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Encyclopedia > Rock drawings
Petroglyphs on a Bishop Tuff tableland
Petroglyph on Petroglyph Point
Petroglyphs on Petroglyph Point
Petroglyphs on Petroglyph Point
Petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument
Petroglyphs from Scandinavia (Häljesta, Västmanland in Sweden). Composite. Nordic Bronze Age. The glyphs are colored similar to the assumed original coloration.

A Petroglyph is an image recorded on stone, usually by 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). This term is often used to refer to images painted on stone. However, the terms "Pictograph" or Cave painting are used to describe images painted on stone rather than Petroglyph which, in the strictest sense, refers to carved or engraved images.

These images had deep cultural and religious significance for the societies that created them; in many cases, this significance remains for their descendants. Petroglyphs have been found on all continents except Antarctica with highest concentration in Africa, Scandinavia, Siberia, North America and Australia. They range in age from a few hundred years old to as much as 200,000-300,000 years old, in the case of glyphs found in a cave in Bhimbetka, India in the 1990s.

Examples of petroglyphs can be found at

Many petroglyphs are thought to represent some kind of not yet fully understood symbolic or ritual language. The later carvings from the Nordic Bronze Age in Scandinavia seems to indicate some form of territory boundaries between tribes, except its religious meaning. There appear to be "dialects" between neighborhood and contemporary petroglyphs. The Siberian inscriptions almost looks like some early form or runes, although there is no relationship. They are not yet understood.

The West Virginia glyphs are worth noting for the controversy that erupted over them in the 1980s. Barry Fell, a retired professor of marine biology at Harvard, published an article in 1983, describing how he had deciphered petroglyphs in several places in southern West Virginia to actually be written in Ogam, an Irish Celtic script dating back to the 6th to 8th century AD, and that they were in fact a detailed description of the nativity of Christ. Fell is noted as promoting a theory of North America being visited by Irish, Iberian, Libyan, and Egyptian explorers "some 2,000 to 2,500 years ago".

In fact, Fell's method of interpretation involved almost arbitrary grouping of markings, and interpreting them to be only the consonants of Ogam, then adding in vowels where he saw fit, in addition to adding horizontal stem lines where he saw fit, which allowed him to decide which of three consonants each glyph should represent. Fell's work was subsequently debunked by linguists and archaeologists from several countries, to which Fell responded by accusing them of being "too damn lazy" to read his writings, and of being "ignorant".

See also

External Links

  • Petroglyph Provincial Park Official Website (http://wlapwww.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/petrogly.htm)
  • Northumberland Rock Art (http://rockart.ncl.ac.uk/)

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