Rock art

Rock art

Rock art is a term in archaeology for any man-made markings made on natural stone. They can be divided into:

*Petroglyphs - carvings into stone surfaces
*Pictographs - rock and cave paintings

In addition, petroforms and inukshuks are rock art made by aligning or piling natural stones. The stones themselves are used as large markings on the ground.


The term "rock art" appears to have been used first used in about 1959: "The rock art tells us little for, a certain human being, certain about marriage customs.", [J. D. Clark, "Prehist. S. Afr." ix. 248, 1959] and has also been described as "rock carvings", [H. M. Chadwick, "Origin Eng. Nation" xii. 306, 1907: "The rock-carvings at Tegneby"] "rock drawings", [H. A. Winkler, "Rock-Drawings of Southern Upper Egypt" I. 26, 1938: "The discovery of rock-drawings showing boats of a type foreign to Egypt."] "rock engravings", [H. G. Wells, "Outl. Hist." I. xvii. 126/1, 1920: From rock engravings we may deduce the theory that the desert was crossed from oasis to oasis.] "rock inscriptions", [Deutsch, "Rem." 177, 1874: "The long rock-inscription of Hamamât."] "rock paintings", ["Encycl. Relig. & Ethics" I. 822/2, 1908: "The rock-paintings are either stencilled or painted in outline."] "rock pictures", ["Man No." 119. 178/2, 1939: "On one of the stalactite pillars was found a big round stone with traces of red paint on its surface, as used in the rock-pictures"] "rock records" [G. Moore, "The Lost Tribes and the Saxons of the East", 1861, Title page: "with translations of Rock-Records in India."] and "rock sculptures. [Tylor, "Early Hist. Man." v. 88, 1865 "Rock-sculptures may often be symbolic boundary marks."]


Both petroglyphs and pictographs can be parietal, meaning on the walls of a cave or rock shelter, open-air meaning they are made on exposed natural outcrops or monument-based which are made on stones consciously deposited.


Petroglyphs are created by rock removal, including scratching, abrading, pecking, carving, drilling, incising and sculpting. Locations of choice are rock facets coated with patina, a dark mineral accumulation on rock surfaces. Petroglyphs remove the patina, exposing the contrasting lighter rock interior. Instances of negative images, produced by removing the patina surrounding the intended figure, are also known. Sometimes petroglyphs are painted or accentuated by polishing. The degree of repatination indicates relative dating. Some of the most ancient petroglyphs are the same color as the surrounding rock.

Pictography is the application of pigments. Survival of ancient paintings is attributable to use of mineral pigments, most commonly manganese, hematite, malachite, gypsum, limonite, clays and various oxides. The best preserved pictography is found under sheltering overhangs and in caves. The simplest pictographs are wet clay finger drawings and charcoal drawings. To produce crayons or paints first the minerals had to be finely ground and combined with binding materials. Crayons and animal hair brushes have been excavated in caves with paintings. Exceedingly fine lines evidence the production of excellent brushes. The most common rock art element found around the world, the human hand, exemplifies several pictography types. A technique used since the Neolithic is spraying around a hand, resulting in a negative image. The more common positive print was often made with pigment applied to the hand and transferred to the rock.

Groupings: Motifs and panels

Traditionally, individual markings are called motifs and groups of motifs are known as panels. Sequences of panels are treated as archaeological sites. This method of classifying rock art however has become less popular as the structure imposed is unlikely to have had any relevance to the art's creators. Even the word 'art' carries with it many modern prejudices about the purpose of the features.

Rock art can be found across a wide geographical and temporal spread of cultures perhaps to mark territory, to record historical events or stories or to help enact rituals. Some art seems to depict real events whilst many other examples are apparently entirely abstract.

hamanism Motif

Common features in rock art that are related to portraying shamans were bones and other skeletal remains on their coats. One reason for the bones would be that they were used as a type of armor for protecting the shaman on his journeys through different worlds. Devlet, the author of "Rock Art and the Material Culture of Siberian and Central Asian Shamanism" highlights, “Another interpretation of these skeletal costume elements explains them as representations of a shaman brought back to life after the dismemberment that occurs during the initiation process: the depicted bones thus refer to the wearer’s own skeleton” (43). The concept of death and revival is often associated with shamans and the way they are portrayed. The bones were usually on the back of the shaman’s jacket or used on the breast-piece. Another important aspect used to distinguish shamans in rock art depictions is that they are wearing fringed fabric. There are differences in the lengths of the fringe and where on the shaman the fringe is located. In the rock art, the fringe was usually long single strands attached to different parts of the shaman’s body. The symbolism of the fringe can be interpreted in several ways. One example is, “The fringe on a shaman’s coat is an important element, which marks his or her ornithomorphic nature (i.e. the ability to transform into a bird or to gain its abilities such as the capacity for flight) ” (Devlet 44). The concept of fringe being correlated with flying was mainly used in rock art in the Altai, Tuva, and Mongolian regions.

A more mainstream characteristic is the detection of the shaman’s ritualistic drum. Even though there are different types, shapes, and images painted on the shaman’s drum, it is clearly depicted in the rock art. The range of decoration used on the drums varied from simplistic to innately elaborate. The resemblance is remarkably illustrated, “In the Altai region, images depicted on historical shamanic drums demonstrate a striking similarity with what is shown on the rock engravings” (Devlet 47).


At Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg, South Africa, now thought to be some 3,000 years old, the paintings by the San people who settled in the area some 8,000 years ago depict animals and humans, and are thought to represent religious beliefs.

Somalia has a large number of rock art found at sites across the country. The most prominent of these sites is the rock art recently discovered by French archaeologists in Laas Geel.

*Tassili N'Ajjer in Algeria - national park and World Heritage Site
*South Oran in Algeria
*Saharan rock art



The Rock Paintings of Sierra de San Francisco is the name given to prehistoric rock art found in the Sierra de San francisco region of Baja California, Mexico, created by a people referred to as Cochimi or Guachimis. There are some 250 sites which are located in the municipality of Mulege within the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve in the state of Baja California Sur in Northern Mexico. Motifs include human figures, weapons, and animal species such as rabbit, puma, lynx, deer, wild goat/sheep, whale, turtle, tuna, sardine, octopus, eagle, and pelican; there are also abstract elements of various forms. The paintings vary in age from 1100 BC to AD 1300.

The paintings are noted for their high quality, extent, the variety and originality of human and animal representations, remarkable colors, and excellent state of preservation. The rock paintings of Sierra de San Francisco were nominated in 1989 and became a World Heritage Site in 1993.
*Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka - World Heritage Site
*Rock Paintings of Sierra de San Francisco - World Heritage Site


There are rock paintings in caves in India, [cite web
title=Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka
publisher=World Heritage Site
] Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.In Thailand, caves and scarps along the Thai-Burmese border, in the Petchabun Range of Central Thailand, and overlooking the Mekong River in Nakorn Sawan Province, all contain galleries of rock paintings.



The Rock Art in Valle Camonica is home to the greatest complex of rock drawings in Europe, with approximately 350,000 petroglyphs drawn by members of the Camunni tribe on hundreds of exposed rocks dating from about 8000 BC; cosmological, figurative, and cartographic motifs are featured, in some locations forming monumental hunting and ritual `scenes´. It includes also scenes of zoophilia.
*Rock Drawings in Valcamonica - World Heritage Site
*Knowth - Ireland


Finland has as many as 127 sites where stone age rock paintings have been identified.



The park has a large collection of ochre paintings. Ochre is a not an organic material, so carbon dating of these pictures is impossible. Sometimes the approximate date, or at least, an epoch, can be guessed from the content.
*Sydney Rock Engravings

Photo gallery

See also

*Medicine Wheels
*Neolithic Subpluvial
*Pomier Caves
*Water glyphs



*Ekaterina, Devlet. "Rock Art and the Material Culture of Siberian and Central Asian Shamanism." The Archaeology of Shamanism. 2001 43-54. 01/04/2007 .

*Malotki, Ekkehart and Weaver, Donald E. Jr., 2002, "Stone Chisel and Yucca Brush: Colorado Plateau Rock Art", Kiva Publishing Inc., Walnut, CA, ISBN 1-885772-27-0 (cloth). For the "general public"; this book has well over 200 color prints with commentary on each site where the photos were taken; the organization begins with the earliest art and goes to modern times.

*Rohn, Arthur H. and Ferguson, William M, 2006, "Puebloan Ruins of the Southwest", University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque NM, ISBN-10 0-8263-3970-0 (pbk, : alk. paper). Adjunct to the primary discussion of the ruins, contains color prints of rock art at the sites, plus interpretations.

*Schaafsma, Polly, 1980, "Indian Rock Art of the Southwest", School of American Research, Santa Fe, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque NM, ISBN 0-8263-0913-5. Scholarly text with 349 references, 32 color plates, 283 black and white "figures", 11 maps, and 2 tables.

External links

* [ England's Rock Art on the Web] Access to the ERA database containing over 1500 records of rock art panels with images and 3D models.
* [ RUPESTREWEB / LATIN AMERICAN ROCK ART. Articles, Zones, News, Rock art researchers directory]
* [ Rock Art studies] - A Bibliographic database at the Bancroft Library containing over 10,000 citations to the world's rock art literature.
* [ The website of Rock Art Foundation - Native American Rock Art]
* [ Trust for African Rock Art]
* [ British Rock Art Collection]
* [ ARARA] American Rock Art Research Association.
* [] A rock art site, mainly devoted to Valcamonica and Alpine Rock Art.
* [ EuroPreArt] The database of European Prehistoric Art.
* [ Art and Archaeology of the Dampier Archipelago]
* [ Worldwide Rock Art Selection]
* [ Bradshaw Foundation] Supports dissemination of information on rock art, migration, and the study of artistic man around the world.
*Rock Art in South Africa
* [ UNESCO World Heritage: Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka]
* [ Bundelkhand Rock Paintings, India]
* [ ""] , an educational website about the science of pattern formation, spirals in nature, spirals in the mythic imagination & spiral rock art

[ Worldwide Rock Art Selection]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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