Rock Engravings, also known as Petroglyphs, pose an age-old question of who made them and why? Petroglyphs are images incised in rock, usually by prehistoric, especially Mesolithic, peoples. They were an important form of pre-writing symbols, used in communication from approximately 10,000 B.C.E. to modern times, depending on culture and location.
The word comes from the Greek words petros meaning “stone” and glyphein meaning “to carve” (it was originally coined in French as pétroglyphe).
The term ‘petroglyph’ should not be confused with pictograph, which is an image drawn or painted on a rock face, both of which contribute to the wider and more general category of rock art. Petroforms, or patterns and shapes made by many large rocks and boulders in rows over the ground, are also quite different.
The oldest petroglyphs are dated to approximately the Neolithic and late Upper Paleolithic boundary, about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Around 7,000 to 9,000 years ago, other writing systems such as pictographs and ideograms began to appear. Petroglyphs were still common though, and some less advanced societies continued using them much longer, even until contact with Western culture was made in the 20th century. Petroglyphs have been found in all parts of the globe except Antarctica with highest concentrations in parts of Africa, Scandinavia, Siberia, southwestern North America and Australia.
These images probably had deep cultural and religious significance for the societies that created them; in many cases this significance remains for their descendants. Many petroglyphs are thought to represent some kind of not-yet-fully understood symbolic or ritual language. Later glyphs from the Nordic Bronze Age in Scandinavia seem to refer to some form of territorial boundary between tribes, in addition to possible religious meanings. It also appears that local or regional dialects from similar or neighboring peoples exist. The Siberian inscriptions almost look like some early form of runes, although there is not thought to be any relationship between them. They are not yet well understood.
Some researchers have noticed the resemblance of different styles of petroglyphs across different continents; while it is expected that all people would be inspired by their surroundings, it is harder to explain the common styles. This could be mere coincidence, an indication that certain groups of people migrated widely from some initial common area, or indication of a common origin.
In 1853 George Tate read a paper to the Berwick Naturalists’ Club at which a Mr John Collingwood Bruce agreed that the carvings had ‘.. a common origin, and indicate a symbolic meaning, representing some popular thought.’ In his cataloguing of Scottish rock art, Ronald Morris summarised 104 different theories on their interpretation.
Other, more controversial, explanations are mostly grounded in Jungian psychology and the views of Mircea Eliade. According to these theories it is possible that the similarity of petroglyphs (and other atavistic or archetypal symbols) from different cultures and continents is a result of the genetically inherited structure of the human brain.
Other theories suggest that petroglyphs, were made by shamans, in an altered state of consciousness, perhaps induced by the use of natural hallucinogens. Many of the geometric patterns (known as form constants) which recur in petroglyphs and cave paintings have been shown to be “hard-wired” into the human brain; they frequently occur in visual disturbances and hallucinations brought on by drugs, migraine and other stimuli.
Present-day links between shamanism and rock-art amongst the San people of the Kalahari desert have been studied by the Rock Art Research Institute (RARI) of the University of the Witwatersrand. Though the San people’s artworks are predominantly paintings, the beliefs behind them can perhaps be used as a basis for understanding other types of art.
Over the past 50 years or so, travelling in Africa and throughout Australia I have developed a keen interest in the art of those who have gone before us and especially those peoples of antiquity. I have read a number of books by anthropologists and archaeologists especially on the subject of rock art on the Australian Continent. Modern Man or Homo Sapiens has been around for about 200,000 years. Life was good in Terra Australis and there was enough leisure time to depict the stories of antiquity on the rock faces of the ranges. We can only but guess as to what they may mean. I have included some modern Aboriginal Art as well.
Here are some of the photographs I have taken of this art over the years
PETROGLYPHS, ETCHINGS, MARKINGS
Rock Art of the Karoo, South Africa
Glen Herring Gorge
Rocky Bar Crossing
Calvert Ranges Sites
Durba Hills Area
Yagga Yagga Board Art
Ipolera Sand Art
Stone Age implements are found at random throughout the desert areas of Australia. I have found a few but they would only make up a smidgeon what is out there. All implements photographed have been left on site
As Homo Sapiens developed his brain, his ability to think of new ways of utilising what is around him to make life ‘easier’ for his existence until to come to the modern day some 30,000 years later where new inventions come to the fore nearly every day