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10. Predecessors & Pioneers.



This book includes examples of artefacts where the creators have used combined and effective verbal and visual messages, and examples of people who have served as inspirers and sometimes as guides in the design of messages with words, images and form. The word predecessor is used for people who are unknown to us today. The word pioneer is used for people who we know by their names. You can download the previous edition of this book from IIID Public Library < > (almost at the bottom of the page). IIID will soon upload the new editions here./Rune Pettersson
Rune Pettersson
Predecessors and Pioneers
The illustration on the cover is part of an image from my video
program “Life Patterns” presented at the first international ex-
hibition “The Video Show” in London, may 1975. My “multime-
dia project” was one of two invited contributions from Sweden.
Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this
work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee pro-
vided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or com-
mercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full
citation on the first page.
Institute for Infology
ISBN 978-91-85334-33-9
© Rune Pettersson
Sweden, Tullinge 2022
Information design is a multi-dimensional, multi-disciplinary
and worldwide consideration with influences from areas such as
design disciplines, communication disciplines, information dis-
ciplines, language disciplines, cognitive disciplines, art and aes-
thetic disciplines, business and law, as well as media production
This book includes examples of artefacts where the creators
have used combined and effective verbal and visual messages
and examples of people who have served as inspirers and some-
times as guides in the design of messages with words, images and
form. The word predecessor is used for people who are unknown
to us today. The word pioneer is used for people who we know by
their names.
Since my retirement I have edited and revised sections of my
earlier books, conference papers and reports about information
design, message design, visual communication and visual liter-
acy. Previous editions of this book were published in 2014, 2015,
2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.
Tullinge, Sweden
Rune Pettersson, Ph.D.
Retired Professor of Information Design
Preface 3!
Contents 4!
Introduction 11!
Our oldest pictures 13!
Early art 13!
Body art 18!
Body painting 18!
Tattoo 19!
Scarification 20!
The Blombos Cave 20!
A cave with rich deposits 20!
Basic elements in a picture 22!
Graphic symbols 23!
Nawarla Gabarnmang 25!
The Chauvet Cave 26!
Cave art in Sulawesi 29!
Carved figures 31!
Pottery 33!
A need for pottery 33!
Ertebølle culture 34!
Funnelbeaker culture 35!
Pitted ware culture 36!
Corded ware culture 37!
Rock carvings 38!
Rock carvings in Scandinavia 38!
Problems with weathering 43!
Newgrange 44!
A large turf mound 44!
The winter solstice 46!
Neolithic rock designs 47!
Stonehenge 50!
A place of worship 50!
A kind of observatory 51!
Geoglyphs 53!
Purpose and creation 53!
The Nasca and Palpa geoglyphs 54!
Shimao 59!
A fortress city 59!
China’s early history 60!
Sierra de San Francisco 61!
Large paintings 61!
Prehistoric societies 62!
The Bronze Age culture 64!
A rich visual world 64!
Purposes and functions of rock art 65!
Motifs in rock art 69!
Execution of rock carvings 70!
Placements of rock art 72!
Interpretations of rock art 73!
Design or art? 76!
Paradise gardens 80!
A place for leisurely and spiritual relaxation 80!
Ancient Garden of Pasargadae 82!
Bagh-e Fin Garden 83!
Early writings 85!
Ancient societies 85!
Books of the dead 87!
Pharaoh Amenhotep II and Sennefer 88!
Herculaneum and Pompeii 89!
Rune-stones 91!
Runes 91!
Image stones 93!
Inscribed verbal and visual messages 96!
The Tjängvide rune-stone 96!
The Sparlösa rune-stone 98!
The Ramsund inscription 101!
The Spånga rune-stone 102!
The large Jelling stone 103!
The movie in Chichén Itza 111!
The Maya civilization 111!
Temple cities 112!
Daily life 114!
Chichén Itza 116!
War and power 116!
El Castillo and Kukulcan 117!
A sacred prophesy 120!
Pictures in churches 121!
From mosaics to frescoes 121!
Mosaics 122!
St Mark’s Basilica 123!
Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore 124!
Early “strips” 125!
The Bayeux Tapestry 125!
The Apocalypse Tapestry 126!
Roger Bacon 127!
A medieval theorist and thinker 127!
Opus Majus 129!
Illustrative paintings 131!
Regeneration of art 132!
Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi 133!
Two churches and a crypt 133!
The natural style 134!
Giotto di Bondone 136!
The Arena Chapel in Padua 136!
Restorations 141!
Decisive actions 141!
Giotto and information design 142!
Jan van Eyck 144!
Work as a court painter 144!
The Ghent altarpiece 145!
Work as a portrait artist 164!
Albertus Pictor 166!
Born in Immenhausen 166!
The 15th century Sweden 167!
The church decorations 169!
The audiences 174!
Lighting conditions 174!
Sources of inspiration 176!
An early information designer 179!
Architecture and sculpture 181!
Overview 181!
Phidias 184!
Bernt Notke 185!
Workshop in Lübeck 185!
The Dance of Death 186!
St. George and the Dragon 187!
Michelangelo 190!
Early years 190!
Pietà 191!
Statue of David 193!
The Sistine Chapel 194!
Architecturesculpture 195!
Detailed sketches and hard work 196!
Gianlorenzo Bernini 199!
The father of the Baroque style 199!
Motion designer 200!
Light designer 203!
Sound designer 205!
Auguste Rodin 206!
Strong realism 206!
Light, shadow and dissolved form 208!
The Thinker 209!
Many assistants 211!
Paintings and drawings 213!
Overview 213!
Leon Battista Alberti 215!
The theory of painting 215!
Function follows form 217!
Leonardo da Vinci 218!
Early life 218!
Technological ingenuity 219!
Sketches with words and images 220!
Paintings 221!
A Treatise on Painting 224!
Old age 225!
Albrecht Dürer 226!
A period of transition 226!
Realistic sharpness 228!
Revolutionary graphics 230!
Titian 233!
The Frari in Venice 233!
The Assumption of the Virgin 234!
Advanced light design 249!
A versatile painter 250!
Peter Paul Rubens 252!
Studies 252!
Court painter 253!
Strict studio routines 254!
A skilled diplomat 255!
Textile images 256!
Erik Dahlbergh 257!
Early years 257!
Study of perspectives 258!
An outstanding military career 259!
Collection of engravings 260!
Family 267!
Marcel Duchamp 268!
Movements 268!
The importance of context 269!
Multimodal communication 273!
Readymades for learning 277!
Art and design 278!
Early books 281!
Overview 281!
Manuscripts 282!
Aesthetic decorations 282!
Visual instructions 283!
Woodcuts 284!
Biblia pauperum 285!
Johann Gutenberg 290!
Movable type 290!
The 42-line page 291!
Rapid dissemination 295!
A technology for words 296!
Andrea Alciato 297!
Renaissance emblem books 297!
Emblematum liber 298!
Cesare Ripa 304!
Iconologia 304!
Conscious work 307!
Andreas Vesalius 308!
The human body 308!
The Fabrica and the Epitome 309!
Controversial knowledge 312!
Iohannes Amos Comenius 313!
Philosophy of education 313!
Orbis Sensualium Pictus 315!
Dénis Diderot 317!
La Encyclopédie 317!
The Age of Enlightenment 321!
Early graphic design 323!
Overview 323!
Geoffroy Tory 327!
Stanley Morison 329!
Max Miedinger 330!
Early posters 332!
Overview 332!
Jules Chéret 334!
Modern technology 334!
The father of the poster 334!
A huge production 337!
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 338!
Bohemian lifestyle 338!
Moulin Rouge 339!
Japanese woodcuts 342!
More posters 342!
A short life 343!
Alfons Maria Mucha 344!
Educational posters 346!
Early diagram design 349!
Overview 349!
Joseph Priestley 351!
Charles Joseph Minard 353!
Michael George Mulhall 355!
Willard Cope Brinton 357!
Otto and Marie Neurath 358!
Isotype 358!
The “transformer 360!
Isotype pictograms 360!
The Isotype Institute 362!
Harry Beck 363!
Early photography 366!
Overview 366!
Early film 367!
Early television 369!
Major pioneers 370!
ID Library 379!
References 380!
Appendix: Main concepts 422!
Where are the roots of information design? Where are the early
examples of artefacts where the creators have used combined
and effective verbal and visual messages? Who are the major pre-
decessors and pioneers in information design? This book in-
cludes some examples of people who have served as inspirers and
sometimes as guides in the design of messages with words, im-
ages and form.
In this book, I have used the word predecessor for people
who are unknown to us today. In these cases, we still have access
to the results of some of their work. It may be a painting on the
ceiling as well as the walls in a church.
In this book, I have used the word pioneer for people who we
know by their names. These individuals were working as archi-
tects, artists, engineers, graphic designers, mathematicians,
painters, photographers, printers, sculptors, statistics, teachers,
type designers, typographers and writers. Many had several pro-
fessions or skills.
Obviously, there are many people who have worked in these
occupations. I have subjectively selected a few individuals whom
I really find fascinating. They all lived long before information
design was established as a scientific discipline and as an aca-
demic subject matter. All of them were working in other occupa-
tions. However, their widespread discoveries and their experi-
ences can help us to convey clear messages today.
Some of these predecessors and pioneers are discussed in the
following chapters. There are a number of suggested Internet ad-
dresses for pictures and video sequences.
Memories of past experiences have largely been preserved in
written records. Historians often focus on events and human de-
velopments that occurred in “blocks of time” or “periods” in our
history. However, all these systems are more or less arbitrary and
they are often very specific to geographical locations. Also, the
dates of the start and end of a particular period vary. This means
that a specific year may be a part of different “historical periods”
in different geographical locations. This book is an interpretative
history of combined verbal and visual messages. It is not a linear
sequence. The examples of predecessors and pioneers in infor-
mation design are not discussed chronologically but rather in a
thematic manner.
In this book, historical periods are mainly related to the de-
velopment of architecture, painting and sculpture in Europe.
There is a European, or even a Scandinavian, focus in this book.
Our oldest pictures
This chapter includes the following main sections: Early art,
Body art, The Blombos Cave, Nawarla Gabarnmang, The Chau-
vet Cave, Cave art in Sulawesi, Carved figures, Pottery, Rock
carvings, Newgrange, Stonehenge, Geoglyphs, Sierra de San
Francisco, The Bronze Age culture, and Paradise gardens.
Early art
Prehistory is the period before written history. By studying carv-
ings, drawings, engravings, paintings, pottery, sculptures and
many other artefacts, archaeologists have recovered signs of very
early human messages and thoughts.
Our ancestors have lived in caves for almost 11.5 million
years (Gurgen, 2019). The caves have been very important shel-
ters for life, which became difficult due to the cold climatic con-
ditions during the glacial periods during the last two million
years. Human societies have tried to survive on the one hand and,
on the other hand, achieved their symbolic thinking skills with
their developing brain capacities 100,000 years ago. In the fol-
lowing period, the human communities have left very important
paintings, which dates back to 40–10 thousand years ago and are
regarded as works of art.
The controlled use of fire occurred about 800 thousand years
ago. The ability to produce art and visual communication is one
of the defining characteristics of modern humans. Modern hu-
mans, Homo sapiens, emerged somewhere in Africa maybe 200–
300 thousand years ago. Around 6070 thousand years ago
modern humans migrated out of Africa and spread in different
directions. They reached Europe about 40,000 years ago. Studies
of DNA have largely supported a recent African origin (Jorde,
Bamshad and Rogers, 1998).
The first lines in the comprehensive book “The history of art,
architecture, painting, sculpture” begins with the following par-
agraph (Myers and Copplestone, 1990, p. 10):
The earliest art known to us goes back to the very dawn of
the history of mankindindeed, it is fair to say that making
art is one of the earliest human activities of which we now
have a record. The painting and sculpture of the Old Stone
Age probably antedates the majority of the basic crafts,
even weaving or making pottery. It is far older than metal
working and belongs to a level of society which we now find
almost unimaginably primitive.”
A zigzag engraving on a shell found in Indonesia is the oldest ab-
stract marking or doodle ever found (Callaway, 2014). It was
made by the early human ancestor Homo erectus 500,000 years
ago. The oldest art, with abstract carvings, was discovered in
China on fragments of bone (Gorge, 2019). The early human an-
cestor Denisova hominins created these abstract carvings
100,000-years ago. Denisova hominins lived throughout Asia.
Their DNA was similar to that of the Neanderthals.
Modern humans are a relatively young species. African pop-
ulations show the largest amount of genetic diversity (Jorde,
Bamshad and Rogers, 1998). They are the most genetically diver-
gent population. Modern human populations expanded in size
first on the African continent, and later moved to Asia and Eu-
The Blombos Cave, in South Africa, has rich deposits from
100,00070,000 years ago (Henshilwood et al. 2009). The ar-
chaeological materials include engraved bones and engraved
pieces of ochre. Some pieces have been deliberately engraved, or
incised, with abstract geometric designs. According to Henshil-
wood et al. (2002) these designs are a kind of early abstract/sym-
bolic representations. These designs may be regarded as the old-
est known preservedhuman artwork.” However, in Europe the
Neanderthals, Homo neanderthalensis, had already used ochre
at least 200,000 years ago. The Neanderthals lived in Eurasia
until about 40,000 years ago.
For a long time, our human ancestors were nomadic hunter
gatherers. Their social organisation may have been somewhat
similar to that of great apes today, such as bonobos and chim-
panzees. Stemming from Charles Darwin’s research on evolution
anthropologists developed sociocultural evolution in the 19th
century. It was an evolutionary theory of social change over time.
According to the theory of cultural evolution the human mind is
a hybrid product of interweaving the brain with the symbolic web
of culture of the time to form a distributed cognitive network
(Donald, 2001). An expansion of human conscious capacity was
the key to development of consciousness and exchange of infor-
The creative processes that led to our ability to produce art are
based on the capacities of our bodies and brains, but also on the
different cultural contexts (Janik and Kaner, 2018). Colour is of
primary importance to make sense of what we see. Humans who
lived in the Palaeolithic period (Old Stone Age) often used ochre
(red) and charcoal (black). The use of ochre facilitated produc-
tion of colours ranging all the way from yellow to red. Today
many artists favour blue. However, since blue pigments are very
difficult to produce they were not at all available for the artists
during the Palaeolithic period.
Since the Neolithic period (about 12,000–4,000 years ago)
humans have communicated not only through gestures and
sounds, but also by means of visual language (de Jong, 2010, p.
7). Worldwide, hunters and gatherers and later early farmers
made use of information systems to advertise their services and
Rock art/parietal art are archaeological terms that refer to
human-made drawings, engravings, markings, and paintings on
immobile, natural surfaces, typically vertical stone surfaces. It
can also be cave walls and ceilings and on open-air boulder and
cliff faces, rocks or exposed glaciated pavements and slabs and
engraved into the ground. It is a form of landscape art. Rock art
is found in all parts of the globe except Antarctica.
Mobiliary art and portable art are archaeological terms that
refer to human-made small examples of prehistoric art, like
carved figurines, that people could carry from place to place. In
some parts of the world images were painted or engraved on
bone, eggshell, ivory, leather, portable pieces of rock and on
wood. Human and animal figures were also modelled and sculp-
tured from bone, clay, ivory and stone.
Actually, many terms are used for discussions about prehis-
toric rock art in the published literature, such as: petroglyphs,
rock carvings, rock drawings, rock engravings, rock images, rock
inscriptions, rock paintings, rock pictures, rock records, and rock
sculptures. There may even be more terms. It is not always pos-
sible to distinguish between some of these terms. Some of these
terms seem to be synonyms.
Archaeologists studying these artworks often believe that
they likely often had some kind of magical-religious significance.
The available knowledge about rock art is increasing rapidly as
this subject becomes a more acceptable and respected field of
study within the social sciences. Rock carvings and pictographs
are still being found in new areas around the world.
Archaeological artefacts provide the physical evidence on
which archaeologists build their interpretations of the past. In a
similar manner, visual images provide records of cultural change
through time. Fee and Fee (2012) argued that “visual archaeol-
ogy” is a method to understand the past through the analysis and
interpretations of visual images. They see visual images as cul-
tural artefacts (p. 36):
Working with images rather than pottery, skeletal remains,
or architectural features requires only a slight expansion on
one's understanding of what constitutes an artefact. And, it
is the concept of artefact that makes the process archaeo-
In this way Fee and Fee (2012) regard visual images as cultural
artefacts. Of course, there are also often very important
distinguishing visual patterns on pottery. Ever since the old cave
drawings people are using graphics to describe information
(Lankow 2012).
The earliest human art, or graphic productions, consisted of
abstract patterns engraved on a variety of media. Remaining en-
graved patterns date to the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic. The
engravings were made, between 540 000 and 30 000 years be-
fore present time, by anatomically modern and archaic hom-
inins. From Palaeolithic rock paintings to contemporary art, the
production and perception of symbolic artefacts have repre-
sented a major aspect of human cognitive activities.
In order to compare subjects brain activations triggered by
the perception of engraved patterns Mellet et al (2019) used
modern magnetic resonance imaging. They asked 27 healthy
adults to look at images of engravings, objects, scenes, symbol-
like characters, and written words.
Results showed that the perception of the engravings bilat-
erally activated regions along the ventral route in a pattern simi-
lar to that activated by the perception of objects, suggesting that
these graphic productions are processed as organized visual rep-
resentations in the brain. Moreover, the perception of the en-
gravings led to a leftward activation of the visual word form area.
These results support the hypothesis that these engravings have
the visual properties of meaningful representations in present-
day humans, and could have served such purpose in early mod-
ern humans and archaic hominins.
Body art
Throughout the ages, people have adorned themselves with var-
ious decorations. Prehistoric hunters smeared their bodies with
clay and earth to better blend into the landscape (Broby-Johan-
sen, 1982, p 75). Body painting, tattoo and scarification occur in
all traditional tribal cultures (Burenhult, 1999a, p 136). But body
art pictures are obviously normally not preserved.
This main section includes the following sections: Body
painting, Tattoo, and Scarification.
Body painting
Reichel-Dolmatoff (1997, p. 1213) argued that people of all
races use the skin as a surface for artistic expression and embel-
lish themselves with decorations that carry a wide range of dif-
ferent meanings. For thousands of year’s body decoration and
body art have been used to express the cultural characteristics of
a society. Whether a body decorated in a particular way is seen
as desirable, profane, unclean, or undesirable depends on the
common cultural heritage of a society.
Body paintings are temporary and often worn during cere-
monies. These paintings are painted directly onto the human
skin. Body paintings may last from a few hours up to a couple of
weeks. Some body paintings are limited to the face.
Silvester (2009) studied how the Mursi and the Suma tribes
use body paintings. These two tribes live in the lower valley of the
Omo, at the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan in East Africa.
Silvester argued that body painting is strongly connected with
the nomadic lifestyles and he wrote the following (p. 3): “The
body is almost as a piece of territory, with skin and flesh replac-
ing the stone, ceramics and textiles typical of other cultures.”
Since the 1960s there has been a revival of body painting in
Western society and some artists work professionally as body
A tattoo is a form of body modification, a drawing on the skin
that is formed of carvings, or engravings with some sharp objects.
Tattoos are often inlaid with durable colours that are darker than
the skin. Tattooing has been practiced for centuries all parts of
the world, especially in Japan, Polynesia and Southeast Asia.
Various cultures have had their own tattoo traditions.
The first tattoos could very well have been accidental. A
sharpened spit used to roast may have left a charcoaled mark on
the skin, a subsequent reminder of a successful kill (Editors at, 2008, p. 1). During ancient battles, daggers
and spears were purposefully dusted with charcoal or colour and
when they penetrated the flesh, they would have left more than a
typical war scar.
Often, these adornments of the body have a deeper and more
important meaning than just being decorative. They can, for ex-
ample, reflect the individual's group affiliation, marital status, or
status. In some cultures, puberty boys and girls are tattooed and
then emerge as marked men and women.
Archaeologists in Denmark have found that needles belong-
ing to toiletries in graves from the Bronze Age have been used for
tattooing (Broby-Johansen, 1982, p. 75). Burenhult (1999b, p.
74) argued that continental moss findings have clearly shown
that people in Northern Europe have tattooed themselves both
during the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.
For a long time, it was argued that the oldest tattoos were
found on 4,000-year-old Egyptian mummies. However, in Sep-
tember 1991 a well-preserved natural mummy was found in the
Ötz valley on the border between Austria and Italy in the Alps.
Ötzi the Iceman lived about 5,200 years ago and is the oldest nat-
ural human mummy in Europe. He has 57 carbon tattoos con-
sisting of parallel and vertical lines on his back, a small cross be-
hind one knee and dots and lines around both ankles. These signs
may have shown his tribal affiliation or his social position
(Palmer, Bahn, and Tyldeslv, 2006, pp. 32f). The tattoos may
also have been related to pain relief treatments. Ötzi wore a cloak
made of woven grass, and a coat, a belt, a pair of leggings, a loin-
cloth and shoes, all made of leather of different skins.
Scars in the skin form designs and pictures. There are several
methods of scarification. Methods include branding, burning,
cutting, etching and scratching into the skin.
Dark-skinned people, mainly in Africa, often have bright
scarification. Bright scars are raised from the skin and form dec-
orative, geometric patterns. Here scarification is more visible
than tattoos. There may be aesthetic, political, religious and so-
cial reasons for scarification.
The Blombos Cave
The Blombos Cave is located on the Southern Cape coastline in
South Africa. The cave is situated in a south-facing cliff face and
it was originally formed by seawater and powerful waves.
This main section includes the following sections: A cave
with rich deposits, Basic elements in a picture, and Graphic
A cave with rich deposits
Today the cave is located 34.5 meter above sea level and about
100 meters from the shoreline. The cave comprises a single main
chamber and it has rich deposits from the Middle Stone Age,
100,00070,000 years ago (Henshilwood et al. 2009). The inte-
rior cave floor is about 39 m² large. Archaeologists have identi-
fied seven main phases of occupation in the 2.5–3-meter-deep
layers in the cave.
Humans have sporadically occupied the Blombos Cave
throughout the Middle Stone Age and even much later. As early
as 100,000 years ago humans produced a liquefied ochre-rich
mixture and they stored it in Haliotis midae (abalone) shells
(Henshilwood et al. 2011). Ochre, bone, charcoal, grindstones
and hammer stones form a composite part of two production
toolkits. The authors remark that the application of the mixture
is unknown, but possibilities include decoration and also skin
The archaeological materials also include engraved bones
and engraved pieces of ochre (Henshilwood et al. 2009). Ochre
is an iron-rich mineral. It is often found at Stone Age sites in Af-
rica as well as Europe. More than 8,000 pieces of ochre-like ma-
terial have been found in the Blombos Cave. More than 1,500 of
these pieces still show traces from intentional use and pro-
cessing. Some ochre pieces have been deliberately engraved or
incised with abstract geometric designs. It is argued that they
represent a kind of early abstract or symbolic representations
(Henshilwood et al. 2002). These designs may be regarded as the
oldest known preserved human “artwork.”
The engraved pieces of ochre, with abstract geometric de-
signs were made somewhere between 100,000 and 70,000 years
ago. Comparable geometric designs have also been observed on
an engraved bone fragment. This is at least 30,000 year earlier
than findings of abstract designs in European caves.
There are also marine shell beads (Henshilwood et al. 2004),
refined bone tools and stone tools (Henshilwood et al. 2001). The
collection of bone tools is remarkable. Bone tools are rarely
found in sites older than 25,000 years. There are plenty of re-
mains from terrestrial and marine fauna. Beads made from Nas-
sarius shells were made 75,000 years ago.
Archaeological materials from the Blombos Cave represent
adoption of multi-step technology and manufacture of composite
tools, stylistic elaboration, increased economic and social organ-
isation and occurrence of symbolically mediated behaviour (Mel-
lars, 2007). We have a new understanding of the development of
human behaviour.
Basic elements in a picture
The simplest components in a picture, i.e., its basic elements, are
dots, lines and areas. Three-dimensional visuals also have vol-
umes. The basic elements can be varied and put together in many
ways. Changes will result in different images, sometimes of great
and sometimes of minor importance. Simple image elements can
be rotated, turned upside down and re-combined to form a series
of completely different but still intelligible representations of real
The basic elements are sometimes meaningful, sometimes
not. The number of ways in which the smallest image compo-
nents can be inter-combined is unlimited and the importance of
certain combinations varies from one picture creator to another.
Dots in visual language
A dot is the smallest graphic element in visual language. The dot
is usually a non-significant image element, but it may have a
complete meaning. It depends on the situation depicted. Dots
can vary in colour, grain, position, shape, size, as well as value.
Also, the context of dots will vary.
A group of dots may suggest motion and direction in the pic-
ture. When the dots are really close to one another, they cannot
be individually recognized anymore and they form a line.
Lines in visual language
Various lines are often used for decoration to make a more aes-
thetically pleasing or artistic product. Lines can also be used to
aid communication. A line may be varied with respect to its start-
ing point, its brightness, colour, context, curvature, direction,
evenness, grain, length, orientation and points of change, print-
ing, shape, thickness, value and terminus. The line is a powerful
graphic element. People, tend to follow a line along its way. As a
result, lines can be used to direct attention to specific picture el-
The line provides the essential elements for perception of
motion in a visual. In the western cultures, most people will see
the upper or left end of a line as its beginning and the lower or
right end as its terminus.
Horizontal lines and vertical lines give the impression of
calm and stability. Horizontal lines are restful and relaxing and
create a strong sense of equilibrium in any composition. Diago-
nal lines are unstable and attract the eye. They give the impres-
sion of movement, creating visual stress.
Areas in visual language
An area can be varied with respect to brightness, colour, colour
combinations, context, “emptiness,” grain, grey scale, shaded or
non-shaded, shape, size, texture and value. Roundness is the
most common form in nature. When ink, water, or any other liq-
uid material is dropped on a surface, it assumes a rounded form.
The size of an individual area is always relative. It depends
on our knowledge of its surroundings. A square is an example of
a static area. A rectangle is perceived as more active.
When small children are scribbling they make dots, lines and
endless open circular movements (Kellog, 1955). Already three-
year old kids may draw solid circles, triangles and squares (Bere-
felt, 1977). In my view, we perceive circles, triangles and squares
immediately and on a low cognitive level without any special
analysis (Pettersson, 1989).
Graphic symbols
The use of graphic symbols has a long tradition. Functional, in-
structive graphic symbols are actually older than printed words.
Symbols are found in every culture however primitive. In specific
areas symbols are a supplement to all languages to help create
better and faster understanding. Symbols first appeared as paint-
ings or carvings in caves and on stone walls as early as 50,000
years ago, with the first actual depiction of humans dating back
about 11,000 years (Dewar, 1999). Dewar pointed out that the
specific criteria for individual symbols, or sets of symbols, de-
pend on their applications.
Symbols are often composed of simple graphical elements,
such as lines, circles, ovals, squares, rectangles, triangles, or
combinations thereof. And maybe the engraved ochre pieces with
abstract geometric designs that were made more than 70,000
years ago in the Blombos Cave were symbols with some specific
Regular, simple, geometrical figures are identified more
quickly than complex ones. Symbols must be meaningful, legible,
learnable, memorable and used consistently. Distinctively
shaped letters are often utilized in modern symbols.
The circle and the triangle, as well as the square, are shapes
that have been natural to man for a very long time. There have
always been circles and triangles in our natural environment and
they were used as important symbols in pre-historic cultures.
The circle, the equilateral triangle and the square express
visual directions. Circles suggest curved directions, triangles sug-
gest diagonal directions and squares suggest horizontal and ver-
tical directions.
Nawarla Gabarnmang
Nawarla Gabarnmang, or just Gabarnmang, is an archaeological
remote rock art site in the Northern Territory in Australia, east
of Kakadu National Park. The name is also spelled Gabarnmung.
The meaning of the Aboriginal name of Gabarnmang is hole
in the rock,” “passageway,” or “valley open from the centre”
(Wikipedia, 2018). There is a naturally eroded cliff face that cre-
ated a 19 m × 19 m sub-horizontal ceiling, 1.75 to 2.45 m in
height. The roof is supported by 36 pillars created by natural ero-
sion. This rock shelter has been totally protected from rain and
has very clear paintings of birds, crocodiles, fish, people, spiritual
figures, and wallabies. Among the rock art two detailed paintings
of emu-like birds have been recognized as Genyornis newtoni
(Gunn, Douglas, and Whear, 2011). This was a very large, flight-
less bird over two metres in height. This species may have been
extinct some 45 thousand years ago.
The rock shelter was “discovered” by researchers during a
helicopter survey of the land in 2006. In May 2011, the indige-
nous tribal owners of the land, the Jawoyn people, contacted a
team of archaeologists and asked them to investigate the area, to
find out more about their peoples’ cultural heritage (Young,
2002). The Aboriginal people of Australia were the first to occupy
the continent, maybe 60,000 years ago. They were semi-no-
madic, usually making temporary shelters as they moved
through the land.
Approximately 70 cm ash from fires, fine sand, fragmented
rock and silt on the floor is divided in seven horizontal strati-
graphic layers. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal excavated from
the base of the lowest stratigraphic layer of the floor have re-
vealed secure evidence that people had been there about 45,000
years ago (David et al., 2011). Crayons from nearby locations are
45,000 to 60,000 years old.
The Chauvet Cave
The prehistoric cave paintings illustrated early man’s observa-
tions of the world around him (Heller and Chwast, 2008, p. 7).
Traditionally all cave painting has been attributed to modern hu-
mans. However, according to Hoffmann et al. (2018) new ura-
nium-thorium dating results on carbonate crusts overlying
paintings with abstract forms in three caves in Spain show that
abstract cave art in Iberia is older than 64,800 years. Thus, this
cave art predates the arrival of modern humans in Europe by at
least 20,000 years, which implies Neandertal authorship to these
Elaborate cave art was discovered in the Chauvet Cave, in
southern France, in 1994. These animal drawings, engravings,
and paintings were skillfully executed about 35,000 years ago
(Clottes, 2001). These images belong to the oldest in Europe. The
cave has 200300 figures, such as bison, horses and rhinos.
As far as I know archaeologists have not yet found any clear
engraved words or texts in a cave. But we can easily imagine that
both the actual creation of the rock pictures, as well as the fin-
ished pictures in the caves were important parts of various musi-
cal and verbal rituals and in contact with ancestors and spirits. If
so, also the words were very important together with the pictures.
One day, about 26,000 years ago, a child walked around on
the muddy floor in the Chauvet Cave and left a few footprints. We
can regard preserved footprints as evocative images that can tell
us something about life in the past. The archaeologist Elisabeth
Arwill-Nordbladh (2001, pp. 7–8) argued that footprints “are at
once clear and direct imprints of an individual from a special oc-
casion, while being generally human.” Oddly enough, many ar-
chaeologists have interpreted these conserved footprints as foot-
prints made by a boy. But it can of course just as well be foot-
prints made by a girl. You can’t tell the difference between foot-
prints made by boys and by girls. Arwill-Nordbladh believes that
the archaeological knowledge is “gender-marked.” Men and male
activities are visible also in archaeology, while prehistory women
remain invisible.
In his documentry, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the
director Werner Herzog (2010) examined some of these cave
drawings and he pointed out how fires have made the pictures
come to life and portray a message of movement. Herzog even
remarks how some of the drawings had animals painted with
extra legs to suggest movement, creating even an early movie, a
“proto-cinema,” as Herzog refers to it. (Also, see the section The
movie in Chichén Itza.)
In Europe, there are cave paintings in about 120 caves. Some
are dated to approximately 30,00025,000 BCE. However, most
of these cave paintings were made from 18,000 to 10,000 years
before our own time. Common motifs among cave paintings are
Aurochs, buffalo, deer, horses, reindeer and other animals, but
also some purely geometric patterns. It is conceivable that the
people who created these images in the caves really believed that
they could improve their hunting luck and the fertility of the an-
imals, as well as in their own families. The images have been
widely reproduced and are now familiar to the general public.
The images in the caves lack modern codes of perspective
and they have no horizon. Sometimes, however, the actual rock
walls constitute a type of perspective in cave paintings. Besides
paintings on the walls, there are often archaeological finds of
smaller objects in the soil layers on the floors of the caves. These
art objects are made of bone, ivory and horn. It is possible that
there have also been objects made of clay and wood, but these are
now gone. Broby-Johansen (1982, p. 13) argues that people used
images of large animals as targets for hunting practice.
The cave painters used brown, red and yellow earth tones.
They also used ash, lime and charcoal. Red paint is usually made
of ground ochre, while black paint typically is composed of char-
coal. White paint may be created from natural chalk or white
clay. Grounded pigments were mixed with a liquid. This liquid
could be animal fat, blood, egg yolk, urine and also water. In
some societies, the paint itself had some symbolic and religious
This booth at the National Museum of Natural History in
Washington shows a cave painter at work.
The oldest cave paintings have prints and contour lines of
hands, directly on the rock walls. There are three kinds of
handprints. 1) Hands were covered in wet paint and applied to
the rock. 2) Designs were painted on hands and then applied to
the rock. 3) A hand was placed against the rock and then “spray-
painted” with pigments blown over the hand. The resulting im-
age is a negative print of the hand. We can consider a handprint
as one large meaningful basic element, an indented area. (Basic
graphic elements are sometimes meaningful, sometimes not
Cave art in Sulawesi
Aubert et al. (2014) reported that they had discovered sophisti-
cated Pleistocene cave artworks from caves on the island Sula-
wesi, south-east of Borneo, in Indonesia. The authors used ura-
nium-series dating of coralloid speleothems directly associated
with 12 human hand stencils, and two figurative animal depic-
tions from seven cave sites. Results showed that rock art tradi-
tions here are at least compatible in age with the oldest European
art. A painting of a babirusa (pig-deer) was made at least 35.400
years ago.
A cave art hunting scene in South Sulawesi, discovered in
2017, is nearly twice as old as any previous findings. The 4.5-me-
tre-wide panel shows human-animal hybrid figures hunting four
dwarf buffaloes and two Sulawesi warty pigs. These dwarf buffa-
loes still inhabit forests on the island. They are small but fierce
animals. This cave art has been dated to nearly 44,000 years old
(Devlin, 2019). These scenes provide unprecedented insights
into early storytelling and the emergence of modern human cog-
In the Leang Tedongnge cave in a remote valley on Sulawesi
Brumm et al. (2021) discovered an interesting figurative cave
painting of a Sulawesi warty pig (Sus celebensis). This life-sized
picture, 54 x 136 cm, of the wild pig was painted with dark red
ochre pigment. It appears to be part of a narrative scene. The pig
appears to be facing two other pigs that are only partially pre-
served. And above the back of the pig there are two hand prints.
This early rock art provides the earliest evidence of human set-
tlement of the region. Based on Uranium-series isotope dating of
a calcite deposit, on top of the painting, was 45,500 years old.
This way they could establish that the actual cave painting was
created at least 45,500 years ago, but it could be much older.
According to Brumm et al. (2021) this animal painting from
Leang Tedongnge is the earliest known representational work of
art made by humans. As previously noted Hoffmann et al. (2018)
attributed abstract paintings, with animal-like shapes, dots and
lines, in three caves in Spain to Neanderthals.
Furthermore, Brumm et al. (2021) noted that the painting
from Leang Tedongnge of a Sulawesi warty pig is not the oldest
human-produced art. (See the previous main section The Blom-
bos Cave for the oldest known drawings made by humans.)
Brumm et al. (2021) also found a second image, from Leang
Balangajia 1. This cave painting dates to at least 32,000 years
ago. According to the authors there is no reason to suppose that
these early rock arts of wild pigs are unique examples in Island
Southeast Asia, or in the wider region. It is quite possible that
some archaeologists will discover more examples of early repre-
sentational work of art made by humans in the future. We can
wait for more discoveries.
From an Information Design perspective, we can conclude
that images have been important for people for a very long time.
Carved figures
Ever since the Stone Age, artists have used other people as their
noblest motives for artistic representations of various kinds. The
female images in bone, ivory, stone and wood show the Palaeo-
lithic hunters concern with fertility (Fontana, 2010, p. 102). Dur-
ing the 1900s, several archaeologists have found many female
statuettes in various parts of Eurasia. These female images are
collectively referred to as “Venus figurines.” Other common mo-
tifs are small animal figures. Perhaps these gave the hunter-gath-
erer peoples hopeful of good hunting.
In 1908 the archaeologist Joseph Szombathy conducted ar-
chaeological excavations at a Palaeolithic site near the village of
Willendorf, in eastern Austria, near the city of Krems. A work-
man found an 11.1 cm (4.3 in) high statuette of a naked female
figure. The statuette is probably about 25,000 years old. Szom-
bathy called it Venus of Willendorf. In academia, the statuette is
now also known as the Woman of Willendorf.
Archaeologists do not know much about its origin, method
of creation, or cultural significance. The artist had probably used
some simple tools of flint to carve the porous oolitic limestone.
The figure is then tinted with red ochre. This type of limestone is
not found in this part of Austria. Humans have certainly brought
the figurine to this place. The figure has no visible face. Her head
is covered with circular and horizontal bands interpreted as rows
of plaited hair. With its sharply marked female forms the statu-
ette may possibly be a symbol of fertility. The little figurine is now
on exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Vienna. Here it
is possible to study the figurine in detail. However, we are not
allowed to take our own pictures, but there are many pictures
This is my own ceramic version of Venus 0f Willendorf.
Another statuette of a naked female figure is the Venus of
Dolní Věstonice. This ceramic statuette is also 11.1 cm (4.3 in)
high and it was found in 1925 in Moravia, now located in the
Czech Republic. This statuette follows the general morphology of
many other Venus figurines and it was probably made 31,000
27,000 years ago. It is now on exhibition at the Moravské zemské
muzeum, Brno, Czech Republic.
About 12,000 years ago the New Stone age, the Neolithic Era, or
the Neolithic Period, begun in Europe. This period lasted for six
to eight thousand years in different geographical regions. It was
an important period in the development of human technology
that commenced with the beginning of farming and use of metal
tools about 2,300 BCE.
This main section includes the following sections: A need for
pottery, Ertebølle culture, Funnelbeaker culture, Pitted ware
culture, and Corded ware culture.
A need for pottery
The gradual use of wild and domestic crops and the use of do-
mesticated animals increased the need for pottery. Emmer wheat
was domesticated and animals were herded and domesticated.
People needed pottery for cooking and for storage of different
grains etcetera.
A large number of so called archaeological cultures” were
developed in different parts of the world. These cultures are often
named after the kind of characteristic pottery they produced.
Pottery was consumables. Broken jars and vessels were thrown
away on refuse dumps and saved for posterity. Regardless of the
expected short lifetime potters spent time on decorating their
pottery, often with abstract patterns. As a result, pieces of pottery
can now often be used for dating of archaeological sites. Pottery
analysis may also provide information about past cultural net-
working and communication patterns.
In these Neolithic communities, everyone could see and rec-
ognize their own pottery. People were familiar with the shape and
size of the vessels and they know the specific decorations and pat-
terns. In all the years that have passed, many thousands of people
have seen these ceramics with their decorations. How did these
decorations affect the people who used the vessels in their daily
This is a schematic illustration of pottery from the Ertebølle cul-
ture (left), the Funnelbeaker culture (middle left), the Pitted
Ware culture (middle right), and the Corded Ware culture
Today archaeologists have named archaeological cultures”
based on these characteristic ceramics with their decorations.
The following sections present some archaeological cultures in
Europe with focus on their pottery.
Ertebølle culture
The Ertebølle culture is the name of a late Mesolithic and Early
Neolithic fisher-hunter-gatherer culture, about 6,000 BCE
3,500 BCE. The culture is named after a small village in Danish
Jutland (Burenhult, 1999a, p. 221). Here molluscs, mussels and
oysters were important food resources.
The Ertebølle culture was widespread in the northern part of
mainland Europe and southern Sweden. It is also called the Er-
tebølle-Ellerbeck culture (Mithen, 1994).
People used arrowheads made of bone and antler; axes of
polished stone, chisels, fishhooks and handles. They hunted a
wide range of animals, including birds, marine mammals and
wild boars. There are massive kitchen middens at coastal sites
(Rowley-Conwy, 1984). The kitchen midden at Ertebølle is 140
m long, up to 40 m wide and 1.5 m high. There are cemeteries
with grave goods. Several Ertebølle communities were among the
earliest in Europe to have domesticated dogs.
The Ertebølle people adopted pottery but not agriculture
from their neighbours. For the production of pottery, the potters
used local clays that were tempered with crushed stone, organic
materials and sand. The pottery was fired on open beds of hot
There are two main types of Ertebølle pottery. A beaker is a
bellied and thick-walled bowl that is narrowing at the neck with
a flanged, outward turning rim. The acute and pointed bottom
supported the vessel when it was placed in clay or in sand. They
adapted the size of the vessels to their needs. A small beaker was
eight by 20 cm. The largest beakers could be 20 by 50 cm. Some
beakers were used for cocking food (Jennbert, 2009).
The potter used fingertips and/or nails to make decorative
impressions in horizontal bands on the entire surface of the
beaker. Sometimes random grains of barley and wheat have left
impressions in the clay during the final decoration phase before
the burning. The decorations became more varied late in the Er-
tebølle culture period. The second type of pottery was a flat blub-
ber lamp, made from single pieces of clay. While burning train
oil in the lamps it was possible to perform some activity in the
huts after dark.
Funnelbeaker culture
The Funnelbeaker culture is the name of an early Neolithic agri-
cultural farming and husbandry culture in Europe, about 4,000
BCE2,800 BCE. This culture is also called TRB, which is an ab-
breviation of its German name Tricherrandbecher. The funnel-
beaker culture comprises a number of local communities.
This archaeological culture spread from central to north,
east and west parts of Europe. Funnel Beaker sites have been
found throughout northern Europe to Austria and the Ukraine.
The Funnelbeaker people were the first farmers in large parts of
Northern Europe. They cultivated barley, legumes and wheat and
they herded cattle, goats and sheep. They introduced farming
and husbandry to the pottery-making fisher-hunter-gatherers
who already lived there.
The Funnelbeaker culture has been named after the charac-
teristic beakers with funnel-shaped necks and no handles. The
beakers may have been used as drinking vessels. The potters used
local clays that were tempered with crushed flint. They decorated
their pottery with lines and various patterns and used tools for
incising, impressing, modelling and stamping. The principal
earthenware shapes are the beaker with the funnel-shaped neck,
a beaker with handles on the shoulders and a collared flask.
These people adapted the size of the vessels to their needs. A
small beaker with thin walls could be used for drinking. Large
storage containers held up to 50 litres (Burenhult, 1999a, p 271).
The Funnelbeaker people lived in simple and small houses
made of poles. However, from 3,500 BCE this culture has built
large collective megalithic passage graves with central chambers.
The same chambers were used for several generations. These
graves often included grave sacrifices such as daggers and pol-
ished stone battle-axes. Early versions of battle-axes were multi-
angled. Later versions of axes are called double-edged axes.
These axes were stone versions of the copper axes used in Central
Pitted ware culture
The Pitted ware culture is the name of a Middle Neolithic fisher-
hunter-gatherer culture distributed along the shorelines in
coastal southern Scandinavia, about 3,200 BCE–2,300 BCE. The
name is abbreviated as PWC.
The Pitted ware culture has been named after the typical or-
namentation of its pottery. The potter used a small stick and
pressed horizontal and decorative rows of pits into the body of
the pot before it was fired (Österholm, 1999, p. 108). There may
be zones of small indentations on the shoulders of the vessels.
Some vessels have flat bottoms; others have rounded or pointed
bottoms. North-eastern cultures have influenced the decorations
and the shapes of this pottery. People also made small animal
figurines of bone and clay. Often archaeological sites have large
or even sheer quantities of shards of pottery.
People of the Pitted ware culture rejected agriculture and
farming. Instead they favoured the “old style of life” as fisher-
hunter-gatherers on the coastlines and islands. Some groups spe-
cialized on seal hunting. However, eventually farming redevel-
oped and became the predominant strategy of living.
At first this archaeological culture was contemporary and
partly overlapping with the Funnelbeaker culture. Later the Pit-
ted ware culture became contemporary and partly overlapping
with the Corded ware culture. Related cultural communities liv-
ing across the Baltic Sea, in Estonia and Latvia, are sometimes
referred to as Comb-Ware Culture. These people decorated their
pots by dragging a toothed tool across the surface.
In the Pitted ware culture burials are typically flat, single in-
humations. Typical grave goods were animal tooth pendants,
beads of shell and bone, bone spears, fishhooks, harpoons, pot-
tery and stone axes.
Corded ware culture
The Corded ware culture is the name of a Neolithic agricultural
culture in Central and Eastern Europe, mainly in Germany and
Poland, about 2,900–2,450/2,350 BCE. This culture culminates
in the early Bronze Age. The Corded ware culture has been
named after its characteristic pottery. The potters pressed
twisted cords into the wet clay during manufacturing of pots. In
this way, they created different decorative motifs and patterns.
In some places, there are regional versions of the Corded
ware culture called the Battle axe culture and in other places the
Single grave culture. The Battle Axe culture has individual buri-
als. The graves contain finely crafted beakers and/or battle-axes.
The Swedish Battle axe pottery represents a technological break
with previous pottery traditions. The Corded ware culture is re-
lated to the Bell beaker culture, or the Beaker culture, about
2,8001,800 BCE. This was a widely scattered culture in West-
ern Europe with a wide diversity in local burial styles.
Rock carvings
Rock carvings are carved or engraved into the rock surface. Sites
in Australia have rock carvings, or petroglyphs, that are esti-
mated to be as much as 27 000 years old (Wikipedia, 2012). Rock
carvings are found around the world.
This main section includes the following sections: Rock
carvings in Scandinavia, and Problems with weathering.
Rock carvings in Scandinavia
In Scandinavia rock carvings were made during a period of five
thousand years (Nordbladh, 1999, p. 144). There are between
15,000 and 20,000 rock carvings in Sweden (Bengtsson, 2000,
p. 66). This means that those who lived here on average produced
three to four rock carvings every year.
In Scandinavia archaeologists traditionally distinguish be-
tween two rock carving traditions, one northern and one south-
ern. However, there is no distinct, clear and unambiguous border
between these two groups. There are several examples of overlap
in the middle part of Scandinavia (Burenhult, 1999b, p. 123). And
it has been hard to find archaeological finds and evidence sup-
porting the division in the two traditions. According to Goldhahn
(2006, p. 128) regional differences are often much larger than the
Northern rock carvings
Like many prehistoric rock paintings also rock carvings may be
mythical descriptions related to hunting. It is possible that rock
art was meant to increase the hunting success and the fertility in
the tribe. Northern rock carvings, or game-carvings, often depict
birds, boats, moose, people, reindeer, seals and whales. These
pictures are often dated from the younger Stone Age up to the
middle Bronze Age.
Northern rock carvings exist in Norway and Sweden, but
there are similar rock carvings in Northern Russia, Siberia and
North America and in a chain around the North Pole. According
to Hultkrantz (1989, p. 47) northern rock carvings deserve to be
named “circumpolar.” Some of these images with hunting mo-
tives look like modern X-rays. We can see inner parts of the ani-
mals, such as hearts and lungs. The circumpolar culture and re-
ligion are remains of basic and original religion of mankind,
which has been abandoned in connection with the transition
from life as hunters and gatherers to early farmers.
The Rock art of Alta are located in and around the municipality
of Alta in northern Norway. This is the largest collection of rock
carvings with hunting motifs in northern Europe. The carvings
were made about 6 200–2 500 years ago. The area is divided into
four main sites. The approximately three thousand rock carvings
have been carved into the rocks of the firm and grey sandstone.
Common motifs are brown bear, fish, moose, poultry and rein-
deer. The wide variety of imagery shows a culture of hunter-gath-
erers that was able to control large herds of reindeer that were
alternatively nurtured or hunted. People who lived here built
boats, went fishing and practiced shamanistic rituals involving
bear worship. Since 1985, this place is a UNESCO World Herit-
age Site and an open-air museum (World Heritage Site, 1985).
One of the largest areas with rock carvings in Northern Europe is
Nämforsen (Larsson and Broström, 2018). Around 2,600 figures
and lines were carved or engraved into the rock surface during
the period 4,500–2,000 BCE, with particular intensity during
2,200–2,000 BCE. Here the most common motifs are moose and
boats. The boats often have bows designed as heads of moose.
Other motifs are bears, feet, fish, people and weapons. The im-
ages are located both on the mainland and on the islands in the
murmuring streams.
This picture shows a part of a rock carving in the streams at
Nämforsen. To the left there is a boat with hunters arriving to
the site. The boat has a bow designed as the head of a moose. At
least one hunter is already on land.
Nämforsen is located in the province of Ångermanland, in
the northern part of Sweden. Nämforsen was located at the head
of a fjord, several miles from the open sea some centuries before
4,000 BCE. At that time, sandbars and sandbanks attracted a
rich wildlife (Welinder, 2009, p. 320). The elevation of the land
lifted the rocks and formed the streams of today.
Perhaps this area was a sacred gathering place where hunt-
ing groups came during the summer to participate in joint activ-
ities. The extensive and rich archaeological finds and the rock
carvings show contacts with and influence from cultures in
northern Norway, Russia and also southern Scandinavia.
Previous interpretations have revolved around trade con-
tacts and hunting magic. However, later interpretations consider
new views of the world (Carlsson, 1998, p. 46). Bolin (1999, p.
178) argued that the rock carvings had a significant role on a
global level. The rock carvings were included in tales of the crea-
tion. The mythological content of the images can be based on a
notion of transformation between humans and animals (moose),
but also between animals and boats. At Nämforsen some carved
footprints and wheel-crosses are South Scandinavian rock carv-
ings (Lihammar, 2010, p 111). Some areas with rock carvings of
both types are called mixed carvings (Burenhult, 1999b, p. 123).
Southern rock carvings
South Scandinavian rock carvings, also called agricultural carv-
ings and ship carvings, are found throughout southern Scandi-
navia. These panels are often dated to 1 500500 BCE. Here the
pictures are much younger, more schematic and usually freer,
than the pictures in the northern rock carvings. Rock carvings are
particularly common in the provinces of Bohuslän and Uppland
in Sweden and in southern Norway. But there are also many fine
carvings in southern Sweden. The northernmost South Scandi-
navian rock carvings are in Alta and in the Arctic Ocean (Wel-
inder, 2009, p. 323).
Nordbladh (1999, p 142) suggested that there are more than
5,000 rock art sites along the Swedish west coast. According to
Burenhult (1999b, p. 129) the province of Bohuslän is one of the
world's premier areas of prehistoric rock art. Lihammar (2010,
p. 112) calculated the number of rock art sites in Bohuslän to
about 1 500. This is the largest concentration of rock carvings in
the whole of Europe. Because of the huge elevation of the land,
many of these areas are today ten kilometres away from the coast.
Here most rock art sites had a very close spatial connection to the
see. There are about 20 scenes of ploughing and more than
10,000 depictions of ships (Ling, 2008, p. 178).
According to Nordbladh (1999, p 140) at least twenty “docu-
mentation generations” have been working to locate, describe
and map the different sites with rock carving in Bohuslän. De-
spite the very large number of inventories new panels are still
found. At the same time, older places with rock carvings
disappear. This is partly because the environmental degradation
is hard on the rocks and partly because it is hard to find the for-
gotten places again.
The location Fossum has a nearly 500-meter long and flat rock
with about 20 different panels at the foot of a mountain, facing
the sun. The central area of carvings is about 25 square meters.
There is a coherent composition with about 130 elegantly ren-
dered figures. These figures are placed close together. Only a few
motifs are covering others. There are several hunting scenes and
beautifully drawn deer among the motifs.
This is a part of a rock carving at Fossum. The left figure is
called “The Dancer.” The cup mark between her legs is inter-
preted as a marker of gender. Two phallic men have a “cultic
According to Bertilsson (1989b, p. 107), many researchers
consider this inscription to be the most complete of all the carv-
ings in the country. It is possible that one single carver alone
executed all the figures at the Fossum site, which is dated to the
600s BCE (Bengtsson, 1999, p. 47; 2004, p. 85).
In 2011 UNESCO declared the rock carvings at Tanum, with 350
panels, a World Heritage Site. The panels often show animals,
boats, carved footprints, cup marks, equipment, livestock, palms,
people, ships, sun, trees, vehicles, weapons, wheels and wheel
crosses. In total, this area is 45 square kilometres. People have
lived here for 8,000 years (World Heritage Site, 2011a).
Vitlycke has a 22-meter long and sloping flat rock with about 300
carved figures and 170 cup marks (Bengtsson, 1999, p. 39). The
images in Vitlycke were probably carved and created over a pe-
riod of some 1,300 years. Several depicted warriors appear to be
in conflict with each other (Bertilsson, 1989b, p. 99). The prem-
ises comprise approximately 200 square meters.
Problems with weathering
Archaeologists have made archaeological excavations at and near
several places with rock carvings. There are usually several ar-
chaeological finds connected to groups of northern hunters and
gatherers from the Neolithic period (Goldhahn, 2006, p. 91f). Ar-
chaeological excavations at southern places, with rock carvings
from the Bronze Age and from the Iron Age, often have few ar-
chaeological finds. However, sometimes there may be many finds
also here (Bengtsson, 2011).
For many thousands of years, strong weather changing con-
ditions with frost and heat blasting has slowly influenced rock
paintings as well as rock carvings in most parts of the world.
However, because of pollutants from vehicle exhausts and the
general acidification the weathering is accelerating rapidly. In
the worst-case many rock paintings and rock carvings may soon
be completely destroyed, perhaps within only a few decades
(Bengtsson, 1999, p. 33).
To reduce problems with weathering it is important to create
as stable conditions as possible (Löfvendahl, 2000, p. 81). Differ-
ent methods of covering rock carvings, for example with sand,
are tested. The Swedish National Heritage Board has created a
digital information system for documentation and restoration in-
ventories of rock carvings and rock paintings (Bertilsson, 2000).
In Ireland, in Western Europe, three large circular burial
mounds and about 40 smaller passage graves constitute a large
funerary landscape called Brú na Bóinne (OKelly, 1982a). The
three burial mounds Dowth, Knowth, and Newgrange dominate
Bna Bóinne. It is recognized as having great ritual significance,
and since 1993 it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site (World Her-
itage Site, 1993a). These monuments represent the largest and
most important expressions of prehistoric megalithic art in Eu-
This main section includes the following sections: A large
turf mound, The winter solstice, and Neolithic rock designs.
A large turf mound
A well-organized farming community constructed and built
Newgrange about 5,300 years ago (Perez-Enriquez and Salinas,
2016), or about 5,200–4,500 years ago (Grant, Gorin, and Flem-
ing, 2008). The construction of complicated megalithic monu-
ments required an advanced society with specialised groups that
were responsible for different aspects of construction. Neolithic
people had not yet developed metal. All their tools were made of
antler, bone, stone or wood.
Since 1993 Newgrange is a part of the Brú na Bóinne
UNESCO World Heritage Site, with two more principal monu-
ments and about 40 smaller satellite mounds. Some of these Ne-
olithic megalithic monuments were used as tombs and maybe
also used as places with astrological, ceremonial, religious and
spiritual importance (World Heritage Site, 1993a). In addition,
there are many smaller archaeological sites such as henges,
mounds, and standing stones (Lynch, 2014).
Today the experts do not agree about what the site was actu-
ally used for. According to Burenhult (1999a, p 283) this kind of
monuments were central places of worship for a large country-
side where village chiefs came with their companions in order to
practice their cult and administer their communities under the
leadership of a powerful paramount chief.
The most famous passage-tomb, or Ancient Temple, was
originally built on top of a hill. The front of the monument was
reconstructed in the 1970s. The monument consists of a large al-
most circular, or slightly kidney shaped, turf mound. The mound
covers an area of over one acre. It is 7985 meters in diameter
and 13.5 m high and it is built of 200,000 tons of stone and al-
ternating layers of earth. All the stones were transported to New-
grange. Grass is growing on the top.
The front of the most famous monument at Newgrange was re-
constructed in the 1970s. The entrance is to right in the picture.
Picture: Wikimedia Commons.
Twelve out of the original estimated 38 large boulders form
a ring of about 104 m in diameter outside the base of the large
mound. 97 large kerbstones retain the base of the mound. Many
of the larger stones of Newgrange are covered with graphic meg-
alithic art that are carved onto the stone surfaces (Nechvatal,
2009, p. 163). The mound is also ringed by a stone circle.
The winter solstice
The turf mound has an entrance on its south-eastern side. A 19-
meter narrow and uphill passage leads into a central chamber
and three smaller chambers (O’Kelly, 1982a). The larger cham-
ber (6.5 x 6.2 m) has an altar and a six meter high and corbelled
vault roof. This may be a burial chamber (Burenhult, 1981;
O’Kelly, 1982a, p. 122). Several of the stone slabs in the passage
are decorated with carvings. The average height in the passage is
about 1.5-meter.
This large Neolithic monument was constructed with great
precision. From December 19th to 23rd the first beams of light
from the rising midwinter sun passes through a small and rec-
tangular shutter above the entrance and passes through the pas-
sage. For this to happen it is necessary first to remove a stone
fitting the shutter 25-m from the altar. On December 21st, the
whole burial chamber becomes dramatically illuminated for 17
minutes and the room gets flooded with sunlight. This illumina-
tion marks the end of the longest night of the year and the begin-
ning of the next year. It is speculated that the sun formed an im-
portant part of the religious beliefs of the Neolithic people who
actually built the monument. This special construction shows a
deep understanding for the importance of special illumination,
an early kind of light design.
Excavations have revealed deposits of human bone in the
passage. According to Irish mythology, Newgrange was the al-
leged burial place of the prehistoric kings of Tara and also the
home of a race of Irish supernatural beings, the people of the god-
dess Danu.
Triskele-like decorations, each with three interlocked spirals,
are notable examples of curvilinear designs on the large en-
trance boulder, about 5 tons in weight. Picture: Wikimedia
Twelve out of the original estimated 38 large boulders form
a ring of about 104 m in diameter outside the base of the large
mound. 97 large kerbstones retain the base of the mound.
Excavations have revealed deposits of human bone in the
passage. According to Irish mythology, Newgrange was the al-
leged burial place of the prehistoric kings of Tara and also the
home of a race of Irish supernatural beings, the people of the god-
dess Danu.
Newgrange is one of the most important megalithic struc-
tures in Europe (Renfrew, 1982, p. 7). It was built 500 years be-
fore the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and more than 1,000
years before Stonehenge in England.
Neolithic rock designs
The term “Neolithic art” includes arts and crafts created by soci-
eties who had abandoned the semi-nomadic lifestyle of hunting
and gathering food in favour of farming. The major artform was
pottery, but people also made engravings. Many large kerbstones
and several stone slabs in the grave-field are decorated with
carved patterns. According to Perez-Enriquez and Salinas (2016)
the engravings in the tomb could be evidence of "pinhole optics"
used for solar observations. These engravings could also repre-
sent an early manifestation of the construction of a specially ori-
ented astronomical instrument in ancient times. Perez-Enriquez
and Salinas (2016) suggest that this astronomical instrument
was located at several positions along the passage before it was
covered by the mound.
O’Kelly (1982b, p. 146147) divided the carved patterns of
decorations in the two main groups, curvilinear carvings and rec-
tilinear carvings. Both groups include five categories with basic
graphic elements.
In the curvilinear decorations, the lines are curved in vari-
ous ways. The five categories in this group are called arcs, circles,
dot-in-circles(circles with a dot inside), serpentiniforms (lines
having the form of serpents) and spirals.
In the rectilinear decorations, the individual lines are
straight. The five rectilinear categories are chevrons (inverted V-
shaped patterns) or zigzags, lozenges or diamonds, offsets or
comb-devices, parallel lines and radials or star shapes.
Some of these ten basic graphic elements were used in many
rock carvings and on a lot of pottery. Some elements are still used
in many designs, illustrations and ornaments.
Triskele-like decorations, each with three interlocked spirals
exhibiting rotational symmetry, are notable examples of curvilin-
ear designs on the large entrance boulder. It is approximately
three metres long, 1.2 metres high, and about 5 tons in weight.
ÓRíordáin and Daniel (1964, p. 26) described the entrance boul-
der to the main tomb as: “one of the most famous stones in the
entire repertory of megalithic art.
ÓRíordáin and Daniel (1964, p. 115117) made and pre-
sented a classification of motifs in the Neolithic art. They based
their classification on earlier work by Piggott (1954). ÓRíordáin
and Daniel distinguished between thirteen main categories: face
motifs, circles, rayed circles, crosses, spirals, arcs, ovals, scal-
loped outlines, hurdle patterns, fir tree motifs, zigzag patterns,
triangles and lozenges and cup-marks. There are several versions
in each category.
Moriarty (2010) noted that many archaeologists have pro-
posed numerous interpretations of all the petroglyphs found
throughout Ireland and the UK. Yet none have ever been tested,
nor can they ever be tested. According to some archaeologists the
purpose of these famous carvings is decorative. However, others
believe the purpose is symbolic. There are many opinions, but no
one knows the true purpose.
The construction of complicated megalithic monuments re-
quired an advanced society with specialised groups of people that
were responsible for different aspects of construction. Neolithic
people had not yet developed metal. All their tools were made of
antler, bone, stone or wood.
It is rather complicated to find a clear and good definition of
“rock art.” From an information design perspective Neolithic
rock design” probably is a better way to term these kinds of carv-
ings than “abstract Neolithic rock art.”
Stonehenge is a huge prehistoric circular monument of large
standing stones in Wiltshire, close to Salisbury in the southern
part of England (Coe, Snow, and Benson, 1986). There are many
theories about Stonehenge, but nobody really knows why Stone-
henge was built, or how it was continuously used for almost 1,600
This main section includes the following sections: A place of
worship, and A kind of observatory.
A place of worship
As previously noted this kind of large monuments were central
places of worship for a large countryside where village chiefs
came with their companions in order to practice their cult and
administer their communities under the leadership of a powerful
paramount chief (Burenhult, 1999a, p 283).
Several archaeologists believe that Stonehenge was con-
structed in three phases anywhere from 3,100 BCE to 2,000 BCE.
According to Palmer, Bahn, and Tyldeslv (2006, p. 102) the first
monument on this location was built 2,950 BCE. It was a large
circular earth bank surrounded by a moat. The circular monu-
ment had a diameter of about 110 metres. The moat was dug two-
meter deep. The excavated soil formed a two-meter high em-
There was a large entrance to the northeast and a smaller
entrance to the south. Inside the earth bank there was a circle
with 56 pits. Cremated remains contain human parts of bones
from as early as 3,000 BCE. Stonehenge could have been a burial
ground from its earliest beginnings (Pitts, 2008). Some form of
timber structure was built within the enclosure.
In the second phase, around 2,600 BCE, the timber was re-
placed by stone in two concentric arrays of holes in the centre of
the site. The holes held up to 80 large standing bluestones. Each
weighed about four tons. The north-eastern entrance was
deliberately widened so it precisely matched the direction of the
midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset of that period.
During the third phase, around 2,600 BCE to 2,400 BCE, 30
large blocks of grey sandstone were carefully placed in a circle
with a diameter of 33 metres. When viewed from the ground their
perspective remains constant. Each block was around four me-
tres high and two metres wide. The blocks weighed around 25
tons each. On top of the standing stones 30 lintel stones were fit-
ted to one another. They formed a continuous circle. Each lintel
stone is about 3.2 metres long, one metre wide and 0.8 metres
thick. The lintel stones curve slightly to continue the circular ap-
pearance of the earlier monument.
60 blue stones were places inside the circle with the blocks
of grey sandstone. The 60 blue stones almost form a circle. Inside
this area there were two sets of huge stones in U-shape, with the
opening towards the northeast. There are ten upright stones and
five lintels. They weigh up to 50 tons each. Some of the stones
were probably transported some 380 kilometres to this site. The
total work needed was huge. It has been estimated that the work
consisted of over 30 million hours of labour.
A kind of observatory
At Stonehenge, every stone was placed in a carefully calculated
position with reference to the movements of the sun, the moon
during different seasons. So, Stonehenge was designed as a kind
of observatory (Burenhult, 1999a, p 315). The openings in the
arches were probably used to make astronomical observations. A
special stone was set to cast a shadow exactly 25 meters away on
a stone altar inside the inner U-shape at dawn of the summer sol-
stice (June 21). On certain days, year after year, Stonehenge
acted like a medium conveying important information, maybe di-
rectly from the gods, to all people present at the site.
Some archaeologists believe that Stonehenge is a very ad-
vanced solar calendar that was used mainly to make advanced
and very intricate astronomical observations in order to predict
eclipse, equinox, solstice and other celestial events during the
year, all important to a contemporary religion (Hawkins and
White, 1970).
Other archaeologists reject this theory and they believe that
Stonehenge mainly was a site of religious significance and a
place for ancestor worship. There are also several other theories
regarding the actual function of this large and mysterious monu-
ment. Maybe Stonehenge was a kind of multifunctional monu-
Stonehenge is one of the most famous archaeological sites in
the world. In 1986 the site and its surroundings were added to
the UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. It is co-listed with the
nearby monument Avebury Henge (World Heritage Site, 1986).
Today Stonehenge is a group of huge, rough-cut stones and
the remains of a ring of standing stones set within earthworks.
Several hundred burial mounds surround the ring of standing
stones. Some graves contain human bones from as early as 3,000
BCE. Millions of people come from all over the world to visit
Also, pyramids in Mexico and in Egypt were positioned with
reference to the movements of the sun, as well as many other
great ancient monuments.
According to Valenzuela and Clarkson (2014) geoglyphs are in-
tentional humanmade renderings of naturalistic/identifiable or
abstract/unidentified forms. Geoglyphs frequently include large-
scale designs. According to (Lambers, 2020) the term “geo-
glyphs” (Greek for “ground carvings”) refers to man-made draw-
ings of different motifs, shapes, and sizes on the ground surface.
Geoglyphs are known from every continent, except Antarctica.
This main section includes the following sections: Purpose
and creation, and The Nasca and Palpa geoglyphs.
Purpose and creation
Geoglyphs apply to culturally significant patterns or locations re-
sulting from ceremony, such as dance circles. Geoglyphs belong
to a class of material culture commonly described as having reli-
gious, ritual, or some kind of other ceremonial functions, when
and if no utilitarian function is clearly evident (Clarkson 1998).
Movements between places was, and remains, heavily ritualised
in the Andes (Christie, 2008).
Archaeologists have noted close associations between inter-
valley pathways and anthropogenic features, such as geoglyphs
and other types of rock art. According to Bikoulis et al. (2018)
these pathways and geoglyphs were closely tied, forming part of
travellers’ rituals to propitiate local deities and ensure a success-
ful journey in the ancient Andes.
The creation of geoglyphs is accomplished through additive
and subtractive techniques, either singly or in combination.
Making a geoglyph does not require a great deal of labour invest-
ment. Generally, the materials are not large or heavy, and the ac-
tivity is not labour intensive, and thus, the task can be under-
taken by the very young through to the very old.
Geoglyphs are most easily made, and best preserved, in an
arid and stable environment where the ground surface may be
easily altered manually yet is little affected by rain or wind ero-
sion. Such favourable conditions prevail in the coastal deserts
along the western foot of the Andes, in South America. Here, the
ground surface is composed of a dark layer of oxidized stones
covering a finer and lighter sediment beneath.
The Nasca and Palpa geoglyphs
The largest and best-known concentrations of large geoglyphs in
the world are located in the desert plains of the basin river of Rio
Grande de Nasca (or Nazca) in south-central Peru and in the Ata-
cama desert in northern Chile. The geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa
in southern Peru has been considered to be one of the greatest
mysteries of archaeology(Aveni 1990).
The Paracas and Nasca cultures
The arid and isolated Peruvian desert plateau, the so-called pam-
pas, has a stable and windless climate. It is one of the most arid
and inhospitable regions in the world. Yet it is also a striking ex-
ample of human interaction with extreme environments (Lam-
bers, 2020).
During the Paracas and Nasca cultures (800 BC to 650 AD),
people created the so called “Lines and Geoglyphs of Palpa and
Nasca (Gorka, Fassbinder, and Lambers (2007). So, work on
some Nasca Lines probably started about 2 650 years ago, and it
probably lasted for 1 450 years. These geoglyphs and lines are
one of the most impressive-looking archaeological areas in the
world. Since 1994 the geoglyphs of Palpa and Nasca are part of a
UNESCO World Heritage site (UNESCO, 1994).
Design of geoglyphs
Hundreds of long, straight lines run across the vast desert land-
scape. Some other lines are several kilometres in length and form
geometric shapes with outstanding precision. These shapes are
rectangles, spirals, triangles, wavy lines, etc. However, there are
also many large geoglyphs showing complicated “drawings” of
animals and plants. More than 70 designs are zoomorphic de-
signs, such as cat, condor, dog, fish, heron, human, humming-
bird, lizard, monkey, and spider (Wikipedia, 2021). Some
designs show flowers, and trees. All these designs may have had
some magical-religious significance to the ancient Pre-Hispanic
societies on the Peruvian south coast (UNESCO, 1994).
This is an aerial photograph of the geoglyph called “The Spider”.
The approximate length is 45 m. Author Psamathe/Wikipedia.
The geoglyphs are preserved due to the extreme environ-
mental conditions and can still be appreciated today. These de-
signs are best seen from the air. However, some figurative geo-
glyphs are also visible from the surrounding foothills and from
other high places. These shapes are usually made from one very
long and continuous line. Some figurative geoglyphs cover 400
by 1,100 metres. The total combined length of all lines is over
1,300 km. The geoglyphs covers a total area of about 50 km2.
Mostly the lines have been preserved naturally. Sometimes, rare
changes in weather has temporarily altered the general designs
(Wikipedia, 2021).
Creation of geoglyphs
In Nasca and Palpa people made depressions in the grounds, re-
moved the top layer of reddish-brown iron oxide-coated pebbles.
When people made hallow incisions in the desert floor they ex-
posed a yellow-grey subsoil (Wikipedia, 2021). Typically, these
lines are 1015 cm deep. The width of each line varies consider-
ably. Over half of the lines are slightly over 33 cm wide. In some
places they may reach 1.8 m (Dorsch and Vinzent, 2017).
Many hypotheses
There have been many hypotheses about why people created the
many geoglyphs in Nasca and Palpa. Some hypotheses are re-
lated to astronomical meanings, ceremonials, influence of extra-
terrestrial figures, roads/paths, religious rituals, socio-cultural
ideas, underground water, use of hallucinogens and more. How-
ever, the functions and the meanings of the geoglyphs are not yet
fully known.
According to Klokocník et al. (2016) Sonnek (2011) pre-
sented a “practically-oriented hypotheses” based on the needs by
the people who actually lived here. Klokocník et al. (2016, p. 92)
The Nasca people mostly cultivated maize, beans and
pumpkins. Their farm products travelled towards the sea;
the fish went from the sea to the mountains. This is known
as the local ‘vertical trade exchange’. A need for large quan-
tities of rope and nets is connected with the intensive fish-
ery in the Pacific Ocean, which had to compensate for in-
sufficient farm production. The Nasca people would set out
on their rafts for voyages of maybe several months, heading
for distant fisheries and islands. This intensive fishing at
large distances from the coast required entire fleets of
balsa-wood rafts and huge amounts of various ropes and
According to Klokocník et al. (2016) Sonnek (2011) explained
some of the geoglyphs as previous work areas for the production
of ropes and fishing nets. Geoglyphs of a special shape were dis-
covered in the pampas and supported his idea. Klokocník et al.
(2016) further developed the hypothesis of work areas, with ar-
chaeological, ethnographical, and experimental support. Radio-
carbon testing by 14C standardized radio-carbon age of wood
pieces, found in suggested work areas, showed the age to be in a
wide range from Early Nasca to the 17th century. Furthermore,
in the old local language the word huasca, wasca, waskha (read:
uasca) means a rope, a cord, or the place where these are pro-
duced. This word is very similar to the word nasca.
The “Nasca project”
The “Nasca project” started in 1995. The main target was conser-
vation and documentation of the Nasca lines. Facing future de-
struction of the drawings in the soil”, it was important to pre-
serve this world cultural heritage for the posterity, at least as a
map in a digital form (Hanzalová and Pavelka, 2013). A plani-
metric map is based on georeferenced satellite images. It shows
horizontal x and y locations, and horizontal distances of all fea-
tures. An altimetric map is created from a digital elevation
model. It shows the measurements of altitudes, and height dis-
Within the Nasca Project ground drawings and topographic
data were mapped photogrammetrically from aerial images at a
scale of 1:7,000 (Sauerbier, 2006). Ortho-images were derived
from aerial images at a scale of 1:10,000. These data are available
in a database suited for archaeological and also geometrical anal-
Study methods
The geoglyphs of Palpa, in the northern Nasca basin, have only
been studied in detail with archaeological methods since 1997
(Reindel and Grün, 2006). Apart from aerial archaeology, with
analysis of high resolution aerial images, geophysical
prospection is the only none-destructive technique of site explo-
ration. Gorka, Fassbinder, and Lambers (2007) have used mag-
netometry to detect and map possible unknown features beneath
the lines and trapezoids. These researchers were actually able to
trace old lineal geoglyphs that had been obliterated during the
construction of the larger trapezoids on the same site even in
Nasca times.
Satellite images can be used to document archaeological and
historical sites in areas that are dangerous, distant, or expensive
to visit. In several cases satellite images can be used instead of
basic archaeological fieldwork. Often, satellite images have a fi-
nal resolution on 3550 cm. This resolution can exclude search-
ing of fine structures.
As a part of the Nasca project Pavelka, Šedina, and Ma-
toušková (2018) used very high resolution data from satellite im-
ages. Furthermore, they used super high resolution data from a
drone when they studied the Pista Geoglyph, nearby Palpa. With
this method the authors found previously unknown geoglyphs,
such as a bird, a guinea pig, and other small drawings. The new
data shows many details, previously unseen from the surface or
from the satellite imagery.
As previously mentioned Klokocník et al. (2016) further de-
veloped the hypothesis of work areas, with archaeological, eth-
nographical, and experimental support.
Chinese civilisation has long been assumed to have developed in
the Central Plains some 4,000 years ago. However, archaeologi-
cal discoveries at an isolated northern Bronze Age settlement
have fundamentally challenged the traditional understanding of
the origin of Chinese civilisation (Sun, 2013).
This main section includes the following sections: A fortress
city, and China’s early history.
A fortress city
Villagers in the arid region of China’s Loess Plateau believed that
the rock walls they saw close to their homes were segments of the
Great Wall of China. However, between 2011 and 2012 a team of
Chinese archaeologists revealed more than six miles of protective
walls surrounding a 230-foot-high pyramid and an inner sanc-
tum with painted murals (Sun, 2013). Shimao was actually an
enormous ancient city. Some 4,300 years ago the loess highland
was home to a complex society representing the economic and
political heartland of China.
The ancient “fortress city Shimao” was surrounded by inner
and outer stone walls allowing only a “one-way entry.” Gates in
the walls were flanked by towers. It has been estimated that the
walls alone required 125,000 cubic meters of stone. The earliest
site, called the “palace centre,” was a more than 200 feet tall and
stepped pyramid. This pyramid was based on a loess hill which
had been reworked to make 11 platforms, with a height of 70m
(Larmer, 2020). At the top of this pyramid people had built pal-
aces of rammed earth (Li at al., 2018). This inner city contained
a stone-walled platform. This platform has been interpreted as a
palatial complex. It had densely packed cemeteries, craft work-
shops, and residential zones. The Shimao walled site encom-
passes a total area of 400 hectares (Sun, 2013).
China’s early history
The fortress city Shimao is challenging traditional narratives
about China’s early history. Shimao dates back nearly 2,000
years before the oldest section of the Great Wall—and 500 years
before the Chinese civilization took root on the Central Plains,
which is several hundred miles to the south (Larmer, 2020). The
layout of the walled settlement at Shimao strongly indicates the
principles of urban planning in ancient China, with a palatial or
imperial complex in the centre, surrounded by one or two city
walls (Sun, 2013). Botanical remains and bones found at the site
demonstrate that Shimao’s farmers were raising an unexpectedly
diverse array of crops and domesticated animals.
Jades are often found inside the stone walls, which is notably
unique (Sun, 2013). There are many relief stone sculptures of
half-human beasts, monsters and serpents. These sculptures,
and fine ceramics, resemble later Bronze Age iconography in
China. The inner walls have colourful paintings and mysterious
carvings of geometrical patterns (Sun, 2013). Symbols of eyes
and anthropomorphic carved stone faces were also embedded in
great quantities in the façades of the stepped pyramid. All these
“messages” may have been intended to impose religious or ritual
control over the movement of people (Li at al., 2018).
The monumental stone structures were also the scene of a
pair of recurring religious, ritual rituals, one of which involved
human sacrifice (Sun, 2013). At least seven pits, containing more
than 100 skulls, have been unearthed in locations adjacent to
Shimao’s gates or beneath its floors and walls. Most of the skulls
belonged to young women.
It is clear that the inhabitants of Shimao were communi-
cating with Eurasian Steppe peoples across extensive trade net-
works (Urbanus, 2019). Many artefacts found at Shimao could
only have come from distant lands. The fortress city Shimao may
have been abandonment in connection with a rapid shift from a
warmer and wet climate to a cooler, and drier climate which hap-
pened from 4,300 to 3,300 years ago. This interesting city is
forcing archaeologists and historians to rethink the beginnings
of Chinese civilization. Shimao is the largest known Stone Age
settlement in China. So far only a small portion of the site has
been excavated. Archaeologists expect to make many more dis-
Sierra de San Francisco
There are rock paintings, or pictographs, in Africa, Mexico,
North America, Siberia and Scandinavia. Rock paintings were
made on vertical cliffs. There is often an overhang that has pro-
tected the paintings against rain and winds. Some rock paintings
are found on major stone blocks. Places with rock paintings may
be close to lakes or small and tranquil waterways and also in
places with good views over water. Rock paintings are often
dated to the Neolithic period, perhaps to around 4,000 years ago.
Rock paintings were often made with red, black and white min-
eral earths and other natural compounds.
This main section includes the following sections: Large
paintings, and Prehistoric societies.
Large paintings
The prehistoric complex and very rich rock paintings of the Si-
erra de San Francisco region are located in the central region of
the Baja California peninsula in Mexico. Since 1993 this is a
World Heritage Site. These rock paintings are regarded as some
of the world's finest examples of prehistoric art (World Heritage
Site, 1993b).
The semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers who lived here
made seasonal migrations over the peninsula. They moved from
coast to coast. They harvested diverse resources on the upland
mesas and mid-peninsula. They took shelter from the summer
sun in rock shelters along steep canyons in the mountains. Here
they made their first paintings some 3,100 years ago. Over 250
sites with extensive series of elaborate paintings have been
found. There are thousands of rock paintings of exceptional qual-
ity in very isolated locations in the canyons.
The semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers painted directly on
the walls and roofs of the rock shelters. They made their paints
from the mineral earths from the region of the volcano of Las Vir-
genes. They have used a large number of clear colours in their
paintings. These shelters are difficult to access and the pictures
are very well preserved from air, water and human destruction.
Although crude in technique these paintings show the ob-
jects distinctly. The motifs are very varied and tell about the life
of the people in the Baja California peninsula. The motifs include
men, women and children. Many motifs are far greater than life
size animals and humans. Some human figures are more than
two metres tall. Images of wildlife are the most common motifs,
with mammals such as deer, lynx, mountain lion, mountain
sheep and rabbit (Rose, 1999). Some paintings include marine
mammals such as whales. The painters saw the whales during
their seasonal migrations. Other motifs include animals like ea-
gle and pelican, turtle, octopus, manta ray, tuna and sardines.
Today thousands of tourists are coming to Baja for whale
watching. From mid-December to mid-April, the coastal lagoons
of Baja California Sur are calving grounds for the California grey
whale (Palmerlee, 2007 p, 35). People gather to observe mothers
and their calves cavorting in the shallow waters.
Humans are shown frontally, but often lack facial features.
Animals are shown in profile. Horns of mountain sheep, antler of
deer and ears of rabbits are accentuated (Meighan, 1966). Many
of the animal figures have an arrow either across them or stuck
in them. Human figures have arrows, some as many as ten ar-
rows. There are also abstract elements in some motifs.
Prehistoric societies
Archaeologists have made detailed analysis of the rock paintings.
This gave some insights into the religious and social organization
of the prehistoric societies. However, today it is not possible to
fully understand the significance of the paintings. Present day
California Indians are ignorant of the meaning. They only know
that their ancestors made the rock paintings (Meighan, 1966).
The meaning with the motifs will probably never be fully under-
stood. It is probably associated with their belief system and cul-
ture, hunting magic and renewal of life. Some of the paintings
have very dangerous locations. This indicates that the act of
painting was more important than the final pictures (Meighan,
1966). None of the investigated rock-shelters had deep deposits.
No artefacts indicate how the paintings were made.
The rock-shelters and painting were abandoned 200 years
before the arrival of the Spanish. The Spanish Jesuit missionary
Francisco Javier Clavijero “discovered” the rock paintings in Si-
erra de San Francisco in the eighteenth century (Rose, 1999). He
reported his findings in a publication in Rome in 1789. The mis-
sionary noted pictures of men and women and different animals.
At that time, the local inhabitants believed that a nation of gi-
ants who came from the north” had made the rock paintings.
The rock paintings were “re-discovered” in the 1960s. Since
then several experts have studied and surveyed the sites. Today
there are strict regulations for visiting the sites. It is only possible
to visit these sites with official guides and the authorization of
Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History. And it
is complicated. According to Palmerlee (2007 p, 138):
Most visitors will find the steep volcanic terrain much eas-
ier to manage on mule back, which leaves more time to ex-
plore the canyon and enjoy the scenery. The precipitous
mule back descent into the canyon takes about five to six
hours, the ascent slightly less.
It can’t be that many people who have seen these remote and of-
ten inaccessible images. However, using the Internet, we now
have opportunities to study several of these interesting images of
animals and humans.
The Bronze Age culture
Most of the Scandinavian rock carvings were made during the
Bronze Age (Almgren, 1987). In southern Scandinavia, the
Bronze Age includes the period 1,700500 BCE (Welinder,
2009, p. 43). Other sources give slightly different information.
Bronze was the raw material for tools and weapons, but people
continued to use flint and other stone materials for everyday
tools. Weapons and ornaments of bronze were luxury goods and
social symbols, and are common as grave goods and even sacri-
fices. Skilled craftsmen gave bronze objects rich ornamental dec-
This main section includes the following sections: A rich vis-
ual world, Purposes and functions of rock art, Motifs in rock art,
Execution of rock carvings, Placements of rock art, Interpreta-
tions of rock art, and Design or art?
A rich visual world
The Scandinavian Bronze Age was a dynamic period with many
external influences. An entirely new social system was devel-
oped, supported by new gods and new religions. Europe got a
rapid development. A new elite of skilled and sophisticated
craftsmen and specialists developed. Objects and ideas spread
quickly through travel and contacts. Metal and salt became im-
portant commodities. At the end of the Bronze Age people began
importing objects of iron.
Development of crop and livestock began from 3,900 BCE in
southern Sweden. At the same time, the lifestyle of the hunters
and gatherers disappeared. According to Welinder (2009, p 169)
people's diet changed pervasive in the space of a single genera-
tion in the period 3,9002,000 BCE. It went from the marine
seals and fish food diet to cheese and steak diet. From around
1000 BCE onwards people have built clearance cairns, field
boundaries and stonewalls. These remains can be joined together
to form fossil landscapes (Welinder, 1998, p. 14). Cairns forms
the most common remains of ancient agriculture.
Rock carvings represent only a small portion of all images,
ornaments and symbols that people created during the Bronze
Age. Malmer (1989, p. 15) argued that Bronze Age people had a
treasure of images. People lived in a rich visual world and all
knew the forms and meanings. Finds from several archaeological
excavations include apparel buckles, funeral urns, jewellery, or-
naments, symbols and weapons. The images were carved,
painted or sewn in different materials. The images that were
carved into stone, or carved in bronze have survived best. How-
ever, materials like bark, ceramics, fabric, leather and flat pieces
of wood are only preserved under very favourable conditions.
Fredell (2003) discussed how to use and read images in so-
cieties with oral traditions without written language. In oral-
based societies images were not only aesthetic art and not a writ-
ing system (p. 175). The abundance of pictures of objects and
carvings, as well as figurines was expressions of conscious com-
munication in symbiosis with speech and people's memories. Im-
ages can convey many more messages than a written text. Scrip-
ture implies a more fixed, simplified and standardized way of re-
peating what someone tells us. Many of the variants of the stories
that exist in an oral tradition disappear when they are docu-
mented with written language.
Purposes and functions of rock art
Rock carvings were created and used for a very long-time and
under different economic, ideological, political and social condi-
tions. Cutting and carving pictures in a carefully selected, smooth
rock requires extensive work. There was a reasonably clear pur-
pose for each project. It seems that there were three distinct au-
diences for both rock paintings and rock carvings. The first target
was higher, divine powers. The second target group was people
within their close circle, as family, tribe or group. The third target
was alien and possibly hostile people. Here are some of the pur-
poses and functions suggested by archaeologists.
Aesthetic purpose
Rock paintings and rock carvings had an aesthetic purpose
(Malmer, 1989, p. 11). In most cases, they are drawn in a definite
artistic style.
Archives of memories
Like many other archaeologists Hagerman (2011, p. 128 f) be-
lieves that the purpose of the images on the rock carvings proba-
bly were to recall stories that were important to people.
Then the ancient images serve as a kind of archives of mem-
ories. Oral stories, images and symbols were expressions of ide-
ological communication during the Bronze Age (Fredell, 2003, p.
206). This kept an ideological system together for nearly two
thousand years. The stories changed over time and space.
The capacity of images for ambiguity is probably a quality
that people used. The same rock could therefore be general mem-
ories to tell different stories. Fredell (p. 211) argued that many of
the pictures did not necessarily reflect epic/mythical stories, but
they may have had other functions. There are similarities be-
tween rock carvings and today's cartoons.
Rock carvings are valuable social documents (Carlsson,
1998; Burenhult, 1999b) that show changes in ritual behaviour
patterns over long-time periods.
Bridges between things and thoughts
Based on image semiotic case studies Fredell (2003) concluded
that images on the rock carvings serve as bridges between things
and thoughts. The images were also bridges in time, and bridges
in place. Through oral traditions that were linked to the images
were stories, beliefs about gods, ideological messages, cosmolog-
ical beliefs, myths, rituals, myths, creation stories, thoughts and
values conveyed and between generations and also between dif-
ferent communities.
It is conceivable that beliefs and ideas could be communi-
cated in connection with the exchange of goods. Hagerman
(2011, p. 100) argues that the elites who had nice ships competed
to embark on prestigious trips deep into uncharted waters. Kris-
tiansen and Larsson (2007) compared carvings and bronze figu-
rines in Scandinavia with seal pictures and murals in Mediterra-
nean palaces. They argued that during the time from 1,800
1,500 BCE, there were chiefs from Scandinavia who did travel
around the whole of Europe (p. 39f).
Ceremonies and rituals
Both rock paintings and rock carvings were used to express wor-
ship of the gods, at the same time addressed to the people
(Malmer, 1989, p. 11). Performing generally accepted ceremonies
and religious rites have always been considered to be honoura-
ble. Some images show the gods and goddesses and perhaps cer-
emonies, in which rulers took part.
Kristiansen and Larsson (2007, p. 335) argued that it was
possible for thousands of people to simultaneously observe the
ceremonies and religious rites that priests and chiefs performed
at large and monumental carvings, such as in Vitlycke. It is, how-
ever, also possible that fences or palisades separated some rock
art sites (p. 337). In this case, the pictures were intended for spe-
cially selected members of the elite and for heaven's deities.
Burenhult (1999b, p. 122) argued that the rock carvings are
valuable social documents that show a long section of our prehis-
toric cultural development, as reflected in changes in ritualistic
behaviour patterns among the tens of thousands of characters in
the rocks. The significant changes in the Late Bronze Age cult
acts reflected in a changed burial and a new composition of find-
ings of sacrifice offerings have their direct counterparts in the
world of rock carvings. Findings of the magnificent artefacts that
were used in ceremonies, like horned helmets, Bronze Age horns
and ceremonial weapons are brought to life among the rock carv-
ings (Burenhult, 1999b, p. 131).
However, Goldhahn (2006, p. 111) argued that one should
question the assumption that all rock images were made in con-
nection with various ceremonies and rituals.
Conceptual content
The rock art was a kind of “socio-symbolic media” that grew out
of social reality and social praxis (Ling, 2008, p. 178). These im-
ages were charged with social messages that are suggestive and
dramatic rather than with concrete linguistic information and
The essence of both rock paintings and rock carvings are the
importance of the images, their conceptual content (Malmer,
1989, p. 12). The aesthetic and artistic value is there, but it is in-
cidental. Rock paintings and rock carvings similar picture writ-
ing. Rock art works as modern printed texts and want the reader
or viewer to understand (Malmer, 1989, p. 16).
Display of power
Kristiansen (2002, p. 69) argued that a rock with rock carvings
was a chieftain “exhibition” where he showed off his accomplish-
ments and long-distance travel, but also the place where they
performed rituals to ensure a successful trip.
There are many pictures of ships on the rock carvings in Bo-
huslän. According to Olsson (1999), several of these ships have
“striking similarities” with carved and painted images of ships in
the eastern Mediterranean. It is known that there were extensive
contacts in Europe. Trade of goods between regions and between
people, occurs from about 2,400 BCE and forward in time (Wel-
inder, 2009, p. 158). Offer of gifts created trust, influence and
affinity with other cultures.
Divine powers
Both rock paintings and rock carvings addressed to the higher,
divine powers. Carving or painting a picture is often a magical
means to achieve something you desire, such as to get a better
hunting or to get a better harvest (Malmer, 1989, p. 11).
Practical purpose
Both rock paintings and rock carvings could have practical func-
tions and show borders and edges of fields (Malmer, 1989, p. 11).
Motifs in rock art
Rock paintings and rock carvings are found in all parts of the
world (Malmer, 1989, p. 10). There are many similarities in terms
of design and execution. There are quite a few motifs, especially
depictions of animals, objects and people. Bengtsson (2000, p.
71) argued that rock images in the world in general are pretty ste-
reotypical. The representations in Bohuslän are dominated by
dozens of subjects that constantly recurs in various designs.
These designs include circular shapes of various kinds and espe-
cially carved footprints, cup marks, people and ships. Many types
of figures appear only occasionally.
Malmer (1989, p. 17) discussed three main groups of motifs:
(a) Depictions in real scale, (b) miniature images and (c) sym-
bols. The first group includes images of weapons, like axe, bow,
dagger, spear and sword. Malmer argued that pictures of weap-
ons depict sacrifices to the gods. The pictures are like the origi-
nals. This group also includes images of clothing. The images in
this group correspond to concrete nouns, such as “axe.”
Malmers second group includes images of boats or ships,
with or without crews. Ship is the most common of all motifs. The
“ships” on the rocks have keel and stem. Maybe they were large
canoes lined with leather. The small bars can represent crews or
perhaps frames. As previously noted that there are about 20
scenes of ploughing and more than 10,000 depictions of ships in
the rock carving sites in Bohuslän (Ling, 2008, p. 178).
Malmers second group also includes images of animals,
such as birds, fish, snakes and images of people. Among the
mammals we can recognize bears, cattle, dogs, goats, horses,
moose, pigs, deer, reindeers, sheep, seals and whales. Some ani-
mals are more diffuse in the pictures and they are recognized as
The images of people are the most varied. Most pictures
show men, rarely women and never any children. Some men are
just standing, while other men are riding, or sitting. Some men
hold up gear, like shields and weapons. Pictures showing work
are rare. The craftsmen depicted everyday life. In some pictures
people use wooden ploughs and wagons pulled by horses or cat-
tle. There may be a connection between fertility, regeneration
and death. Several of the images in this group correspond to con-
crete nouns, such as “horse.” But when a scene is showing how a
man is driving a chariot with horses the pictures may correspond
to a complete sentence.
Malmers third group includes circular shapes, carved foot-
prints, cup marks, hands, wheels and wheel crosses. The images
in this group correspond to abstract nouns, which today are dif-
ficult to understand. The magical and practical purposes of rock
carvings may explain why the same motif is often repeated many
times on the same panel. Sometimes a motif fills all available sur-
faces. Ling (2008, p. 178) concluded that rock art do not only
communicate pleasant, perfect cosmological or mythological ide-
als. They reveal discrepancies and double standards. The rock art
is a kind of aesthetic illusion that grew out of social reality.
There are a wide variety of gestures in societies with oral tra-
ditions. And the human figures on rock carvings show a wide
range of gestures. The positioning and design of arms, hands,
legs, feet, heads and bodies show body movements like acrobat-
ics and dance and emotions and trance (Fredell, 2003, p. 182).
The meaning of a specific gesture can vary with the context.
Execution of rock carvings
Rock carvings are found in all sizes, ranging from small single
cup marks to large contiguous panels on large rocks with hun-
dreds of individual figures. It was time consuming to make rock
carvings. It is possible that people in general could carve out sin-
gle cup marks near their own pastures. And Malmer (1989, p. 10)
argued that it was common for people to make deeper lines in
existing images each year as an alternative to make completely
new pictures. It was reasonable to wish for abundant harvest and
therefore reuse “the right image” every spring. An available rock
surface could soon be covered with pictures. In fact, in many
places, large rock carvings are very difficult to interpret because
multiple images overlap and cover other images.
Bengtsson (2004, pp. 85f) conducted accurate measure-
ments and analyses of three unique motifs in various sites in Bo-
huslän. Very large similarities between eight figures of the motif
“four-wheeled wagon,” from three sites, show that these figures
are likely to be executed by one single person. In five sites, there
are a total of ten representations of the motif “horse footprint.”
Here the analysis shows that nine of these figures are likely to be
executed by one person. Two sites have three unusual “human
figures.” Again, the analysis shows that one person executed the
figures. It was perhaps three different individuals who performed
work on these rock carvings. According to Bengtsson (2004, p.
99), these results suggest that the rock carvings were generally
made of special people who were specialists in the Bronze Age
society. They were people with perhaps the secret knowledge that
was required for the ritual execution of pictures.
It is likely that specially selected men or women were trained
to execute more advanced designs of rock carvings. In this text,
these craftsmen are called “carvers.” Carvers often used a hard
hammer-stone to batter on the stone surface in order to remove
parts of it. Carvers used different kinds of hammer-stones to
carve lines and uncover larger areas. In certain societies, the
choice of hammer-stone itself had a religious significance. Some-
times the carver used a second stone as a chisel between the ham-
mer-stone and the stone surface. Carvers could also use hard
rock chisels to produce fine lines. It seems that this technique
continued even after hard metal tools came into use. The carvers
are unknown and we do not know who they were. (During the
Viking Age, individuals who made inscriptions on rune-stones
often signed their work with their own names.)
Bengtsson (2004, p 101) argued that the carver was a kind of
druid, or even primarily an individual who possessed special
knowledge of genealogical nature. He or she confirmed the he-
roic tales and myths and the elite status and power claims. The
rock carvings are now speechless characters carved in the rock
when they were in use they were supplemented by the stories, or,
as some prefer to describe it–oral narratives. The images were
dressed in linguistic form, came to life and design. Each charac-
ter had their own story, its own justification. The stories may
have been just stories but also in the form of songs and poems,
which are common during the latter part of the Nordic Iron Age
and on the continent.
Kristiansen (2002) believes that a certain type of “alien”
ships from the Early Bronze Age, are found on rock carvings in
Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These ships differ from the large
number of pictures of the local boats and ships. Maybe one or
more chiefs travelled from place to place and made these pic-
tures. In this way, they documented their visits and signed their
It is possible that the lines in some rock carvings were
stained from the beginning, for example, with red ochre colours
that are clearly visible against dark rock surfaces. Nowadays, the
lines in rock carvings are often filled with red paint. However,
according to Nordbladh (1999, p. 140) it is doubtful that the rock
carvings were stained from the beginning. He says that the colour
is meant for the tourists.
Placements of rock art
When the thick land ice melted the whole of Scandinavia started
to rise out of the ocean at a considerable rate. Because of the huge
elevation of the land we often find Scandinavian rock art carvings
far inland today. While rock paintings were created on steep shel-
tered rock walls and cliffs rock carvings usually were made on
carefully selected flat or gently sloping rocks. Rock carvings were
often positioned at the beaches to the sea, lakes, bays and rivers.
Bertilsson (1989a, p. 41) suggested that the prevalence of
rock carvings reflect the district's total extent, while the larger
rock carvings with other abstract symbols, pictograms and
scenes instead showed locations of key importance. Centrally
located rock art may have been important places of worship,
where the aim was to strengthen social cohesion in the district.
Regardless what purpose rock art have had, today they provide
signals to areas and places that were important to ancient people.
Places where people fished and hunted, where cattle grazed,
where people farmed the land, where people worshiped their
gods and their ancestors, or where they might have sworn alle-
giance to a new chief, and a new faith and where strange men
who traded with prestigious weapons of bronze arrived. In this
way, the rock carvings are not only information about prehistoric
ideas and the religious practices but also about ancient societies
and settlements.
Bengtsson (2004, pp. 66f) argued that it is possible to inter-
pret the distribution of smaller and larger rock premises in social
terms. Larger facilities are recognized as elite places of worship.
Here are the figurative images. At smaller premises “ordinary
people” lived. Here are most of the carvings. Goldhahn (2006, p.
98) argued that this is true for the cup marks, but larger premises
with rock carvings have never been found close to contemporary
settlements. In some places, it may look confusing right now. But
it may well be that the images within a local rock may have been
there for several hundred years. In many places, one can see that
the images are placed on flat rocks according to some overarch-
ing plan.
Interpretations of rock art
We have only limited knowledge of the people who lived during
the Stone Age and during the Bronze Age. We do not know much
about either those who ordered the pictures, or those who
painted and carved the pictures, or those who looked at the fig-
ures and understood (?) the messages. Today we have access to a
large number of artefacts, the rock paintings and the rock carv-
ings. There are no words or texts inscribed on the rocks, but there
are characters and symbols. Today we do not understand the
meanings of any of these signs. And since we can’t possibly ask
those who created these messages we have to interpret them. Ar-
chaeology is an “interpretation science,” and Welinder (2009, p.
109) argued that archaeologists do their interpretations in good
faith based on their frames of reference and experience.
Hultkrantz (1989, p. 43) noted that the long history of rock
research is rich in errors, loose speculations and re-evaluations.
We have to carefully evaluate all the interpretations and perhaps
redo some of them. It is impossible for us living today to famil-
iarize us with how the ancient people thought and what cultural
conditions applied for thousands of years.
Welinder (2009, p. 342) argued that a contemporary viewer
could see rock carvings as a gateway to another world of ideas. It
is so intrusive obvious that rock carvings are quiet, but they in-
vite, almost demand, to be understood. We can’t leave rock carv-
ings without any thoughts on what they represent, what they
mean and what they want to say. Our imaginations get wings and
why would the imagination of one viewer be better than the oth-
er's? Who can today know what Bronze Age people thought of
when they saw the pictures?
For a modern audience, it is very difficult to understand the
images in rock carvings, as well as images in rock paintings. We
do not have access to the correct codes and we do not understand
the symbols found in picture stories.
Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching
altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact
with the spiritual world. The world is full of invisible spirits, an-
cestors and forces that can influence and have control over those
who are alive. It is not a religion. Shamanism is widespread
throughout the world and occurred among hunter-gatherer-
tribes 20,000–30,000 years ago.
Bolin interpreted rock paintings (1999, p. 178) and rock
carvings (1999, p. 170) as expressions of a long tradition with var-
iations of a shamanic ideology. The execution of the images has
been included in formal meetings and religious rituals in
traditional ceremonies, intended to communicate with spirits
and ancestors to overcome crises and diseases in the local com-
Both the images and the words were probably important el-
ements in spells of various kinds. From the Bronze Age, there are
many signs that both the sun and the moon were worshiped in
ancient Norse religions. In several rock carvings there are various
circular shapes. Some are single wheel crosses, others consist of
more complicated patterns, such as a circle with a number of ra-
dial lines, concentric circles, or other patterns. Sometimes these
circular shapes are placed on a ship, on a wagon or on some form
of status. Some researchers believe that the wheel crosses on the
rock carvings symbolizes both the sun and the wheels of the suns
own wagon.
In his book about pictures of wheels on rocks Nilsson (2005)
discusses images of wagons on rock carvings. For a long-time he
has studied the early history of the wheel. Nilsson has showed
that some people in the Bronze Age were skilled technicians.
Farmers had access to different types of wagons. Some were de-
signed to carry large boulders, others to drive timber.
According to Nilsson (2005, p. 52) it is common practice for
primitive people to use several different perspectives in the same
image. Geometric requirements are completely set aside. One
can, for example, depict a crocodile with body and legs from
above, while the head is viewed from the side. In such a picture,
you cannot confuse a crocodile with any other animal. It uses
multiple perspectives in order to create greater clarity. This is a
“clarity perspective.”
Sometimes rock carvings show an activity in a simplified
way, in an “activity perspective” (p. 53). For example, a wheel-
wright may be standing close to a wheel holding up a tool, but the
picture does not show the actual work process. It is similar to the
signs once common outside the artisan shops and workshops. In
the rock carvings a touch can mean “keep on with” (p. 16).
In some images the size of depicted objects and persons re-
veal their importance, rank, status or value. Here geometrical re-
quirements are completely set aside. Significant people who
seemingly are far back in the picture are larger than those in the
foreground. Such “value perspective” is also found in rock carv-
ings (p. 56).
Nilsson (2005, pp. 137f) suggested that cup marks, which are
very common in rock carvings, could have several meanings. Cup
marks represent important structural elements in wagons. They
often represent heads and female gender in both humans and an-
imals. But carvings may also be markers of force, direction and
movement. A cup mark under a horse can display that the horse
moves. A cup mark in a wheel can prove that the wheel is in mo-
tion. This provides another dimension to the rock carvings.
In images of wagons on rock carvings the draught-animals
can be shown from the side or from above. This also applies to
the wheels, pull logs and trailer timber. People can be viewed
from the front or from the side. In individual rock images of wag-
ons Nilsson has seen up to five different perspectives (p. 54).
Within large geographic areas, fire had great ritual signifi-
cance. But traces of fire can be difficult to interpret. Sometimes
there are traces of fire on rock carvings. Along with remains of
sacrifices, which have been found in excavations in areas close to
rock carvings, traces of fire suggest “purification” and “sacrifice”
(Bengtsson, 2004, p 48). Rock carvings premises may have been
ritual arenas.
Goldhahn (2006, p. 70) gave examples of a large number of
researchers who have discussed the meaning, understanding and
interpretation of rock art. More than 500 articles, reports and
other texts on rock art were published during the period 2000–
Design or art?
In various definitions of the word design the authors note aes-
thetic and artistic properties, as well as functional properties
related to articles for everyday use. The meaning is very broad.
Design represents the identifying of a problem and the intellec-
tual creative effort of an originator, manifesting itself in drawings
or plans that include schemes and specifications to solve the
problem. However, the term design also represents the outcomes
of each specific design process, such as processes, products, ser-
vices and systems (Pettersson, 2012, p. 63). Mullet and Sano
(1995, p. 9) noted that whereas art strives to express fundamen-
tal ideas and perspectives on the human condition, design is con-
cerned with finding the representation best suited to the commu-
nication of some specific information.
Information design interprets how people express their mes-
sages and how other people perceive these messages. It is also
necessary to study the artefacts that convey messages. An infor-
mation designer is a person who largely works as a project man-
ager. The task is to coordinate production of words, images and
graphic design, but also the use of sound, light, space and time,
for the presentation of information in different media. Today it
can often apply to large and complex information projects.
Good information design makes everyday life easier for the
people who need the information. By applying the basic princi-
ples of information design the sender make sure that all docu-
mentation is accurate, current, relevant and understandable to
the intended receivers. Design processes may include the follow-
ing activities or phases: 1) Define the problem, 2) Analyze the
needs, 3) Define the conditions for the work, 4) Create a synthe-
sis, 5) Draw a sketch or model, 6) Implement a (computer) sim-
ulation, 7) Conduct an evaluation, 8) Implement corrections, 9)
Make decisions and 10) Create a finished design. This is followed
by the technical production and distribution. In information de-
sign these activities are guided by design principles and imple-
mented with the help of design tools.
A long period of time
Rock carvings were produced over a very long period of time,
perhaps 5,000 years (Nordbladh, 1999). And there are many rock
carvings in Sweden, perhaps 15,00020,000 panels (Bengtsson,
2000). Livestock and crops were developed, while the traditional
lifestyle of gatherers and hunters gradually disappeared. Objects
and ideas spread quickly through travel and contacts between
groups of people (Welinder, 2009). People's diet changed perva-
sive within a single generation (Welinder, 2009). Bronze Age
people lived in a rich visual world and rock carvings represent
only a small portion of all images (Malmer, 1989; Burenhult,
1999a, 1999b; Fredell, 2003).
The interpretations that many archaeologists present in the
literature suggest that rock carvings are the result of regulated
and structured design processes rather than results of free, artis-
tic processes, as we know them today. If this is true, we can con-
sider the rock carvings as design rather than art, which, however,
does not prevent the rock carvings to also have aesthetic dimen-
sions and purposes.
Several clients
The interpretations that many archaeologists make of social life,
primarily during the Bronze Age, suggest that one can consider
the chiefs and/or religious leaders, or perhaps the social struc-
ture, as the actual customers of figurative carvings.
Intended messages
Previous interpretations of the purposes of the messages of the
rock carvings were often related to trade contacts and hunting
magic (Carlsson, 1998). Later interpretations may relate to peo-
ple's view of the world (Carlsson, 1998) and the creation myth
(Bolin, 1999). Rock carvings have relatively few motifs. It is
above all clear depictions of animals, objects and people
(Malmer, 1989; Bengtsson, 2000). Several rock carvings contain
intentionally designed message (Fredell, 2003; Hultkrantz,
1989; Malmer, 1989; Nilsson, 2005).