Rock Art, Religion, and Ritual

David S. Whitley

in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199232444
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology

Rock Art, Religion, and Ritual

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  • Historical Archaeology



Rock art is landscape art: paintings and engravings placed on cave and rock-shelter walls and ceilings, and open boulders and cliff faces. It also includes earth figures or geoglyphs — rock alignments and intaglios — and cupules or ground cups. Although there are accounts of rock art made as graffiti or for other secular purposes, probably the majority was made for religious reasons. We know this archaeologically based on the restricted nature of the iconography of many corpora of art, sometimes by its location in unusual places (such as the dark zones of caves, where it was both difficult to create and hard to see), and occasionally by associations with other ceremonial objects. This article begins with a summary of global rock art ethnography. It then considers significant methodological approaches for archaeological analyses, before concluding with a review of studies addressing a key rock art research issue: the origin and nature of the earliest known religions, seen globally and regionally.

Keywords: cave art; landscape art; rock art ethnography; early religions

Article.  8426 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; Historical Archaeology

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