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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /

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Rock Art Resources on the Internet

Graeme Chappell

GRAEME CHAPPELL has done extensive fieldwork over the last ten years on the moors of North and West Yorkshire researching rock art. In 1996 he created the The Petroglyph UK web site.

When at its best the Internet can serve as a vast reference library giving access to information from all around the planet. Archaeological resources are well represented in this "library" and the study of petroglyphs and pictographs (carved and painted images) or rock art is perhaps one of its most developed areas in terms of Internet presence.

The Internet's e-mail facilities allow organisations and individuals with an interest in rock art to easily contact one another, in particular the Rock art list server, which is a system that circulates e-mail messages to all the people subscribed to the rock art mailing list. By posting e-mail to the central list server people can join in discussions on rock art related topics, request information about specific rock art sites, or announce forthcoming rock art events, etc. The list server has also proved a useful channel to highlight threatened rock art sites around the world. Recent postings to the list have drawn attention to a proposed dam on the river Indus in northern Pakistan, this project, if it goes ahead, will submerge an estimated 30,000 rock carvings. In 1994 a similar dam project threatened Palaeolithic rock engravings in the Coa Valley, Portugal. Postings to the rock art list raised international awareness and support for a campaign of scientific and media pressure, which, combined with a change of government in Portugal, saw work on the dam suspended. During 1996 the Coa Valley area became designated an archaeological park.

The main sources of rock-art information on the Internet are provided by sites on the World Wide Web. There are currently over 1000 rock art related sites listed on RockArtNet - this is an extensive web site setup by the Footsteps of Man Archaeological Co-operative Society based in Italy. Realising the potential of the Internet, they have embarked on ambitious projects to assemble information and links to all rock art web sites around the world.

"With the WEB we are working on the biggest data 'store' ever created by man . . . We need to exchange data (texts) and images (pictures and tracings) : it's time to propose to all Rock Art researchers and organisations the finding of a place in the web, creating a specific URL for each Rock Art site and/or culture. . . Studying Rock Art is one of the best ways to understand prehistoric conceptuality."

The information already assembled on RockArtNet shows clearly that throughout history and all over the world, people have had an instinctive urge to paint or carve images and symbols relating to their environment and their beliefs. The following small selection of Web sites will hopefully provide a 'taster' of what is available on the Internet.
Some of the earliest examples of rock art are found in the Palaeolithic cave paintings at Lascaux, Cosquer and Chauvet caves in France. Web pages for these sites not only display pictures of the fascinating cave paintings (images of rhino, bison, lion, and horse, etc.) but also give a whole range of information about the discoveries and investigations at these cave sites. In the case of Chauvet cave (discovered in December 1994), text and images were available on the Internet in a matter of weeks after the discovery, thus providing access to information long before it was published in book form.

Another current Internet based project is the compilation of a database of rock art images and symbols called RID (Rockart Iconographic Database). The database serves to illustrate how similar images have been used by different cultures world wide, this is shown to good effect on the South Korean Web site for the Chonzonri Kaksok petroglyphs. Here images show a large rock with many ancient carvings including geometric patterns of concentric circles and diamond shapes. The resemblance to Irish passage grave art is striking, with similar designs being found at both Newgrange and Loughcrew - sites where this Korean carved stone would not look out of place!

The Whale watching web site is dedicated to all things cetacean. Among the web pages are a selection with text and images illustrating rock art from the White Sea region in the north-west corner of Russia. These ancient rock carvings, (ascribed to Finno-Ugrian tribes, around 3500BC), allow a glimpse of prehistoric life with scenes of people in boats hunting beluga whales and later cutting up the whale meat. Other scenes feature moose, reindeer and wildfowl, with swan like birds occurring often. While such images portray the everyday food resources of prehistoric hunters, the Web sites texts suggests other scenes also point to totemistic beliefs relating to these same animals, with images of bird-headed humans or a whale-tailed human with 'shamans rattles' and the swans also being linked to later beliefs about the sun and the ancestral otherworld.

As might be expected, rock art in the USA is extensively covered by Web sites, this being a reflection of the more organised nature of the research in the US. Rock-art associations, active academics, and a large number of avocational researchers, have professionally recorded many rock art sites, and setup Web pages to display the results of their work. For example the Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico is a protected area within the US National Parks scheme, setup to highlight prehistoric Indian rock art. Along a 17 mile stretch of basaltic rock escarpment there are over 15,000 petroglyphs, some of which date back several thousand years. Much of the rock art dates from the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries (classified as the Rio Grande style) and is attributed to Pueblo Indian farmers. Images include mythological animals and birds, ceremonial anthropomorphs and star beings. To the modern Pueblo Indians the rock art is part of their living culture and heritage, with ceremonial sites along the escarpment still in use today.

Finally to return closer to home, northern England and Scotland has a wealth of prehistoric rock art yet very few Web sites exist to highlight it. The The Kilmartin House website uses a 'point and click' map to provide information about the many archaeological sites in the Kilmartin valley in Argyll, an area that has been dubbed a 'ritual landscape' and include several petroglyph sites such as the large areas of cup and ring marked rock at Achnabreck. The Petroglyph UK Web site currently focuses on the little known cup and ring carved rocks on the North Yorkshire Moors and contains images and text detailing some of the sites in that region. Rock art of a different style and date feature on the Archaeologia website which highlights Scotland's Pictish carved stones. the site details each class of carving along with individual Web pages for many of the carved stones showing the symbols and other information.

As people all over the world increasingly use the Internet to provide access to information on their regional rock art, it has become possible to embark on a virtual world tour, to 'visit and view' rock art at sites all around the Earth, giving a chance to see rock art at sites (often sacred places) which few people would have the necessary funds to physically visit!

Originally published in At the Edge No.8 1997.

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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /

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Created September 1997; updated November 2008