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World rare petroglyphs found widely in Mongolia

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

Map in above shows a different style of petroglyphs and geographical spread in Mongolia

Hunting, herding, and people in rock art, you can learn powerful cultural symbols that humans may have been using icons for many years to communicate and retell the old history and traditions of Mongolia. On the Rocks, we can find not only images of domestic items, but also inscriptions of poems. Many different countries have such unique historical documents our ancestors have passed over to us.

Petroglyphs can be found all over Mongolia as in other countries. The Gobi Desert has played an important role in shaping Holocene populations, including the transition from hunting to herding lifeways. The petroglyphs represent a significant cultural resource, which has been the focus of scholarly research for more than a century. This long-term Mongolian and foreign research of specialists and researchers has resulted in the identification of petroglyphs or rock art in many geographic areas across Mongolia with at least ca. 1016 non-monumental sites recorded so far. 945 are pecked or engraved images and designs on rock, usually on the desert varnish of rock outcrops, though there are also 71 sites with pigments. Rock art preserves thousands of pictorial images related to early Mongolian lifeways from the Terminal Pleistocene, through the medieval period and right up to the present day.

Dating petroglyphs

Dating rock art is difficult. The common source of material used for chronometric dating of rock art, carbonate, or organic material is generally absent in most sites.

Attempts have been made in other regions to chronometrically date the surfaces that non-organic rock art appears on providing a maximal age, but these have met with little success. Recent research has aimed to improve dating by verifying qualitative temporal assessments through microanalytical and chemical analyses. Given the problems of chronometric dating, chronological assignments of rock art in Mongolia are typically made through the analysis of themes, styles, and techniques with the appearance of domesticated animals, for example serving as an important temporal marker. This approach has been routinely used across central Eastern and Northern Asia where common motifs and methods are used to access the relative age of rock art. However, the efficacy of this approach relies on securely linking changes in motifs with well-dated events in the archeological record.

Different ways of petroglyphs

Petroglyphs are the most common forms of rock art in Mongolia and are produced in a variety of ways, the most frequent of which is pecking. This involves removing spalls of rock from the surface with a (direct or indirect) percussive tool. Indirect pecking provides finer and more accurate petroglyph shapes. Engraving is a less common method and involves carving the rock with a sharp implement. Paintings are another form of rock art, though these are less common in Mongolia than petroglyphs and engravings. The most frequent pigment used in the painted rock art of Mongolia is ochre. Most of the known rock art sites with paintings occur in caves or along vertical rock surfaces, particularly in the Khangai and Khentii Mountains. An exceptional painted rock art site is Khoid tsenkher agui-cave, in the Khovd aimag(province) of the Altai mountains which has ochre as well as white and black pigments. Khoid tsenkher agui is considered one of the oldest rock art sites in Mongolia, ranging back into the late Pleistocene, due to the presence of the pre -LGM fauna. Direct pecking has been suggested to be the oldest method of rock art production in the region, whereas indirect pecking and engraving may have been carried out using metal implements during the bronze age.

The earliest instances of rock art in Mongolia, based on current chronologies, depict wildlife themes including the many large wild ungulates that inhabit the region, most commonly horses wild goats, and now threatened Argali sheep. The early art of Khoid Tsenkher agui and Tsagaan salaa-Baga Oigor petroglyph complex depicts animals that are now extinct in Mongolia such as woolly rhinoceros, ostrich mammoth, wild camel, and aurochs emphasizing the early dates proposed for this art. The depictions of apparent ostrich, which became regionally extinct by ca. 8.9 ka cal BP, as well as wooly rhinoceros and wooly mammoth, between ca.13 ka cal BP and 12 ka cal BP respectively, suggest that this rock art was produced, at the latest, in the terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene. The extinction of Pleistocene megafauna thus provides a useful, well-dated reference point for stylistic dating of Gobi rock art.

Stories or messages that petroglyphs convey

A wide array of rough linear animal silhouettes characterizes the rock art of Mongolia in the early Holocene. The introduction of Holocene art can be detected in the depiction of specific animal taxa, including what have been identified as horses, camels, caprines, moose, and aurochs, frequently featured without anthropogenic figures. Some of the earliest rock art depicting humans or humanoid figures may occur at Aral Tolgoi, where stick figures with raised arms, usually labeled as “birthing women or sometimes as “dancing figures” are depicted. Later, more detailed, Bronze Age anthropomorphic petroglyphs in similar positions at Biluut, in Bayan-Ulgii, demonstrate women giving birth. Other early anthropomorphs include “spirit figures” with animal features. Detailed anthropomorphic figures are thought to begin to have been produced in the Bronze Age, depicting bow and spear hunting and occasionally showing human conflicts. Details and weaponry in these depictions appear to differentiate this rock art from earlier Mesolithic anthropomorphic figures.

Later rock art has been assigned to periods by linking motifs to specifically dated introductions of technologies and domesticates. The transition between the Neolithic and Bronze age in rock art is frequently determined by the depiction of domesticated bovines and wheeled carts, both of which appear in western Mongolia around ca. 5 ka cal BP.

The late bronze age transition is marked by the introduction of the domesticated horse by ca. 3.2 ka cal BP which was used for transport from this time, through chariots or later mounted riding. Other domestic animals frequently depicted in what is thought to be Early bronze age art from Western Mongolia are camels, bovines, and dogs in hunts. Smaller livestock, such as goats and sheep are difficult to distinguish from wild ones in rock art. Wheeled transport frequently appears, including depictions of chariots pulled by horses or camels and carts pulled by bovines. The bronze age shows a shifting scene of the wild that appears to dominate earlier art towards a greater focus on anthropogenic themes, highlighting the increased relationship between people and livestock. Despite challenges with accurate dating, representations of certain types of technology and animal species allow for the approximate reconstruction of the age of at least some of Mongolia’s extensive rock art records. This is also useful for examining human-environment interactions across periods, compensating for the dearth of strained archaeological sites in the important.

Rock paintings of Khavtsgait are the most visited site by tourists since it is located in the Gurwan Saikhan National in the South Gobi. It is located only 10 km away from Bulgan soum. Specialists believe that Khavtsgait mountain was created around 400-500 million years ago, which is from the mid and late Bronze age eras to the early iron age. The geological composition of Khavtsgait mountain rocks is sandstones, as the result of sun and wind for millions of years, the rock surfaces of Khavtsgait mountain are colored black, and easy to draw on them.

Khavtsgait petroglyph has a large collection of rock petroglyphs on the mountain. The whole side of the mountain is covered by hundreds of animal depictions including antelopes, ibexes, mountain sheep, men on horseback, hunters, galloping horses, camel, wheeled carts, and wedding ceremonies from a different time periods of human life. Climbing up this mountain, you will see a great view of the surrounding valley.

See the tour of Khavtsgait Petroglyphs

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