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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rock Art


Rock art, basically being non-utilitarian, non-textual anthropic markings on natural rock surfaces, was an extremely widespread graphical practice in ancient Egypt. While the apogee of the tradition was definitely the Predynastic Period (mainly fourth millennium BCE), examples date from the late Palaeolithic (c. 15,000 BCE) until the Islamic era. Geographically speaking, “Egyptian” rock art is known from many hundreds of sites along the margins of the Upper Egyptian and Nubian Nile Valley and in the desert hinterlands to the east and west. Despite clear regional discrepancies, most of this rock art displays a great deal of shared subject matter, such as the profusion of boat figures, supposedly attesting to the existence of a more or less uniform “spiritual culture” throughout the above-defined area. Furthermore, its intimate iconographical relationship to the archaeologically known Egyptian cultures, both in a synchronic and a diachronic perspective, allows for some solid reasoning regarding the raison d’être of this graphic tradition. Without excluding other possible meanings and motivations, it seems that the greater part of the rock art closely reflects the religious and ideological concerns of its makers.

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