Rock art facts for kids

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Petroglyph jqjacobs
Petroglyph attributed to Classic Vernal Style, Fremont archaeological culture, eastern Utah, United States.
Polonnaruwa
Reclining Buddha at Gal Vihara, Sri Lanka. The remains of the image house that originally enclosed it can be seen.

In archaeology, rock art is human-made markings placed on natural stone; it is largely synonymous with parietal art. A global phenomenon, rock art is found in many culturally diverse regions of the world. It has been produced in many contexts throughout human history, although the majority of rock art that has been ethnographically recorded has been produced as a part of ritual. Such artworks are often divided into three forms: petroglyphs, which are carved into the rock surface, pictographs, which are painted onto the surface, and earth figures, formed on the ground. The oldest known rock art dates from the Upper Palaeolithic period, having been found in Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. Archaeologists studying these artworks believe that they likely had magico-religious significance.

The archaeological sub-discipline of rock art studies first developed in the late-19th century among Francophone scholars studying the Upper Palaeolithic rock art found in the cave systems of Western Europe. Rock art continues to be of importance to indigenous peoples in various parts of the world, who view them as both sacred items and significant components of their cultural patrimony. Such archaeological sites are also significant sources of cultural tourism, and have been utilised in popular culture for their aesthetic qualities.

Normally found in literate cultures, a rock relief or rock-cut relief is a relief sculpture carved on solid or "living rock" such as a cliff, rather than a detached piece of stone. They are a category of rock art, and sometimes found in conjunction with rock-cut architecture. However, they tend to be omitted in most works on rock art, which concentrate on engravings and paintings by prehistoric peoples. A few such works exploit the natural contours of the rock and use them to define an image, but they do not amount to man-made reliefs. Rock reliefs have been made in many cultures, and were especially important in the art of the Ancient Near East. Rock reliefs are generally fairly large, as they need to be to make an impact in the open air. Most have figures that are over life-size, and in many the figures are multiples of life-size.

Stylistically they normally relate to other types of sculpture from the culture and period concerned, and except for Hittite and Persian examples they are generally discussed as part of that wider subject. The vertical relief is most common, but reliefs on essentially horizontal surfaces are also found. The term typically excludes relief carvings inside caves, whether natural or themselves man-made, which are especially found in India. Natural rock formations made into statues or other sculpture in the round, most famously at the Great Sphinx of Giza, are also usually excluded. Reliefs on large boulders left in their natural location, like the Hittite ─░mamkullu relief, are likely to be included, but smaller boulders may be called stelae or carved orthostats.

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Rock art Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.