5 Examples Of Petroglyphs (and Their Meaning)


The word petroglyph comes from two Greek words: petra, stone, and glyphein, to carve or engrave. That is to say, we call petroglyphs the representations engraved on rock surfaces, which were very abundant in Prehistory and which are distributed throughout the world.

In today’s article we talk about one of the oldest artistic manifestations, spread throughout the planet and that gives us invaluable information about how our ancestors lived: petroglyphs or stone engravings.

Petroglyphs: the art of engraving stone

The oldest petroglyphs date back to the Neolithic period (around 10,000 – 3,000 BC), but there are human communities that continued to practice this practice well into the modern era. For example, in the Mogollon culture, in New Mexico, petroglyphs were made until approximately 1400 AD

engraving techniques

The engraving techniques are diverse. Experts distinguish three basic techniques:

Types of petroglyphs

On the other hand, there are various types of petroglyphs. Although they all have the common characteristic of being engraved in stone, the representations can be extraordinarily diverse, although scientists have grouped them into three general groups:


But perhaps the most interesting thing about petroglyphs is that they are not restricted to a specific place or culture, but are present in many places around the world. Of course, the characteristics of petroglyphs are diverse, depending on the society that created them. The most enigmatic thing, furthermore, is that many of the cultures that engraved on the stone did not have any ties in common, as we will now see

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5 examples of petroglyphs (and their meaning)

Below we present 5 examples of petroglyphs and try to unravel their meaning. It must be taken into account, however, that scientists do not agree on the intention of the people who made them. They may have some religious or communal meaning, or it may simply have been a mere aesthetic impulse. In any case, it is a testimony of our prehistoric past that is worth knowing.

1. Pusharo Petroglyphs (Peru)

The Pusharo petroglyphs, located in the Manú Park, in Peru, are probably one of the best known internationally. They were discovered at the beginning of the 20th century by a native rubber tapper and, in 1921, the Dominican Vicente Cenitagoya performed his first interpretation. Currently, Father Cenitagoya’s work is totally underestimated, since he based his interpretations on motifs from the Old and New Testaments, something quite implausible.

The Pusharo petroglyphs are inscribed in the rocks on the banks of the Palotoa River and consist of three very different sections. The first, called Sector A, is the one that condenses most of the petroglyphs, and includes geometric motifs (circles, crosses and spirals, among others), abstract and figurative. Among the latter, it is worth highlighting the human heads or masks, very schematic and heart-shaped, what appear to be snakes and some alleged representations of the sun god.

The scientist Carlos Neuenschwander Landa ventured the possibility that the Pusharo petroglyphs were made by pre-Inca Amazonian peoples, although evidently influenced by the Inca people. And, in the sensational field, there is no shortage of those on the networks who say that it is a map that contains the place where a fabulous Inca treasure is hidden…

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Pusharo Petroglyphs

2. Petroglyphs of Ghorghalado (Spain)

In 2012, a neighbor of El Rosal, in Pontevedra (Galicia, Spain) discovered some curious drawings carved on a rock and alerted the authorities. These Galician petroglyphs had been hidden underground for years and were the first to be excavated in this Spanish region.

The motifs of the Ghorghalado petroglyphs are geometric and abstract; Concentric circles, lines, and quadrangular and oval shapes abound. It is unknown what their meaning could be, but it is ventured that they could date back to about 3,000 years ago, that is, from the Hispanic Bronze Age.

Ghorghalado Petroglyphs

3. Three Rivers Petroglyphs (United States)

The petroglyph set of the Three Rivers area, located in New Mexico (USA), has no less than 21,000 examples, which include geometric, abstract and figurative motifs. It is, therefore, one of the largest petroglyph sites in the world.

Possibly executed by the so-called Mogollon culture, native to the area, around 1000 – 1400 AD, this extraordinary complex is located next to the road and is perfectly visible from the place that the authorities have arranged for it. Among the interesting petroglyphs that it houses we find mountain goats (some with arrows in their bodies), birds and other animals, such as the scorpion. On the other hand, among the anthropomorphic motifs we can see human faces or masks made with surprising detail, as well as anthropomorphic figures.

Three Rivers Petroglyphs

4. Brastad Petroglyphs (Sweden)

Considered by experts to be a religious center of the European Bronze Age, the Brastad site in Sweden is one of the most spectacular witnesses to the art of prehistoric petroglyphs. It integrates a large number of them, carved into the rock and later polychromed in red to highlight their shapes.

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Among the spectacular figures we find chariots, animals, wheels of the sun, footprints and strange jagged lines that look like stairs, but that surely represent boats, with their crew inside. Possibly, the most striking thing about the set are the anthropomorphic figures; Especially famous is the one called The Shoemaker, already known since the 17th century.

Brastad Petroglyphs

5. Petroglyphs of the Mongolian Altai

In Mongolia, in the high mountain valleys that spread across the Altai massif, is one of the most impressive examples of petroglyph art. These are three groups, spread across three valleys, covering a period of time that goes from 11,000 BC. until the last centuries before our era. That is to say, a testament to human development in that area of ​​Asia.

Indeed, the numerous petroglyphs offer a very interesting route from the first hunting communities in the area to the nomadic equestrian societies, passing through a period of herding. Precisely from the last period are the petroglyphs that represent riders riding their horses, one of the most amazing manifestations of the complex.

But, in addition to the anthropomorphic figures that bear witness to the way of life of the prehistoric communities that lived in modern-day Mongolia, we find petroglyphs that represent animals currently extinct in that area, which coexisted with humans millennia ago, which represents a testimony of incalculable value for understanding the climatic and geographical process of the valleys. Among others, we find mammoths, rhinoceroses and ostriches, which would correspond to the oldest period of representations.

Petroglyphs of the Mongolian Altai