Recording the Folkton Drums at the British Museum

Considerable evidence of working on drum 1


My last blog post concerned the recording and data capture of the three Neolithic artefacts known as the Folkton Drums at the British Museum. Thanks to the hard work and computing genius of Lena Kotoula and Marta Díaz-Guaramino, since then we have had time to process the data and have had some spectacular results.

Lena, Marta and I spent around six hours staring at the computer screen back in early June amazed at the results from this analysis, and picking out one feature after another that had never before been recorded.

The most spectacular results are that the base of the largest artefact, drum 1 has considerable evidence of working, with a series of parallel scratched lines, and a motif very like those found in passage graves in Orkney. Also amazing is the face of drum 2, as we found evidence of an erased ‘eyebrow’ above the central motif – this indicates clear evidence of reworking, and the removal of an earlier motif before the creation of the present motifs.

Evidence of an erased ‘eyebrow’ above the central motif on drum 2Evidence of an erased ‘eyebrow’ above the central motif on drum 2

One of the key aspects of the project is to record evidence for working and reworking. This was clearly evident on the side panel of drum 1, where we could see clear sequences of working, erasure and reworking. The digital imaging technique of RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) has been especially useful in highlighting fine-grained detail allowing us as researchers to understand the sequence, techniques and gestures used to craft ancient artefacts. The technique is giving us a whole new picture of these intriguing Neolithic artefacts.

Dr A

Scanning the Folkton Drums


Photo: Andrew Cochrane

I am currently working on a project looking at the art of portable Neolithic artefacts from Britain and Ireland. One of the remarkable findings so far is the degree to which markings on these artefacts have been erased and reworked. This is especially true of chalk artefacts. These processes of reworking provide important information about craft techniques, and the significance of art and imagery in this period of prehistory.

To test these observations it was important to analyse the most spectacular chalk artefacts from the British Neolithic – the Folkton Drums.  By special request the ‘drums’ – carved cylinders of chalk from Neolithic Yorkshire – were removed from display in the British Museum for an intensive day of analysis. So on 4th April a group of researchers from Archaeology University of Southampton (Marta Diaz Guardamino Uribe, Lena Kotoula, Andrew Meirion Jones) and Cardiff University (Andrew Cochrane), Winchester School of Art (Ian Dawson and Chris Carter) and Central St. Martins Art School, London (Louisa Minkin), recorded the ‘drums’ using a hand-held laser scanner and using RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging).


Photo: Andrew Cochrane

Both techniques were used to analyse trace evidence of reworking or recarving. The techniques we used take some time to process so we will not know the results for a few weeks, though preliminary results look pretty amazing (updates to follow). On the day we also had lots of opportunity for detailed analysis of the three Folkton Drums, and learnt a great deal more about the variety of different techniques used to carve them. The ‘drums’ are one of a select group of Neolithic artefacts with representational features – they have faces – and by the end of the day all of us had become captivated by them.

Dr A