Scientific activity

Rock Carvings (Petroglyphs) in Karelia. 11

The notable differences between the White Sea and Lake Onega petroglyphs are due to many reasons including peculiar features of the natural environment, household and economy, general mentality, and the last but not the least - the character of the rites as such. Rock art on Lake Onega is noted for a more expressed mythological basis. Both the topography and topics very definitely suggest the idea of the vertical division of the world. The leitmotif is waterbirds, which could serve as the symbol of seasonality and time cycle. Birds however can also denote intermediaries between the middle (The Earth) and upper (the Sky) worlds. Objects used in cult practices also occur among the pictures -"batons", the still mysterious solar and lunar symbols. Many pictures and scenes are more abstract and metaphorical including unusual, supernatural images and bizarre antropomorphic figures.
Petroglyphs in the White Sea area are more closely related to household and labour. They tend to reproduce some real (or imaginary) events in the form of narrative scenes. A powerful impulse for the development of rock art in the area was given by white whale and walrus hunting, and possibly whaling. The activity required deep knowledge of the animal behaviour, strict labour organization, well coordinated efforts, or in short profound training, polished skills and certain experience. On the other hand, marine hunting linked with high emotional and psychological tension produced deep long-lasting impression on the participants. It was a chance for the most courageous, smart, strong and enduring to be seen, promoted the idea of heroic labour and outstanding hunters.
Still, even the best realistic scenes depicting hunting in the sea and forest are most likely a reflection of myths and legends rather than real life episodes recorded right after the event. One can see the time lag between the actual event and the appearance of the engraving even in the examples of moose and deer hunting with hunters on skis. The abundance of various unusual details and images is not accidental here.
The leitmotif of the White Sea petroglyphs is boats, usually loaded with people, and human figures. Humans are the main actors in all compositions and almost always -the winners. Their advancement to the forefront reflects a new important stage in the development of public mind, the fact that people now better understood their actual power and huge potential.
When speaking about primitive art, researchers often mention the lack of individuality in it, large inertia, the tendency to mimic the once accepted models and patterns. Traditionalism and conservatism are largely characteristic also of the monumental rock art of ancient Karelia. There were however some signs of looking for something novel, a search for the decisions that were not quite traditional. This is evidenced by high diversity of even similar-type figures and scenes which suggests certain freedom of the artist who was not satisfied with simple duplication and mimicking of earlier models. The artists kept trying to find ways to better express and make others understand the meaning of the engraved figures, and the notions and beliefs related to them. The aspiration to renew the rock pictures in order to raise their efficiency was one of the main concerns of those who created petroglyphs in Karelia.
In cult practices and rites rock engravings performed the function similar to that of iconostasis in sanctuaries. The search for new graphical decisions was rooted in the eternal need to get a more convincing, vivid and comprehensive view of all aspects and manifestations of nature and society, understand their motive forces, strengthen the links. Especially demonstrative in this connection is the use of compositions. In the high water periods part of the pictures were flooded, and new engravings had to be made. The figures that failed to suit the initial purposes or new conditions had to be duplicated or corrected. Modifications in beliefs and rites also required new pictures.
The major impulses were supplied by local reality and changes in it including natural cataclysms. We do not attempt to deny the significance of borrowings, but they hardly played the key role in the spiritual life of local hunters or caused the appearance of such unusual motifs as some boat types, solar and lunar signs etc. Karelian rock art seems to have its own local roots and a specific development line.
Generally speaking, rock pictures in the White Sea and Lake Onega areas served as objects over which a system of special actions was performed that were to help people to influence the supernatural powers, creatures and personages they had invented themselves, to maintain the links and relationships with those and the surrounding world, to secure themselves from possible perils. Their general purpose was to create a set of ideas about the surrounding world, its motive forces, links and relationships within it, the necessary world order and life pattern in the public mind. They are both an interpretation of the world and a means of ensuring ones place in it.
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Last modified: January 16, 2014