Rock art

human-made markings on natural stone

Rock art is a term in archaeology for any markings that were made on natural stone by human beings.[1] They can be divided into:

Carving of Maitreya Buddha and disciples in Feilai Feng (The peak that flew from afar) Caves (Hangzhou, China).
Pictograph in southeastern Utah, from the Basketmaker period of Puebloan culture

In addition, there is rock art made by aligning or piling natural stones. The stones themselves are used as large markings on the ground.



One can find petroglyphs and pictographs on the walls of a cave or on rock in open-air.

Similar terms


Rock art has also been described as rock records,[2] rock sculptures,[3] rock inscriptions,[4] rock carvings,[5] rock paintings,[6] rock engravings,[7] rock drawings,[8] rock pictures,[9]



  1. The term "rock art" appears to have been used first used in about 1959: "The rock art tells us little for certain about marriage customs." J D. Clark, Prehist. S. Afr. ix. 248, 1959
  2. Moore G. 1861. The lost tribes and the Saxons of the East: with translations of rock-records in India.
  3. Tylor 1865. Early history of Man. v. 88, "Rock-sculptures may often be symbolic boundary marks".
  4. Deutsch, Rem. 177, 1874: The long rock-inscription of Hamamât.
  5. Chadwick H.M. 1907. The rock-carvings at Tegneby. Origin Eng. Nation xii. 306.
  6. Encycl. Relig. & Ethics I. 822/2, 1908: "The rock-paintings are either stencilled or painted in outline".
  7. Wells H.G. 1920 Outl. Hist. I. xvii. 126/1: "From rock engravings we may deduce the theory that the desert was crossed from oasis to oasis".
  8. Winkler H.A. 1938. Rock-drawings of southern Upper Egypt I. 26.
  9. Man No. 119. 178/2, 1939: "On one of the stalactite pillars was found a big round stone with traces of red paint on its surface, as used in the rock-pictures"

Further reading

  • Malotki, Ekkehart and Weaver, Donald E. Jr., 2002, Stone Chisel and Yucca Brush: Colorao Plateau Rock Art, Kiva Publishing Inc., Walnut, CA, ISBN 1-885772-27-0 (cloth). For the "general public", this book has well over 200 color prints with commentary on each site where the photos were taken; the organization begins with the earliest art and goes to modern times.
  • Rohn, Arthur H. and Freguson, William M, 2006, Puebloan ruins of the Southwest, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, ISBN 0-8263-3970-0 (pbk, : alk. paper). Adjunct to the primary discussion of the ruins, contains color prints of rock art at the sites, plus interpretations.
  • Schaafsma, Polly, 1980, Indian Rock Art of the Southwest, School of American Research, Sana Fe, University of New Mexico press, Albuquerque, NM, ISBN 0-8263-0913-5. Scholarly text with 349 references, 32 color plates, 283 black and white "Figures", 11 Maps, and 2 Tables.

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