ebury Press.Google Scholar
  7. Clarke, D. V. (2007). Reading the multiple lives of Pictish symbol stones. Medieval Archaeology, 51(1), 19–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Collingwood, W. G. (1925). The early crosses of Galloway. Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society (3rd series), 10, 205–231.Google Scholar
  9. Cultural Heritage Imaging. (2016). Accessed 31 July 2016.
  10. Deas, G. B. (1948). The sculpturings on the caves of Wemyss. Offprint of the Rothmill Quarterly Magazine. Markinch: Tullis, Russell & Co. Ltd.Google Scholar
  11. Edwards, A. J. H. (1933). Short cists in Roxburgh and Sutherland, and rock sculpturings in a cave at Wemyss, Fife. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 67, 171–176.Google Scholar
  12. Fisher, I. (2001). Early Medieval sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands. Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland/Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.Google Scholar
  13. Foster, S. M. (1996). Picts, Gaels and Scots. London: Batsford.Google Scholar
  14. Gibson, C., & Stevens, C. (2007). Iron Age and Pictish activity at Wemyss Caves, Fife. Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal, 13, 91–99.Google Scholar
  15. Gondek, M. (2015). Building blocks: Structural contexts and carved stones in Early Medieval northern Britain. In H. Williams, J. Kirton, & M. Gondek (Eds.), Early Medieval stone monuments: Materiality, biography, landscape. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.Google Scholar
  16. Guttmann, E. B. (2002). Time and tide at East Wemyss: Excavations of the foreshore 1980–1995. Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal, 8, 110–124.Google Scholar
  17. Jackson, A. (1984). The symbol stones of Scotland: A social anthropological resolution of the problem of the Picts. Kirkwall: The Orkney Press.Google Scholar
  18. Le Bon, E. A. (1992). The Jonathan’s cave boat carving: A question of authenticity? The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 21, 337–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. MacKie, E. (1986). Iron Age and Early Historic occupation of Jonathan’s Cave, East Wemyss. Glasgow Archaeological Journal, 13, 74–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. MacLagan, C. (1876). Notes of the sculptured caves near Dysart in Fife. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 11, 107–120.Google Scholar
  21. Malzbender, T., Dan Gelb, D., & Wolters, H. (2001). Polynomial texture maps. In SIGGRAPH ‘01, Proceedings of the 28th annual conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques (pp. 519–528). New York, NY: ACM Press.Google Scholar
  22. Morris, R. W. B., & van Hoek, M. A. M. (1987). Rock carvings in the Garlieston area, Wigtown district. Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 62, 32–39.Google Scholar
  23. Noble, G., Gondek, M., Campbell, E., & Cook, M. (2013). Between prehistory and history: The archaeological detection of social change among the Picts. Antiquity, 87(338), 1136–1150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Noble, G. (2016). Discovering the northern Picts: Latest results of the University of Aberdeen Northern Picts Project. Accessed 16 May 2017.
  25. Patrick, J. (1905a). The sculptured caves of East Wemyss: Part 1. The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist, 11, 73–84.Google Scholar
  26. Patrick, J. (1905b). The sculptured caves of East Wemyss: Part 2. The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist, 11, 249–263.Google Scholar
  27. Patrick, J. (1906). The sculptured caves of East Wemyss: Part 3. The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist, 12, 37–47.Google Scholar
  28. Ritchie, J. N. G., & Stevenson, J. N. (1993). Pictish cave art at East Wemyss, Fife. In R. M. Spearman & J. Huggett (Eds.), The age of migrating ideas (pp. 196–208). Edinburgh: National Museum of Scotland.Google Scholar
  29. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. (1933). Eleventh report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the counties of Fife, Kinross, and Clackmannan. Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.Google Scholar
  30. Saiu, E. M., & McManus, J. (1998). Impacts of coal mining on coastal stability in Fife. In J. Hooke (Ed.), Coastal defence and earth science conservation (pp. 58–66). London: Geological Society.Google Scholar
  31. Simpson, J. Y. (1867). Archaic sculpturings of cups and circles etc. upon stones and rocks in Scotland, England and other countries. Edinburgh: Edmonston & Douglas.Google Scholar
  32. Stuart, J. (1867). Sculptured stones of Scotland. Volume second. Edinburgh: The Spalding Club.Google Scholar
  33. Toolis, R., & Bowles, C. (2013). The Galloway Picts Project: Excavation and survey of Trusty’s Hill, Gatehouse of Fleet. Unpublished Data Structure Report 3309, GUARD Archaeology. Accessed 10 July 2016.
  34. Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. (1988). Bede’s ecclesiastical history of the English people. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  35. Wessex Archaeology. (2005). Wemyss Caves, Fife, Scotland: Archaeological evaluation and assessment of results. Unpublished Data Structure Report Ref. 55754.01, Wessex Archaeology.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of History, University of St AndrewsFifeUK
  2. 2.York Archaeological TrustYorkUK
  3. 3.Centre for Archaeology, Technology and Cultural Heritage, University of St AndrewsFifeUK

Personalised recommendations