Ten Mysterious Examples of Rock Art from the Ancient World
Rock paintings and engravings are among the world’s oldest continuously practiced art form and are as diverse as the wide-ranging cultures and civilizations that have produced them. Depictions of elegant human figures, richly hued animals, unusual figures combining human and animal features, and detailed geometric patterns, continue to inspire admiration for their sophistication, powerful forms, and detailed representations, as well as for providing a window into the daily lives of our ancient ancestors. Here we feature some of the most amazing and mysterious examples of rock art from around the world, though there are thousands more that are equally as impressive.
The sandstone cliffs of Sego Canyon are a spectacular outdoor art gallery of petroglyphs painted and carved by Native Americans peoples over a period of around 8,000 years. They are characterised by more than 80 imposing and haunting life-sized figures with hollowed eyes or missing eyes and the frequent absence of arms and legs. Some claim that the mysterious figures are evidence of alien visitation in our ancient past, while scholars maintain that the strange beings represent shamanistic visions produced in trance-like states.
Evidence of human habitation in Sego Canyon dates back to the Archaic Period (6,000 – 100 BC). But subsequent Anasazi, Fremont, and Ute tribes also left their mark upon the area, painting and chipping their religious visions, clan symbols, and records of events into the cliff walls.
Advocates of the ancient astronaut theory suggest that the strange figures of the Barrier Canyon style rock art depict extra-terrestrials that once visited Earth. They point to the large, hollow looking eyes and the triangular shaped heads as evidence that the figures were not human. However, others, like researcher Polly Schaafsma (1999) say that they represent shamanistic art associated with ritual activities of the Archaic people. Ms Schaafsma points to the fact that the ‘spirit figures’ are frequently shown holding snake forms, and their torsos sometimes incorporate water/life-giving symbols. The presence of these types of relational (figure/animal) motifs is considered to be evidence that there was a shamanistic tradition alive, at least during a certain period of time, among these Western Archaic people.
Last year, archaeologists discovered a rare example of prehistoric rock art in the Scottish Highlands. Researchers suggested that the large boulder, which contains numerous cup and ring marks, may reflect ritual use, territorial markings, or mapping of the stars. The carvings in the large stone, which was found in Ross-shire, Scotland, are believed to date back to the Neolithic or Bronze Age, around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. However, precisely dating the art is difficult: even if the megalithic monument can be dated, the art may be a later addition. John Wombell, of North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS), described the finding as “an amazing discovery", and explained that it is one of only a few decorated stones of its kind in Scotland. Cup and ring marks are a form of prehistoric art consisting of a concave depression, no more than a few centimetres across, carved into a rock surface and often surrounded by concentric circles also etched into the stone. The decoration occurs as a petroglyph on natural boulders and outcrops, and on megaliths such as the slab cists, stone circles, and passage graves such as the clava tombs and on the capstones at Newgrange.
Cup and ring marks are often found carved on standing stones and at stone circles – places thought to have been used for religious and ritual purposes in the past. Carvings often occur on outcrop rock where the site appears to have been specifically chosen so as to give uninterrupted views over the surrounding country. Others have said that they correspond to star constellations, or that they are records of land ownership or reflect boundaries.
Last year, archaeologists discovered a rock panel in the Kharga Oasis about 175 kilometres west of Luxor in Egypt, which is believed to date back to the pre-dynastic era, around 4,000 BC or earlier. Egyptologist Salima Ikram claimed the rock art is a depiction of spiders, webs, and insects trapped by spiders, and this theory dominated mainstream news reporting.
However, since then, other researchers came forward with alternative explanations. Dr Derek Cunningham, author of ‘400,000 Years of Stone Age Science’, suggested that the linear comb patterns are in fact an archaic form of astronomical writing. He found that the angular offset of the ‘spider body’ and the many lines drawn on the panel, align with astronomical values considered central to the accurate prediction of lunar and solar eclipses. For example, the body of the proposed spiders are rotated by 13.66 degrees from vertical, a calculation which corresponds to half a sidereal month.