A form of rock art, ancient petroglyphs represent images or pictograms created by carving, picking, or engraving in some fashion on rock. Unlike petrographs which have been painted or drawn, petroglyphs depict carved surfaces of rock faces or boulders. Petroglyph sites have been found around the world and are revered as part of their region’s cultural heritage–even though that culture might stretch back more than twenty thousand years ago.
The earliest petroglyphs may be as old as 40,000 years. Many petroglyphs date to the Neolithic period. Archaeologists have asserted that some petroglyphs in Australia may be as old as 27,000 years-old. Except for Antarctica, every continent is home to this form of rock art. Some places like Africa, Australia, and the North American Southwest are noted for their multitude of petroglyph sites. Archaeologists and historians interpret these rock art forms in various ways that denote religious or cultural significance. Scholars spend considerable time continuing to study and compare the rock art of these ancient peoples.
The world boasts many important petroglyph sites or sites regarded with great cultural significance. Egypt’s Wadi Hammamat, for instance, boasts carvings that harken back to the earliest days of the region’s dynasties. The region of Gebel el Silsila boasts ancient giraffe petroglyphs that are likely to predate the dynastic period. Kazakhstan’s Tamgaly site is known for its Bronze Age petroglyphs that feature carvings of animals and others; the site has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other well known sites include the Puye Cliff Dwellings of New Mexico, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area of Nevada, Arches National Park of Utah, Samalayuka of Mexico, Serra da Capivara National Park of Brazil (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Ladakh of India, Ughtasar of Armenia, Dabous Rock of Niger, Hikoshima Island of Japan, and many others.
Animals feature in many of the petroglyphs as do hunters and other people performing occupations. Other petroglyphs denote symbols such as suns or figures in strange positions like an upside down man or kokopelli. There are petroglyphs for natural elements and some that continue to be puzzles to scholars trying to understand them. This ancient type of rock art continues to be of great significance for many regions as it attracts many tourists and researchers to the sites. Protecting these sites is of national importance to many countries that contain them. What continues to puzzle scholars is exactly how many petroglyph examples resemble other petroglyphs of sites that are halfway around the world.