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Petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock near Canyonlands National Park, south of Moab, southeastern Utah, USA
[[File:Libya 5321 Meercatze (Gatti Mammoni) Petroglyphs Wadi Methkandoush Luca Galuzzi 2007.jpg|thumb|right|300px|Rock carving known as "Meerkatze" (named by archaeologist Leo Frobenius), rampant lionesses in Wadi Methkandoush, Mesak Settafet region of Libya.]]

Petroglyphs (also called rock engravings) are images created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, pecking, carving, and abrading. Outside North America, scholars often use terms such as "carving", "engraving", or other descriptions of the technique to refer to such images. Petroglyphs are found world-wide, and are often (but not always) associated with prehistoric peoples. 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 types of image belong to the wider and more general category of rock art. Petroforms, or patterns and shapes made by many large rocks and boulders over the ground, are also quite different. Inukshuks are also unique, and found only in the Arctic (except for reproductions and imitations built in more southerly latitudes).


The oldest petroglyphs are dated to approximately the Neolithic and late Upper Paleolithic boundary, about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, if not earlier (Kamyana Mohylamarker). Around 7,000 to 9,000 years ago, other precursors of writing systems, such as pictographs and ideograms, began to appear. Petroglyphs were still common though, and some cultures 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 Antarcticamarker with highest concentrations in parts of Africa, Scandinavia, Siberiamarker, southwestern North America and Australia.


There are many theories to explain their purpose, depending on their location, age, and the type of image. Some petroglyphs are thought to be astronomical markers, maps, and other forms of symbolic communication, including a form of "pre-writing". Petroglyph maps may show trails, symbols communicating time and distances traveled, as well as the local terrain in the form of rivers, landforms and other geographic features. A petroglyph that represents a landform or the surrounding terrian is known as a Geocontourglyph. They might also have been a by-product of other rituals: sites in India, for example, have been identified as musical instruments or "rock gongs".

Some petroglyph 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 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 Kalaharimarker desert have been studied by the Rock Art Research Institute (RARI) of the University of the Witwatersrandmarker [38869]. 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 rock art, including petroglyphs. To quote from the RARI website:
Using knowledge of San beliefs, researchers have shown that the art played a fundamental part in the religious lives of its San painters. The art captured things from the San’s world behind the rock-face: the other world inhabited by spirit creatures, to which dancers could travel in animal form, and where people of ecstasy could draw power and bring it back for healing, rain-making and capturing the game.

List of petroglyph sites



Image:Ku-ring-gai Chase - petroglyph.jpg|Ku-ring-gai Chase National Parkmarker, AustraliaImage:Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park 20 metre long petroglyph.JPG|part of a 20 metre long petroglyph, at Ku-ring-gai Chase National Parkmarker, AustraliaImage:Petroglyph - well endowed.JPG|Ku-ring-gai Chase National Parkmarker, AustraliaImage:Mutawintji National Park Petroglyph.JPG|Mutawintji National Parkmarker, Australia





Recently petroglyphs were found from Kollur in Tamil Nadumarker. A big dolmen with four petroglyphs that portray men with trident and a wheel with spokes has been found at Kollur near Triukoilur 35 km from Villupurammarker. The discovery was made by K.T. Gandhirajan. This is the second time that a dolmen with petrographs has been found in Tamilnadu, India.







Image:HawaiiHieroglyph.JPG|Petroglyph on western coast of HawaiimarkerImage:Hawaii petroglyph men.jpg|Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkmarkerImage:Motu Nui.jpg|Petroglyphs at Orongomarker, Rapa Nuimarker (Easter Island). A Makemake at the base and two birdmen higher up

South America

Central America

North America

image:Petroglyphs on a Bishop Tuff tableland-750px.jpg|Petroglyphs on a Bishop Tuff tableland, eastern Californiamarker, USAmarkerimage:Pictograph_2_tds.jpg|Southern Utahmarker, USAmarkerimage:Pictograph_tds.jpg|Southern Utahmarker, USAmarkerImage:Ute Petroglyphs in Arches National Park.jpg|Arches National ParkImage:Petroglyphs.jpg|Peterboroughmarker, Ontariomarker, CanadamarkerImage:Petroglyph in Arizona 2007-01-20.jpg|Arizonamarker, USAmarkerImage:Petroglyphs in the Columbia River Gorge.jpg|Columbia River Gorgemarker, Washingtonmarker, USAmarkerImage:Upside down.jpg|Upside-down man in Western Coloradomarker, USAmarkerImage:RochesterPanel 01 2008.JPG|Rochester Rock Art Panelmarker in the San Rafael Swellmarker in Utahmarker, USAmarkerImage:ParrasPetroglyphs.jpg|Outside Parrasmarker, Coahuilamarker, MexicomarkerImage:Spiderweb petroglyph.jpg|Web-like petroglyph on the White Tank Mountain Regional Park Waterfall Trail, Arizonamarker, USAmarkerImage:Chipping petroglyph.jpg|Chipping petroglyph on the White Tank Mountain Regional Park Waterfall Trail, Arizonamarker, USAmarkerImage:Arizona petroglyph 1117.JPG|Sample of petroglyphs at Painted Rock near Gila Bend, Arizona off Interstate 8.

File:Puye 1.jpg|Puye Cliff Dwellings, New Mexicomarker

Puerto Rico
  • La Piedra Escrita (The Written Rock) - Jayuya, Puerto Rico
  • Caguana Indian Park - Utuado, Puerto Rico
  • Tibes Indian Park - Ponce, Puerto Rico
  • La Cueva del Indio (Indians Cave) - Arecibo, Puerto Rico

Dominican Republic

Saint Kitts & Nevis

  • Carib Petroglyphs - Wingfield Manor Estate, Saint Kitts


Image:Incisione foppe nadro.jpg|
Petroglyph from Foppe of Nadromarker, Val Camonicamarker, Italymarker
Image:Foppe duel.jpg|
Duel in Foppe of Nadromarker, Val Camonicamarker, Italymarker
Image:Arte Rupestre Valcamonica Sacerdote.jpg|
Running Priest in Capo di Pontemarker, Val Camonicamarker, Italymarker
Image:Ancientastronauts.jpg|Engravers from Val Camonicamarker, ItalymarkerImage:Tanun_carvings_birds.jpg|Rock Carving in Tanum, SwedenmarkerImage:Sweden-Brastad-Petroglyph_Skomakaren-Aug_2003.jpg|Carving "The Shoemaker", Brastad, SwedenmarkerImage:Petroglifo_bentayga.jpg|Petroglyph in Roque Bentayga, Gran Canaria (Canary Islands).Image:DalgarvenMillCup&Ring.jpg|Petroglyph at Dalgarven Millmarker, Ayrshire, Scotland.


Cup and ring marked rocks in:









Petroglyphs from Galicia (Spain)




  • Karsmarker - Kagizman Cave
  • Karsmarker - Camuslu Village
  • Erzurum - Cunni Cave

  • Ordu - Esatli
  • Hakkari - Gevaruk Walley


Middle East


See also

Further reading

  • Beckensall, Stan and Laurie, Tim, Prehistoric Rock Art of County Durham, Swaledale and Wensleydale, County Durham Books, 1998 ISBN 1-897585-45-4
  • Beckensall, Stan, Prehistoric Rock Art in Northumberland, Tempus Publishing, 2001 ISBN 0-7524-1945-5

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