geometric signs symbols cave rock art

Geometric Signs & Symbols in Rock Art

Sign Types Present in Countries and Regions

As compared to those found in the Upper Paleolithic period of France
By Genevieve von Petzinger

Since the making of rock art is an ongoing practice in many regions of the world including Australia, Africa and North America, I have focused on the oldest art, thought to have been done either during or soon after the Upper Paleolithic. The dating is far from certain for the majority of sites, so some may as be as late as the Iron Age. If rock art is done by engraving or with red paint, it is very difficult to pinpoint a time period as there is nothing to use C14 dating on. While there are other dating methods being used in some of these cases, many of these methods are more controversial, and the debate continues.

In locations where people continue to make rock art, studying sites, both past and present, can be difficult as there are often religious connotations surrounding this practice. The result can be an understandable reluctance to allow outsiders access to sites, and means that the diversity of motifs may be much larger than is currently known.

This survey of non-figurative rock art imagery from outside the French region should be treated as preliminary only. I have only included sign types that I was familiar with, or that I was able to visually confirm, which means that I may very well have accidentally omitted geometric shapes present in some of these locations. The following section contains notes that I have made about different aspects of this overview (often including source material). Below this can be found a chart which lists out as many countries/regions as possible that have geometric signs, and specifying which ones are present.

Negative Hands
This sign type appears in nearly all regions of the world. For an excellent overview of this phenomena and to see some beautiful pictures, check out the URL for the Bradshaw Foundation article about this topic.

The majority of the information about geometric signs at Spanish sites comes from the work of Andre Leroi-Gourhan. Much of the information I found for other countries comes from an excellent online database site (sponsored by the EU), called ‘Europreart’. It contains listings for many rock art sites in W. Europe, including images, and is well worth exploring:

There is mention of “ancient rock art symbols” being present in this country, but I could not find any breakdown of sign type. This will definitely be an area of further research for my PhD.

While there is still an on-going debate about the age of the art, and whether it actually dates to the Upper Paleolithic, some is thought to date right from the end of that time (approx. 10,000 BP). The information about what geometric signs are present at these sites (I only included those attributed to the oldest time period), is from Dr Jean Clottes’ article found on the Bradshaw Foundation website at the following URL:

Some of the information for this country comes from the Bradshaw Foundation negative hands article (see above) and a National Geographic article:

Myanmar and Malaysia
Information about rock art in these countries is extremely limited at the moment, mainly due to a lack of funds for research in these countries. This may now be changing, and an excellent overview on this and other Asia/South Pacific rock art is available at the following URL: the Past.pdf

There was enough information for me to differentiate somewhat between regions when it came to the presence of geometric signs, though I would say that what I was able to identify is far from a complete list - so please keep that in mind! The African regions I used as categories breakdown as follows: Western Central Africa: Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo. East Africa: Tanzania. North Africa: Algeria, Libya, Niger, Chad, Southern Africa: Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe.

Much of the information for this continent came from Dr David Lewis-Williams’s book "The Mind In the Cave", and journal articles he has published (he is a researcher out of S. Africa who has done a fair amount of research on some types of geometric signs as part of his work on shamanism). Also, I pulled information from the Bradshaw Foundation website which has an entire section on African rock art. Another excellent source for material on Africa is the "Trust for African Rock Art" (TARA).

South America
There are probably a lot more countries and sign types than I have included, but research in this region has been limited in many cases by lack of funding. I included signs if I could find a listing or a visual representation, so there could very well be more than I have accounted for. As well, there are not a lot of dates from this region, so much of the art is probably later than the Upper Paleolithic. Countries included are Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil, and the information about the geometric signs in Bolivia comes from the Bradshaw Foundation:

Genevieve von Petzinger | An Introduction
What are Geometric Signs? | Worldwide Geometric Signs Chart
Research Methodology
Geometric Signs in France | Page | 1 | 2 |
Sign Types Present in Countries and Regions
Bibliography | for photos and drawings | A to L | N to Z |

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