Vivid red and orange paintings by Bronze Age artists go on show for the first time. There are ancient images of humans, a bull, a trees and birds in 20-plus ‘perfectly preserved’ petroglyphs in a remote spot in TransBaikal region. Most intriguing in the newly revealed rock art is a figurine and nearby a human-like image is a circle, seemingly a sign of the sun.
Scientist Sergei Alkin said: ‘We can assume that the figure with the solar sign depicts a shaman with a drum.’
The experts kept the ancient art gallery discovery under wraps for three years to preserve the integrity of the site as they returned for more trips to study the intriguing drawings.
The paintings were found many years ago by hunters, but it was only in 2013 that scientists were alerted. Local resident Evgeny Karelin took the experts to the site on Largi River, near the village of Gorbitsa, some 545 kilometres north east of regional capital Chita.
The experts kept the ancient art gallery discovery under wraps for three years to preserve the integrity of the site as they returned for more trips to study the intriguing drawings. Picture: Sergei Alkin
Dr Sergei Alkin, from Novosibirsk University, was the first academic to closely examine the rocks, where paintings were made with red and orange ocher, an earthy pigment containing ferric oxide.
‘The rock art at Largi river is a rare site,’ he said. ‘It is large and contains many images, while generally on the rocks in this area show between one and three poorly preserved drawings.
‘Secondly, we are pleased that it is perfectly preserved. The site was found by accident many years ago by a local hunter and hardly visited by other people.’
Work is now underway to interpret the ancient artistry.
‘Of course, we must understand that interpretation of these images is not easy,’ he said. ‘Central in the composition are the anthropomorphic images.
‘It is difficult to say definitely who they represent: the hunters or spirits? In particular, there is a figurine, close to which is depicted a circle – a solar sign, the sign of the sun. It has a cross inside. In many local cultures it may represent shaman drums.
‘It is large and contains many images, while generally on the rocks in this area show between one and three poorly preserved drawings.’ Pictures: Sergei Alkin
‘So it is possible to assume that the figure with the solar sign depicts a shaman with a drum.’
This image is highlighted on the cap of one of the scientists.
Another striking element of this rock art are numerous points and lines. ‘Such points are sometimes interpreted as a symbol of counting, as if the author recorded the number of certain objects, perhaps cattle in the herd.
‘As for the number of vertical lines above the horizontal line, it is quite possible that these show dugout canoes with people sitting in them. Anyway, this is how such images have been interpreted by colleagues in other regions. There is only one such image known in Trans-Baikal region so far.’
He defended the secrecy of delaying an announcement on the rock art for several years.
‘We now have a complete copy, with which we can work already to study the images, and analyse the plot (depicted in these pictures). On the one hand, our task was to tell everyone about these amazing petroglyphs, brought to the study other scientists.
‘As for the number of vertical lines above the horizontal line, it is quite possible that these show dugout canoes with people sitting in them.’ Picture: Sergei Alkin
‘On the other hand, we wanted this rock art to remain undamaged with no marks and drawings left by tourists.’
They did not announce the find for several years enabling study of the remarkable rock art. The actual location in ‘a wild and remote area’ is still not disclosed.
Preliminary dating suggests the find is around 4,000 years old. In the future, with more resources, an attempt will be made to date it more precisely.
‘The rock art is not just paintings or engravings,’ he said. They are associated with the rituals and ceremonies. Usually at the site under the images are the altars, there are various tools, and arrowheads. But so far we have not found traces of ritual activity at the foot of this rock with paintings.’
A view of the Shilka river, close to the estuary of the Largi river. Picture: Sergei Alkin
Yet there is a well known site of ancient hunters and fishermen on the estuary of the Largi river nearby. Here fragments of Bronze Age vessels have been found. The scientist hopes that in the near future it will be possible to find a connection between this site and petroglyphs.
‘Today this place is remote and scarcely populated, but in the times when Largi rock art was created it was relatively well inhabited.’ The first archaeological remains were discovered here in the early twentieth century.
‘Over the years, we have found here the first sites of the Upper Paleolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age, and managed to conduct large-scale studies of fortifications dated from the late first and early second millennium BC. So in the past, this area was not deserted.’
The artists here are likely to be people of Tungus or Mongolian origins.
Next, archaeologists plan to study the chemical composition of ocher – natural dye that was used to create petroglyphs. Scientists hope that the composition will help locate the source of the raw material used by the ancient people.
Dr Alkin added: ‘In addition, we want to explore the neighbourhood in search of other petroglyphs. There is a possibility that the Largi rock art is not the only one in this area. We will search.’
Top image: The image of a figurine, close to which is depicted a circle – a solar sign, the sign of the sun – is highlighted on the cap of one of the scientists. Picture: Sergei Alkin
The article ‘ 4,000-year-old art gallery found in Siberia ’ was originally published on the Siberian Times and has been republished with permission.