In hundreds of places scattered all around the world, archaeologists have studied rock art that were left behind by our ancestors. These ancient images chiseled and imprinted on rocks depict different scenes that give us an idea on how our ancestors saw the world hundreds of years ago, before there were buildings and roads, and super cars with high-powered engines.
Some of these images or pictures, if you will, show animals such as birds and lizards, or groups of people in action; and date back to about 700 years. Some rocks display images of Christian crosses, that are presumed to have been made by colonists who came all the way from Spain, probably during the early 16th century. And yet there are even older types of rock art that are believed to have been made 3,000 years ago.
At the Riconada Canyon in New Mexico, a lot of petroglyphs that visitors can see here were made or done through pecking. Pecking is a technique in which a hammerstone is used to remove the dark surface of a basalt rock, where eventually a pattern emerges.
According to archaeologists, a big bulk of the petroglyphs here were made by the Ancestral Puebloans. Around 1,200 petroglyphs can be found here, and these are believed to have been used as tools to teach children about spiritual beliefs, history and also the local culture.
To see the petroglyphs, visitors have to follow the trail that goes for a little over a mile. Administrators of the park don’t really agree with the term rock art. According to them, the images portray something more than art. They add that the different languages of the Native Americans don’t really contain words that describe objects artistically.
Today, much debate is still going on to determine what these images are really about and the reason behind our ancestors’ choice to imprint images on hard rocks. However, it is obvious that these pictures provide an interesting insight as to what life was like before our generation.
According to David Whitley, who specializes in rock art and is also an archaeologist, rock art is a fertile ground where ideas from people of different cultures can run amok. Interestingly enough, there are people out there who maintain a steadfast belief that aliens are responsible for making rock art.
Whitley’s opinion is that rock art is simply a way for modern man to get a glimpse on how our ancestors epressed their creativity and also religion.
The park is open daily from morning until the afternoon, starting at 8am up to 5pm; except on holidays. It offers visitors an introduction to this interesting art form that has been painstakingly preserved through time.
If this unique art form has managed to captivate your interest, here are a couple of other places you might want to check out.
Over a decade ago back in 1994, a group of cavers made a once in a lifetime discovery when they chanced upon what is currently known to be the oldest sample of rock art to be found in the world. The images were discovered inside the Chauvet Cave, in France’s southern region of Ardeche. Inside this cave, which is situated near the Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, the animals seem to come alive and if you close your eyes, you could almost hear their hooves stomping and feel the earth rumbling as they jostle their way towards you.
The unassuming Frenchmen’s fortunate find led to a discovery that the world has come to admire. Today however, it is restricted to people except for a few scientists who are able to show the proper credentials.
Rock art found in Europe during the paleolithic era (otherwise known as the Stone Age) is known around the world not only because they date back centuries but because of the excellent manner in which they were created. These ancient works of art even managed to influence and inspire great artists such as Picasso, who was lucky enough to pay a short visit to the caves in 1940.
The images found on these walls, like the Chinese horse, is printed on every art book tackling art history. From the walls of this cave, the images have made their way to almost every country in the world, as students flip through art books and study the intricate strokes and colours on the pages.
There are around 350 caves across Europe that are documented to have cave art. The Lascaux has been declared a world heritage site, and is considered to be one of the best around the world.
Due to damage to the rock art brought about by carbon dioxide, authorities decided to close the Lascaux cave in the year 1963. By this time, countless others have already visited the cave in the span of 20 years. In 1983, the Lascaux II, which is a replica of the original, opened to the public to give a chance for visitors too see what rock art and cave art is like. Unfortunately, mold has begun to damage the paintings in the original caves, and chances are slim that they can be recovered.
Coso Rock Art District at the China Lake Naval Weapons Station
At the Coso Rock Art District, visitors can feast their eyes on hundreds and hundreds of images that date way back to 16,000 years ago. If that’s not ancient enough for you, then we don’t know what is! Around 100,000 images are displayed here for guests to see and admire. In fact, becasue of their extensive samples of rock art, the Coso Rock Art District is regarded as the place that has the biggest concentration of rock art and petroglyphs in all of the Western Hemisphere.
This rock art district is located inside the United States Navy weapons testing station; which in turn can be found deep inside Mojave desert. This place so far from civilization and is not usually frequented by hordes of tourists from far flung countries; travelers stepping into this place will experience the more desolate parts of North America, where there is an eerie detachment from society, and everything is quiet and still. Because this place is so isolated, the petroglyphs here have been well preserved and compared to other sites worldwide, are in top condition.
Although it hasn’t been declared as a World Heritage Site, it is considered to be a National Historic Landmark, duly listed in the books of the National Register of Historic Places, and therefore is still given much importance. It was proclaimed as a historic landmark since 1946; and some experts believe that this place does meet the requirements and criteria to be deemed a world heritage site.
One little catch to this place is that tours are only offered to United States Citizens. You can call the office of the U.S. Navy public affairs to schedule a tour around the district.
If you’re lucky enough to be granted a tour here, you will see images of animals like the bighorn sheep and mountain lions. The designs imprinted on rocks were also made through pecking; but scratching and grinding were also employed. A lot of the petroglyphs that can be found here are about 1000 up to 3000 years old. There are also patterns made by lines and dots.
If you check out the Basalt Lowlands, the designs will appear to be simpler and smaller, measuring about eight inches. They are also usually found in conspicuous places. If you venture to the Pinyon Uplands, the designs tend to be more abstract. Some of the designs here are also hidden or scratched inside small crevices.
Barrier Canyon in Utah
The Barrier Canyon in Utah is also commonly known as the Horseshoe Canyon. It is located in the Canyonlands National Park, which is divided into four districts namely the Maze, the Sky, the Rivers and the Needles. The Barrier can be found deep inside the Maze District.
This canyon has been known to be some kind of treasure trove; archeologists and other experts have recovered lots of artifacts from the Barrier Canyon. Some of the artifacts that were recovered here even appear tp date back to 9,000 B.C. During that time, the canyon is believed to be teeming with life—groups of giant bison and huge mammoths wandering the area. Some experts believe that the rock art seen here can be traced back to the Archaic Period, which would place them around 1,500 up to 4,000 years old.
The people believed to have produced these images are known as the Barrier Canyon Indians. The rock art in these are are usually located on the walls of the canyon.
The climate in the canyon has also helped to preserve the art work of the people who used to live in these areas. The climate here is dry and is conducive to art preservation, preventing the formation of mold and other things that could easily destroy works of art. In order to do contribute to the preservation of the rock art, visitors are kindly requested not to touch the images.
Another reason why the rock art here is so well preserved is because public access going to the canyon isn’t a piece of cake. Most of the people who visit here begin their journey from the trainlead at west rim. This will take them to a long dirt road via Moab or perhaps Green River, After this, if you’re still determined to soldier on, visitors will have to make their way to the Great Gallery by hiking through some cottonwood groves, pass a stream, and walk by sandstone walls in a natural, pink hue. If you follow the entire trail, you would have hiked a good 6.5 miles and gone down about 700 feet.
Reminders for those who are planning to go, please leave your pets at home; not even dogs are allowed to tag along with their owners. Also, remember to bring lots of water with you on your trip.
Valcamonica (Northern Italy)
If rock art is what you’re after, board a plane to Italy and go straight to the Valcamonica valley. This is situated on the eastern side of Lombardy, and stands at the feet of the Alps. Almost 300,000 carvings can be found here. Experts date these carvings back 10,000 years, during the time whe the Roman Empire rose to power.
Studies show that farmers are responsible for carving these images onto solid, hard rocks. The Valcamonica is sometiimes referred to as the Camonica Valley. The name is derived from the term Camunni, which pertains to the original residents in the area. From Milan, it’s a two hour car drive to reach Valcamonica.
You can also find parks and reserves that are specially dedicated to this ancient art form. Not only do you get to appreciate a unique type of art, you’re also made aware of the important role that nature played in our ancestors’ lives. Not only did they rely on nature to eat and build shelter, they also used nature to express themselves through art.
The Altamira cave in Spain is also another cave that has been declared a world heritage site. They also feature wonderful samples of rock art, and like the Lascaux, they are absolutely off-limits to viewers. Studies are being conducted on how to preserve these treasures. In the meantime, a replica of the Altamira can be found in the nearby museum.
Drakensberg (South Africa)
In South Africa, visitors can behold the rock art made by the San people, who are now extinct. The San are also called bushmen. More specifically, the bushmen made rock paintings. In this part of the continent, the bushmen are responsible for producing the largest collection of rock paintings. The quality of these paintings are not only superb, there is also diversity in the subject matter.
If you’re traveling to Africa, you can pay a visit to the Royal Natal National Park to see the fabulous nature scenery this vast continent has to offer. There is also Bushman’s Nek, which can be found in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. In the park, there are a number of activities that you can participate in like biking or fly fishing. However, the rock art displayed here are wonders that are defnitely worth your while. If you follow the Giants Cup Hiking Trail, you can be sure to come upon sites that boast of beautiful rock art.
For pictographs alone, there are more than 20,000 images scattered all over 500 various sites. For us today, these images are what we can use to learn about the bushmen and their daily lives. Generations of bushmen’s stories made through 4,000 years are revealed in these images.
A wonderful place for travelers to visit would be the Game Pass Shelter located in Drakensberg Mountains. These images impart stories about the journey that the spirit takes. The Game Pass Shelter is also known as the Rosetta Stone. The walk inside the Rosetta Stone takes around three hours. This is quite a special place to historians and archaeologists because this is the spot where the answer to finally understanding the meaning of bushmen rock art was found. The guided walks follow a trail that are sure to imprint memories you won’t soon forget. Usually, the walks commence around 8am, 11am and 1pm, just after lunch.
At the Giants Castle Nature Reserve, you can even camp out as long as you have enough supplies and bring your own sleeping bag. Get a map from the camp office and explore around the park, which is home to the bearded vulture.
if not, come back tomorrow on journeyetc.com and see what's new :)