Scientific activities

Rock Carvings (Petroglyphs) in Karelia. 9

Karelian petroglyphs are often located in close neighbourhood of ancient settlements. We know about 30 such settlements near Onega Lake petroglyphs and over 50 - near the White Sea petroglyphs. Excavations show that people began to settle on the eastern shore of Lake Onega long before petroglyphs appeared there - in the Mesolithic period in the VII-VI millenia B.P., and the process continued right into the Middle Ages. The islands in the lower reaches of the Vyg river in the White Sea area mentioned above began to appear from under the water and thus made accessible to people only in the early Neolithic starting approximately with the V millenium B.P. It is not that easy to prove the connection between the petroglyphs and the ancient settlements even if they are in immediate vicinity to each other. People usually settled in the areas more than once, and in each case researchers have to decide which complexes of findings are and which are not connected with petroglyphs.
Water level both in the White Sea and Lake Onega changed periodically during the Holocene. Ancient transgressions and regressions and the corresponding shore and coast terraces and levels have been revealed and dated. It became easier to find out which settlements were synchronous to the petroglyphs. Another important factor is that most of the rock pictures in the Novaya Zalavruga were covered by the cultural layer of the ancient settlement of Zaiavruga I, which allowed to define their upper chronological limit.
One can state with certainty that rock engravings in Karelia were being created for a long period of time - several hundred years, may be even a millenium and a half. Both Onega Lake and White Sea petroglyphs appeared and functioned somewhere in the second half of the IV - first half of the II millenia B.P., and the "golden age" for rock art in the land occurred most probably in the III millenium B.P. The pictures were created and venerated by the people who produced and utilized pit-comb ceramics, which was common in Karelia in the second half of the IV-III millenia B.P.
Karelian petroglyphs are widely used as an original source in the study of the primitive ideas about the surrounding world, beliefs and primeval mentality as such. Rock pictures are quite justly called "workshops of consciousness", "pages of a rock book" - depositories of the authentic record of ancient thinking. This thinking however is expressed in the form of images and symbols. We have so-to-say a coded version with the key lost. Without knowing the system of notions and ritual practices of the time it would be very difficult to decode their initial meaning. Still, having the actual engravings (and knowing something about the time when they were created and functioned) one can obtain certain information about the culture, world perception and beliefs of the people using comparative analysis.
The semantics of rock engravings in Karelia has always, at all stages of their study, attracted great attention. It has always been considered a priority. Every researcher was trying their hardest to penetrate into the spiritual world of ancient people. At first the naturalistic nature of many figures and scenes gave reasons to consider them as a sort of "copies of the real life", which truly reflected the household and life styles, images of ancestors, "host-spirits" of the place and nature elements to be later used in magical rites (A.M.Linevsky et al.). This approach is now considered somewhat simplified. Researchers today tend to support the idea that rock pictures did not simply reflect episodes from everyday life, but rather were more sophisticated symbols serving to reflect the notion of the world, the motive forces and interrelations in it (V.I.Ravdonikas, K.D.Laushkin, R.B.Klimov, A.D.Stolyar etc.).
A special topic for discussion is particular interpretations of individual scenes and pictures. The key often used for the interpretations was archaic images and scenes taken from the ethnography and folklore of northern peoples, primarily - epic songs written in the Kalevala metre, most often - texts from the "Kalevala" as created by E.Lennrot. Considerations naturally included also world myths, ancient oriental and southern nordic graphical symbols. Experiments with semantic reconstructions showed how complicated the practical implementation of the task was, revealed the difficulties in the development of reliable methodology and individual methods for the interpretation and the need for strict reliability criteria.
One can state that Karelian petroglyphs are related to cult; the system of beliefs and rites; human perception of the world on the whole. This hypothesis is evidenced by their location, inseparability from the rock relief, faults and fissures in it, other natural landmarks. Rock pictures served as key points in the sanctuary centres established on isolated sites at the very waterfront on promontories, shoreline curves or islands near the shore or coast. This position provides a very special comprehensive and distinct view of the surrounding space - both in width (horizontally) and vertically. This is the place where the three basic creation spheres: underwater, ground and celestial, converge. These sites could have probably been sacred before the appearance of petroglyphs.
The formation of such a sanctuary in the Onega Lake area most probably started with the edge of the Besov Nos promontory; in the White Sea area - with the Shoirukshin island in the Vyg river bed. The nature in both places appeared in its most striking and attractive manifestations evoking deep emotions and creating the background and mood suiting ritual procedures.
Ancient wizards (shamans) used the pictures to underline the central parts of the sanctuaries and make the main veneration objects tangible and accessible. The images could initially be drawn by coal, ochre, blood or something else. These were however quickly washed or wiped off by water, snow and ice. It was the wish to make the pictures more resistant and long-living that caused in the long run the appearance of the pecking technique.
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Last modified: July 16, 2006