The Rock Art Research Institute (RARI) has a substantial collection of historical documents, photographs, redrawings and slides in addition to its large working collection of slides, tracings and redrawings. Over time, many of the older slides started to change colour and deteriorate in quality, prompting a programme to preserve the historical documents, photographs and slides in RARI's possession and reduce their handling by researchers and visitors.
Preservation was possible by digitising the collections and making them available on a database, thereby reducing physical handling while facilitating access to images and documents. The Ringing Rocks Foundation provided the necessary funding for this project and in January 2002 the Digital Laboratory was named in their honour. The laboratory had the daunting task of digitising all the existing archives at RARI as well as providing a database from which the archives could be accessed and viewed. Moreover, with the specification for the database being agreed upon, RARI hired a London-based company called System Simulation Ltd (SSL) to develop the much-needed software for the database. The Ringing Rocks Digital Laboratory started its digitisation process in August of 2002.
During the course of digitisation, RARI realised that it could use the expertise and equipment it has access to through the Ringing Rocks project to record other important collections, both private and institutional. This vision culminated in the South African Rock Art Digital Archive (SARADA), a resource that includes collections owned by the Analysis of Rock Art of Lesotho (ARAL) project, Iziko Museums of Cape Town, Natal Museum, National Museum (Bloemfontein), University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of South Africa (UNISA), RARI and Janette Deacon (private collection).
The scope of this project was funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation.
With the end of the Ringing Rocks project in February of 2005, preparations were under way to start digitising the collections as part of the SARADA project. By August 2005, ARAL was being digitised.
SARADA is registered as a section 21 company not for financial gain, but with the sole purpose of furthering research, education and site management, thereby helping promote the development and reconstruction of Southern Africa's history.