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:
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
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.