Rock Art Stability Index (RASI)
a Cost-Effective & Non-Invasive Field Survey
The often fragile nature of rock art and cultural stone landscapes inherently discourages traditional research methods, many of which are prohibitively invasive, time-intensive, or overly expensive, despite the invaluable information such studies could provide to improve conservation and management efficacy. Pioneering hands-on cultural heritage stability assessments and community-based management strategies, the Rock Art Stability Index (RASI) is an observational field index for conditional assessments of rock art sites. RASI was devised to provide a rapid, efficient, and cost-effective analysis without requiring intensive training or technical knowledge. Scientifically validated in the U.S. Southwest, RASI has since been successfully employed across the world, ranging from small islands in the Caribbean to the harsh deserts of the Middle East.
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So How Does RASI Work?
Featuring six overarching categories, the Rock Art Stability Index (RASI) incorporates over three-dozen distinctive rock decay forms/processes to determine the current physical status of rock art panels (definable stone surfaces with discrete concentrations of rock art features), along with estimated future threats. Users of the index mark the severity of each decay form/process on a discrete scale of zero to three, with each value observationally defined: 0 = non-existent on the panel, 1 = present but not detrimental to the rock art, 2 = obvious and initiating problems, and 3 = dominant and/or directly damaging the rock art. Practitioners learn to distinguish the differences and thresholds between each value during the training experience. The six main categories include:
evaluates the panel’s geologic and contextual factors – "big picture"
reviews smaller (~micro-scale) rock decay and superficial issues
assesses weaknesses and evidence of potential future decay
records both the beneficial and damaging effects of rock coatings
catalogs larger (~meso-scale) detachment or decay events
document important field observations or personal concerns
Since larger values on the index scale denote more advanced decay, lower final panel scores indicate a greater degree of stability. RASI panel scores can then be used to quickly establish which panels are most in need of intervention/management – whether that means conservation, restoration, or documentation before the rock art deteriorates beyond recognition. For additional administrative ease, score ranges are separated into six different descriptive classifications:
≤ 20: Excellent Condition
20 – 29: Good Status
30 – 39: Problem(s) that Could Cause Erosion
40 – 49: Urgent Possibility of Erosion
50 – 59: Great Danger of Erosion
≥ 60: Severe Danger of Erosion
Applications of RASI
Rock decay knowledge is key for advising management decisions but all too often research resources are not always promptly available or critical information is lost in the translation of technical jargon. This is when RASI becomes such a powerful tool. If cultural resource management is included in RASI training, then not only will they better understand the research being presented to them but it will also empower them to analyze the site themselves if research teams are inaccessible or management resources are severely limited.
Likewise, anthropology, archeology, and other liberal sciences benefit from RASI training. While these fields are often more interested in the subjects and motifs of rock art, their physical condition is also vitally important. The ease of RASI training allows even the most inept researcher to gain basic understanding of rock decay and weathering conditions. Once determined, the physical status of an artifact tells its own story and can offer even more information on previous conditions and active processes that have affected it. The rapid application of RASI also help determine differential impacts of moisture, aspect, etc. on not just the rock art but for the site as a whole. This kind of information is another piece of the puzzle that is often too readily dismissed–RASI is the tool to rediscover it.
Applications in Rock Art and Cultural Management
Though RASI is intimately tied to rock art, its applications are not constricted to that. If rock art is merely seen as the example used to teach methods of rock decay analysis then RASI can suddenly be modified to fit every discipline dealing with stone or materials. Physicist can use RASI to understand the different ways stone exhibits weakness or how it responds to different pressures. Chemistry can quickly identify forms of chemical decay and how those impact physical reactions within and without the stone. RASI is also valuable to mathematics and statistics as an example of representing qualitative data with quantitative results.
Specific to applications in the hard sciences, the most exciting fields of expansion are engineering and architecture in the form of a modified version of RASI: the Cultural Stone Stability Index (CSSI). Developed over the last two years by RASI co-founder Dr. Casey Allen, the CSSI is designed to employ the same methods as RASI to analyze the physical condition and decay of historic buildings, monuments, and other stone constructs. To this date CSSI has been used to evaluate several historic buildings in downtown Denver, Colorado, hewn monuments in Jordan, and stone edifices in Cicely – applications are as numerous as RASI. It also serves testimony to the adaptability of the RASI model to fit any stone or educational purpose.
Applications in Physical
and Hard Sciences
Even non-science fields can gain meaningful knowledge from applying RASI. From a purely observational standpoint, RASI allows anyone the ability to visually recognize and distinguish a variety of weathering forms regardless of understanding process. In the disciplines of physical reproduction, such as theatrical set design or construction, RASI training would allow designers the insight to accurately create the appearance of authentically weathered surfaces. While in some areas of the fine arts don’t require such levels of detail and accuracy, there are some cases when it is vital, such as settings for film, both physical and computer generated, and theme parks.
The educational strength of RASI also lies in its structure and inclusion of all three of the primary learning styles. The auditory and visual components are experienced during training when detailed descriptions of weathering forms are paired with photography and other visual aides. Then, students are given the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the field to stimulate kinetic, are active, learning. RASI’s promotion of progressing levels of understanding and diversity of learning styles make it a powerful educational tool for traditional earth sciences as well as a new and exciting way of implementing rock decay in other science and non-science programs.
Applications in Liberal Arts and Education
What Exactly is "Rock Art" and Why Should We Protect It?
Rock art is commonly categorized into four overarching types depending on scale and technique: pictographs, petroglyphs, geoglyphs, and intaglios. Regardless of its genesis, rock art offers unique windows into the progression of the human condition throughout history. Some depict scenes of mundane daily activities, like hunting, and others might record a people’s journey across the landscape. Other rock art sites may be remembrances, like the Grenadian “Big Cat” petroglyphs, widely thought to be carved by Arawak people as a means to remember the felines of their native South America.
Excerpt from RASI Analysis: Alameleh Petroglyphs, Wadi Rum, Jordan
From Groom et. al. (2019):
"Differing slightly from the other sites explored in this paper, Alameleh houses a single large and complex panel with only a few outliers on either side. Despite the site’s limited number of panels, the concentration, diversity, and clarity of motifs and inscriptions on its relatively small host outcrop make Alameleh a prime tourist destination and an invaluable epigraph/academic resource. The site’s unique features include large depictions of camel trains, hunting scenes, herding activities, texts and inscriptions of multiple styles—representing the relatively high literacy rate among Thamudic peoples—and an interesting visualization of technological evolution in the region (i.e. moving from spears and bows and arrows to swords to firearms and rifles). The site hosts a wealth of historical value. Without the cooperation of ASEZA and leadership of the WRPA, a detailed RASI analysis could not have been completed.
Officially, there are five panels at Alameleh (a cluster of four along the northern ridge and a single panel on the outcrop’s southern tip)—all five were analyzed, but this discussion focuses primarily on the site’s key panel (Panel 1), as it represents the largest in both size and complexity. With a final RASI score of 42 (only slightly over the site average), the main Alameleh panel is actually fairly stable geologically-speaking, especially when considering its complicated history with human interaction. The most prevalent decay features include the development of cavernous decay (tafoni), impending scaling and flaking of the stone surface, and decay related to numerous fissures (cracks) independent of the outcrop’s bedding plane. Fortunately, the panel is housed on a moderately uniform section of sandstone—possibly what attracted its creators to that location in the first place—that has been spared a lot of the textural and superficial anomalies found elsewhere in the WRPA."
Excerpts from: Groom, K.M., S.M. Al-Noaimat, G. Bevan, M.D. Al-Zalabieh, C.D. Allen (2019: In Progress). Heritage of the Hisma Desert: Geologic Assessment of Thamudic Inscriptions and Petroglyphs in the Wadi Rum Protected Area, Jordan. Heritage Special Issue: From Micro to Macro: Scientific investigations of Heritage Sites in Arid Environments. Invited.