IT was created thousands of years ago and lies buried at a farm next to a Scottish housing estate.

Now the mysterious Cochno Stone is being unearthed for the first time in 50 years as archaeologists try to learn more about its purpose .

Dr Kenny Brophy of Glasgow University said: “This is the biggest and, I would argue, one of the most important Neolithic art panels in Europe.”

Dating back 5,000 years, the Bronze Age artefact was uncovered by the Rev James Harvey in 1887 on farmland on the outskirts of Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire.

Spanning 13m x 8m, the panel, which now lies next to a housing estate, is covered in around 90 carved “cup” indentations and spirals, as well as a pair of feet with four toes and a ringed cross.

A scheduled monument, it was reburied under several feet of earth on the recommendation of Glasgow University experts in the 1960s over fears that the ancient markings would be damaged by vandals.

Now a team from the city university is clearing the soil for a project which will use 3D imaging to make a detailed digital record of the site. Work began on Monday and will continue for three weeks.

The project is running in conjunction with the Factum Foundation, which scored a major success in Egypt last year after its digital reproduction of Tutankhamun’s tomb pointed to the existence of a previously unknown chamber.

It is hoped that work in Faifley, Clydebank, could give new insights into the people who made the Cochno Stone and what it’s purpose is.

The team will gather high-resolution data of its surface before reburying it and creating a lifesize copy.

Brophy said: “The cup and ring marks are extensive but the site just happens to be in the middle of an urban housing scheme in Clydebank.

“It was last fully open to the elements and the public up until 1965. Sadly, as it was neglected it was also being damaged through vandalism and people just traipsing all over it.

“Renowned archaeologist Ludovic Maclellan Mann, with a team of experts, decided the best way to preserve it was to cover it over to protect it from further damage. It has lain there ever since.”

A trial excavation last year indicated modern graffiti is “probably extensive” over the stone’s surface.

Ferdinand Saumarez Smith of the Factum Foundation said: “We are going to show how digital technology can be used to resurrect this lost monument and give it back to the people it belongs to, because we believe that if we trust people, they will look after it.”