What is rock art? Rock art, which can range in date from deepest antiquity to very recent times, if not to the present day, consists of any motif, whether abstract or figurative, that has been painted, pecked, incised, scratched or rubbed onto a natural rock surface such as the interior of a tomb, a cave wall, a cliff face or rock shelter, or a rock or boulder in the open air. Aptly described as ‘landscape art’, rock art falls into three main categories:
Many researchers agree that much (but not all) rock art was probably created in connection with some kind of ritual, spiritual or ceremonial activity. Rock art research has for this reason been described as ‘a kind of archaeology of religion’ (Whitley, 2005). While we can never hope to recover the original ‘meanings’ of the symbols, rock art provides one of the most ‘immediate’ and intimate ways that we have of reaching out to the people of the ancient and more recent past to glean something of their deepest concerns.
Rock art in Armenia: Armenia has a particularly rich and varied inheritance of engraved rock art, pecked (for the most part) onto numerous boulder streams across a mountainous landscape shaped by the movement of tectonic plates and the resulting volcanic and earthquake activity. Most Armenian rock art sites are located high in the mountains, usually at an elevation of around 2600 to 3000m, often in remote locations accessible only in the summer months by foot, horse or 4-wheel drive vehicles.
With the exception of the recent research of Anna Khechoyan and others in the Mount Aragats region (2007), Armenian rock carvings have been little studied since expeditions led by H.A. Martirossian & H.R. Israelian and G.H. Karakhanian & P.G. Safian during the1960s and 1970s. These resulted in a series of fine monographs with drawings and commentary but with limited information about the archaeological or topographical context of the rock art.
Motifs of wild goats, usually with massively exaggerated curving horns, predominate throughout Armenian rock art – so much so that petroglyphs are known locally as ‘Itsagir’ (‘goat letters’). Other animals, such as canines, felines, bovines and stags also occur, as do human figures and a range of abstract and other symbols.
While Armenian rock art is little known as yet, this rich cultural tradition deserves fuller study and recording, as well as wider domestic and international recognition.
Ughtasar , Syunik mountain range Geghama mountain range Ughtasar , Syunik mountain range
Karakhanian, G.H. & Safian, P.G. 1970. The Rock Carvings of Syunik (Armenian; English summary), The Archaeological Monuments & Specimens of Armenia. Vol. 4: Yerevan, Armenia
Khechoyan, A. 2007. The Rock Art of the Mt. Aragats System: http://www.academia.edu/2111647/The_Rock_Art_of_the_Mt._Aragats_System
Khechoyan, A., Gasparian, B., Feruglio, V. & Chataigner, C. The Rock Art of the Mt. Aragats System, “Rock art in the framework of the cultural heritage of humankind”. XXII Valcamonica Symposium, Italy, 2007, pp 247-252 (in English).
Martirossian, H.A. & Israelian, H.R. 1971. The Rock-Carvings of the Gegham Mountain Range (Armenian; English summary), The Archaeological Monuments & Specimens of Armenia. Vol. 6: Yerevan, Armenia
Martirossian, H.A. 1981. The Rock-Carvings of the Gegham Mountain Range (Armenian; English summary), The Archaeological Monuments & Specimens of Armenia. Vol. 11: Yerevan, Armenia
Whitley, D.S. 2005. Introduction to Rock Art Research. California, Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press
Ughtasar Rock Art Project