Rock Art Settings

At times different technical methods were chosen and seemed to be dependent on the regional or particular character of the rock to be decorated. The choice of place influences in various ways the techniques used to create the art. In the Southwest, petroglyphs dominate on open talus slopes whereas pictographs are most often found in shallow caves and overhangs for rock painting. Decorated sites can often be linked to the presence of water, natural landscape formations, elevated places, religious practices, the weather, even territory. An image in a cave may have served a different purpose than one on a boulder along a well-travelled path.

For instance, Grotte Chauvet is located near a natural bridge, Comanche Gap Ridge near Albuquerque, New Mexico bears many warrior symbols and may have been used to delineate territory. Ayers Rock (aka Uluru) is a sacred place filled with walls of paintings deriving from tribal myths of the Dreaming (creation mythology). California’s Coso Range contains one hundred thousand engravings and was a gathering place for shaman rainmakers. Baja California rock paintings are concentrated in canyons and

The surface on which art is created also influences the selection of technique. Caves, which often contain old concretions or clay, allow for fairly easy sculpting on walls or engraving on the ground and tend to last longer than outdoor paintings due to exposure to the elements. Not a single open-air Paleolithic rock painting has been found but a number of Paleolithic outdoor engravings have been recently discovered in the Iberian Peninsula. In general, surfaces were used as they were found and this is particularly true for Paleolithic caves where the rocks were considered to be imbued with supernatural forces.

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