Ten Amazing Examples of Rock Art from the Ancient World

Ten Mysterious Examples of Rock Art from the Ancient World

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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.

10. The haunting rock art of Sego Canyon – extra-terrestrials or shamanic visions?

The haunting rock art of Sego Canyon

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. 

9. Rare ancient rock art in Scotland may reflect rituals, territorial markings or star mapping

Rare ancient rock art in Scotland

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.

8. Unusual pre-dynastic rock art discovered in Egypt

Unusual pre-dynastic rock art discovered in Egypt

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. 



For once I wish that people would not automatically assume that our prehistoric ancestors were stupid. They were not. They were just as intellectually advanced as us with the same creativity and the same capacity to dream and imagine.

Not everything they depict in art should be taken literally. What would we think if someone in the future thought that dragons or gryphons or Hogwarts was real because they saw it depicted in our art? Its ludicrous. Sometimes humans dream and we depict those dreams in our art. It has no basis in reality at all, perhaps that is even the purpose.

To suppose that our ancestors were so primitive they were incapable of depicting anything not right in front of their faces is a mistake. The art which we cannot understand and may have overtones of images to which today we would ascribe a certain meaning meant something entirely different to them. We would not expect someone in the future to see a Picasso painting and think we really perceived other people in that way. Sometimes a painting is just a painting.

They are not aliens.

For once I wish folks who claim they know the inter workings of the pre-historic mind would try to restrain themselves. To just assume that ancient man was just as 'intellectually advanced' as modern man is asinine. I have stood before thousands of petroglphs and pictographs. Most are depictions of everyday life. Some are decidedly not. And why would you think they were not trying to depict what they were actually seeing? The corrupt academic/archeology world has done great disservice to humankind with their 'peer reviewed' opinions.

Those damned academics and their rationality, holding back humankind's noble wishful thinking.
One a more serious note, you are both making mistakes. I do agree that asserting that prehistoric man was as intellectually advanced as us is wrong since we have no way of testing that in any meaningful way, yet you are somehow claiming that peer review is somehow harmful? Even the most ridiculous ideas become mainstream once enough evidence is provided. Saying that there's a possibility that they were truly depicting what they were seeing is a valid hypothesis, yet without evidence it's only that, a hypothesis. And since we don't have any evidence at all of any beings even resembling those depictions, the simplest possible explanation given what we know right now is that they are just artistic representations.

My problem is the outright dismissal of a hypothesis (they are not aliens) Sounds final. Just some bad dreams. If so, Utah was one big bad dream several thousand years ago. As to those damned academics? see Virgina Steen McIntyre. or M Cremo. The history of the science of archeology is
well...pitiful, to be kind.

Peter Harrap's picture

With everybody up in arms about IS, it is even more depressing to read how the Cochno Stone has to remain buried to survive destruction by our own people in a country at peace (at least domestically)

It is at least as important, but we cannot see it, and it is a disgrace that the UK gov that salvages Greek and Iraqi antiquities and houses them safely,  refuses do likewise for this far more important (because unique)

work of art.


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