~ A ~

Abraded: A method of making rock images by lightly rubbing the rock surface with a

coarse, durable stone tool; a shallower effect than cupule.

Abstract motif: Any rock art image of a kind too abstruse, not easily understood, or so
stylized as to be unrecognizable as a real object or living thing. A non-figurative motif not recognizable as an object of the real world.
Alluvial: Of, pertaining to, or composed of sediment deposited by flowing water.

AMS 14C: Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, a method of radiocarbon dating (i.e.,
Carbon-14) which directly measures the amount of 14C in a sample; because
microscopic traces can be dated, AMS is used on rock imagery to date both
organic binders in pictographs and microbial residues in rock varnish.

Animism: Any belief system whereby natural phenomena and things—both animate
and inanimate—are held to possess an innate soul.

Anthropic: Pertaining to human form.

Anthropocentric: Relating to imagery that predominatly depicts humanlike figures.

Anthropologist: Anthrologists are people that practice anthropology, which is the study of humanity. Basically they want to figure out what makes humans human. An anthropologist might be interested in everything from the traditions of a tribe on a remote island to the culture of an urban community and everything in between.

Anthropology: The study of humanity, attempting to establish what defines Homo Sapiens, who our ancestors are, what our physical traits are, how we behave, why there are variations among different groups of humans, and how the evolutionary past of Homo Sapiens has influenced its social organization and culture.

Anthropomorph: Any rock art element of human-like form, stylized or realistic.

Archaeological Site:

Archaeology: The scientific study of ancient cultures and their life and activities through the examination of their material remains such as fossil relics, artifacts, tools, and other artifacts usually dug up from the ground. Archaeology The scientific study and reconstruction of the human past through the systematic recovery of the physical remains of man's life and cultures. Artifacts, structures, settlements, materials, and features of prehistoric or ancient peoples are surveyed and / or excavated to uncover history in times before written records. Archaeology also supplements the study of recorded history. From the end of the 18th century onward, archaeology has come to mean the branch of learning which studies the material remains of man's past. Its scope is, therefore, enormous, ranging from the first stone tools made and fashioned by man over 3 million years ago in Africa, to the garbage thrown into our trash cans and taken to city dumps and incinerators yesterday. The objectives of archaeology are to construct cultural history by ordering and describing the events of the past, study cultural process to explain the meaning of those events and what underlies and conditions human behavior, and reconstruct past life-ways. Among the specialties in the field are: archaeobiology, archaeobotany, archaeozoology, and social archaeology. Modern archaeology, often considered a sub-discipline of anthropology, has become increasingly scientific and relies on a wide variety of experts such as biologists, geologists, physicists, sociologists, anthropologists, and historians. The methods appropriate to different periods vary, leading to specialized branches of the subject, e.g. classical, medieval, industrial, etc., archaeology.

Archaeoastronomy: The study of ancient cultures’ knowledge of, and use of astronomy; such knowledge may be incorporated in rock imagery. Also known as “Astroarchaeology.”

Archaic period: 7,000 BC is known as the Archaic Period, a time in which people, known as hunter-gathers, built basic shelters and made stone weapons and stone tools. The early Desert Archaic peoples, like their Paleo-Indian predecessors, traveled in small mobile groups, probably extended families, in a ceaseless quest for food, materials, fuel and water. They carried their belonging on their backs, which prevented the accumulation of material wealth and, probably, the development of marked social status.

Atlatl: A weapon used for hunting that propelled darts or small spears. It was later replaced by the bow and arrow around 500 A.D. The Atlatl is often depicted as a circle with a line through it.

Attribute: Any meaningful characteristic about a rock art design, either natural or cultural such as an element, technique of manufacture, type of paint, panel orientation, landscape setting, degree of varnish, etc.

Azimuth: A direction relative to true north defined in one-degree increments, increasing clockwise with 360° around the entire horizon; used to precisely define the direction a rock art panel “faces.”

~ B ~
Binder: A component of rock art paint, assisting uniform consistency, solidification or adhesion.

Biomorph: An object or picture providing adequate visual information to contemporary humans as resembling a biological form - human, animal, or plant..

~ C ~
Cairn: An anthropic mound of stones.

Carbon dating: Also known as the Carbon 14 method and radio-metric dating. A scientific technique for determining when organic remains such as charcoal, bone, shell, and plant material died. Organic matter contains radioactive carbon-14 isotopes, which decay over time at a known rate. Carbon dating measures the remaining volume of carbon-14 isotopes in matter, providing an approximate age since death. Although often pigments used in rock painting contained an organic binder such as blood, there is usually too little pigment remaining on the rock to make direct dating possible.

Carbon ratio dating:  A method of dating in archaeology and earth science that can be used to derive or estimate the age of soil and sediment samples up to 35,000 years old. The method is experimental, and it is not as widely used in archaeology as other chronometric methods such as radiocarbon dating. The methodology was introduced by Archaeology Consulting Team from Essex Junction in 1992.

Chert: A collective term for sedimentary microcrystalline silica rock formed by selective replacement of limestone; in some regions occurring as flint.

Chronology: The arrangement of past events or manifestations according to their temporal sequence, and the science of providing dates for them.

Clast: A fragment of rock of any size, but used especially to denote cobble-sized angular breakdown debris.; synonymous to detritus.

Concretion: A coalesced deposit of mineral matter formed through the deposition of a cementing mineral precipitate, such as carbonate, silica or iron salts.

Cupule: A cup shaped depression in the surface produced by grinding, pecking or a combination of both. They are also referred to as “pit-and-groove.” These cup-like depressions or pits in boulders are thought to be the oldest form of rock art, first appearing in parts of the Great Basin 7000 years ago.

Curvilinear: An element or motif consisting of curved lines.

~ D ~
Desert varnish: Desert varnish, also called Patina, is a thin, dark red to black mineral coating (generally iron and manganese oxides and silica) deposited on the surface of pebbles and rocks of desert regions. As dew and soil moisture brought to the surface by capillarity evaporate, their dissolved minerals are deposited on the surface. The rate of varnish formation varies: it generally is thought to take about 2,000 years for it to form in arid areas, because it coats artifacts and natural objects known to be of such antiquity; but it has formed in less than 50 years in the Mojave Desert. Both high evaporation rates and sufficient precipitation are necessary for desert varnish formation.

Diachronic: An approach to the study of multiple events occurring sequentially through time, such as a series of rock art styles.

~ E ~
Early Archaic Period: This period began about 10,000 years ago and lasted until 3,000 years ago. It is divided into three sub-periods: Early (10,000 to 8,000 years ago), Middle (8,000 to 5,000 years ago), and Late Archaic (5,000 to 3,000 years ago).

Early Pleistocene: The earliest geological period of the Quaternary, from about 1.8 million years ago to 780 000 years ago.

Engravings: Also known as petroglyphs. Engravings are pictures, patterns, or designs cut into rock faces by pecking, scraping or grinding with a tool.

Element: Smallest definable fragment of a design such as a line, dot, circle, amoeba/blob, etc. Some specialists also use the term to refer to identifiable images, in the same sense as “motif” (see below).

Entoptic Forms: Shapes and images seen by the “mind’s eye” while in a trance or other altered state of consciousness.

Epigraphy: The study and interpretation of [ancient] inscriptions.

Epipentology: The study of paintings and engravings on exposed rock outcrops, walls of buildings, mobiliary objects, etc. Suggested as a term to replace the phrase “Rock Art Studies.”

Erosion: A natural process by which mineral or earth matter is removed, including dissolution, weathering, abrasion, corrosion or transportation.

Ethnography: The anthropological study and description of a living culture. Some cultures still make, or have traditional knowledge about rock art; such information sometimes can offer insight into the meaning of ancient images via “ethnographic analogy.”

~ F ~
FigureA design or pattern painted, drawn, pressed or engraved on a rock surface; a rock art motif, sometimes referred to as representational element of rock art.

Figurative: Providing visual information recognized by contemporary humans as resembling the form of an object

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Gaán: A.k.a. Gans; Apache mountain spirits who live in rocks or caves. They may be depicted in rock art as anthropomorphs with distinctive cross-shaped or three-pronged headgear.

Gallery: A large concentration of rock art, not necessarily continuous, consisting of a number of panels.

Geoglyph: Large ground figures produced either by building up rock alignments (such
as cairns) or scraping away rocks or desert pavement (intaglio). 
A (usually) large-scale image created on a geographic feature, often by removing a dark surface deposit to reveal lighter subsoil. The Nazca Lines are the most famous example, but geoglyphs also occur in California and other places.

Geomorph: A rock art motif of simple geometrical form or design, such as circle, line, cupule, CLM, barred lines. Sometimes called a geometric motif.

Glyph: Slang for a petroglyph motif; in archaeology, a symbol in a writing system

Grinding slick: A flat or shallow surface depression formed by grinding or crushing of foods with a stone.

Great Basin: A desert region of the western United States comprising most of Nevada and parts of Utah, California, Idaho, Wyoming, and Oregon. Coined by John C. Frémont who explored and named the area (1843-1845). It comprises roughly 210,000 sq. mi.

~ H ~
Hand print: A positive pigmented imprint of a human hand, made by pressing a paint-covered hand against the rock surface.

Hand stencil: A negative pigmented imprint of a human hand, made by spraying paint over the hand’s outline while it is pressed against the rock surface.

Hematite: The principal ore of iron and one of several iron-based minerals used to make pigments for drawing pictographs; generally a dark red color when oxidized (ferric oxide, α–Fe2O3).

Holocene: The current geological period, beginning about 10,000 years ago, after the Pleistocene. Sometimes referred to as the postglacial.

~ I ~
Igneous: Denoting a rock formed by solidification from a molten or partially molten state.

Incised: A method of making rock images by cutting or abrading narrow linear
marks into the panel surface; often an outlining technique.

Intaglio: The process of cutting or engraving a design, usually into a precious stone or metal; the artifact made by such a process; “desert intaglio” refers to geoglyphs.

~ K ~
Kachina (also katsina): Masked spirit beings of the Hopi, both depicted in rock art

and carved figurines—the latter made to teach Hopi children about their religion.

~ L ~
Lithic: Having been made from stone; in archaeology referring to stone tools.

Limonite: One of several iron-based minerals used to make pigments for drawing
pictographs; generally a yellowish color when oxidized (a hydrous ferric oxide, Fe2O3).

~ M ~

Mano: A hand-held stone for grinding foods and other substances (minerals for pigments).

Medicine bag: A bag carried by Native Americans containing spiritually important objects usually made from the skin of an animal.

Mesolithic: The period of the Stone Age following the Palaeolithic.

Metate: A portable milling stone.

Middle Pleistocene: The geological period from 780 000 to 127 000 years ago.

Mobiliary Art: Portable art of the Ice Age including engravings and carvings on

stone, antler, bone, and ivory.

Monochrome: A pictograph executed in a single color.

Motif: A combination of elements or repeating elements forming an identifiable
image such as a trapezoidal anthropomorph, sunburst, rake, etc. Some rock art
specialists (e.g., Schaafsma) prefer the term “element” for this concept. Groups of motifs are known as panels

Mythogram: The message(s) of a rock art panel built on generative principles; in the
“art as mythogram” interpretive approach, one assumes there would be order and
patterning in the imagery derived from cosmological principles.

~ N ~

Neuropsychology: Integrated study of neurological and psychological phenomena,
in this context referring to neurologically-based mental imagery resulting from the
psychological condition of a trance or other altered state.

~ O ~
Ochre: An iron-based paint composed of a pigment such as hematite or limonite mixed with clay, water, and perhaps an organic binder such as a plant extract.

~ P ~
Palaeontology: The study of life in prehistoric times by using fossil evidence.

Paleolithic Age: The Paleolithic Age, Era or Period is a prehistoric period of human history distinguished by the development of the most primitive stone tools discovered. The Paleolithic era is followed by the Mesolithic

Panel: Any rock face, on bedrock or a free-standing boulder, with one or more rock
art motifs in spatial association.

Parietal Art: Art on the walls of caves and shelters, or on huge blocks.

Patina: A thin layer of (usually) mineral accumulation on a rock’s surface, derived
either from the surrounding environment or from leaching of the host rock, or
from a combination of both.


Patterned Body Anthropomorph (PBA): An anthropomorph with complex designs on the body.

Percussion: The striking together of two objects, as in making a petroglyph by pecking. In rock art manufacture, percussion can be direct (striking the rock face with a pecking stone or other tool) or indirect (striking a second tool held in contact with the rock face).

Petroform: A geoglyph consisting of clasts placed on the ground to form a motif.

Petroglyph: Any pictograph made on a cliff face or boulder; in modern usage generally restricted to unpainted rock images made by pecking, incising, abrading, drilling, etc.

Petrograph: Rock imagery made by a combination of painting and pecking, incising,
abrading, drilling, etc.

Petromanteia: Natural rock formations and surfaces which resemble or mimic cultural imagery.

Photogrammetry: The process of taking measurements from paired photographs to
produce 2D or 3D images, resulting in a “contour map” of a rock panel.

Phytomorph: Rock art motif of plantlike shape.

Pictoglyph: Painted rock art.

Pictograph: Painted designs that are applied with pigment to rock surfaces.

Pictograph: A sign, symbol or figure made on any substance by any method; in
modern usage referring to painted designs that are applied with pigment to rock surfaces.

Pit and groove petroglyph: An early petroglyph tradition of the Americas, consisting of cupules and abraded grooves.

Polychrome: Painted imagery with more than one color of pigment.

~ Q ~
Quadruped: A zoomorph (see below) representing a four-legged animal, usually large game such as deer or bison.

~ R ~
Radiocarbon dating: See carbon dating.

Rectilinear: Motifs consisting of straight lines.

Relative dating: A method of estimating age through associated evidence such as archeological excavation.

Rock art: Archaeological term for any man-made markings made on natural stone. They are usually divided into petroglyphs [carvings into rock surfaces] and pictographs [paintings onto rock surfaces], and geoglyphs, although there are further forms, expressions and mediums.The broad cover term appears in the published literature as early as the 1940s. It has also been described as "rock carvings", "rock drawings", "rock engravings", "rock inscriptions", "rock paintings", "rock pictures", "rock records" and "rock sculptures.

Rock shelter: An overhang such as on a cliff face used as protection or shelter from the elements; often a temporary camp or permanent living area; favored because a fire in a true cave can suffocate the occupants.

Rock varnish: A ferromanganeous surface accretion on rocks, particularly common in arid regions, of dark-brown to near-black color; formerly called desert varnish.

Rupestrian: Of, or pertaining to, rock imagery (e.g., rupestrian studies).

~ S ~
Scaling: A relative dating method which arranges image styles or types into a “scalogram” based on the presence (+) or absence (-) of traits.

Scratched: Method of making images by lightly marring the surface using a sharpedged tool; a shallower effect than incising.

Seriation: A relative dating method comparing frequencies of styles, types or motifs
between sites in a given region. Histogram-like graphs called “battleship curves”
may be produced depicting the changing frequencies through time.

Shalako: Zuni deities impersonated by masked dancers, and depicted in Pueblo IV–
V period rock art.

Shaman: A person skilled in contacting the otherworld who may be specialized in medicine, contacting the dead, love magic, hunting magic, etc.

Shaman(ism): In societies with animistic beliefs shamans are experts in the sacred, serving in matters of fertility, health, sickness, death & community well-being; studies of shamanism acknowledge that these specialists use rock art in healing and curing, future telling, controlling the elements, controlling animals, love medicine, gambling, etc.

Site: A location where associated archaeological remains occur. Thus, a rock art site may consist of a single rock shelter containing one or more paintings or engravings, or such images occurring more or less continuously on exposed rock over a considerable area.

Solid Pecked: A method of making rock images using a “pecking stone” or other sharp, durable tool to completely dimple the surface so that individual peck marks are difficult or impossible to discern.

Spalling: A type of natural erosion of a rock surface resulting in the loss of material
in thin layers.

Spirit helper:  A shaman's supernatural assistant, tutelary, or guide, often in the guise of an animal, obtained during a vision quest.

Solid Body Anthropomorph (SBA): An anthropomorph without complex designs.

Stick figure: An anthropomorphous or zoomorphic rock art motif in which all body parts are depicted as single lines.

Stipple Pecked: Method of making rock images by dimpling the surface in a noncontiguous
pattern, leaving small spaces between individual peck marks.

Style: A standard classification defined by common techniques and attributes, including the range of subjects depicted, the way those subjects are illustrated, and the manner in which the basic elements are combined and organized into compositions. Styles are geographically localized, temporally limited, and generally refer to art of a single cultural entity.

Superimposition: The (normally deliberate) painting or engraving of a new image over an existing image at a later time. This does not include reworking, retouching, or repainting an existing image without altering its original form. It is often difficult to view and record superimposed rock art.

Synchronic: An approach to the study of multiple events occurring more or less contemporaneously, e.g., examining rock art sites from the perspective of a single point in time.

~ T ~
Therianthropic: Figures combining attributes of humans and animals.

Tinaja: Naturally eroded cavities found in rock surfaces useful for collecting rainfall. Tinajas are an important source of surface water storage in arid environments.

Tracing: A recording of rock art made by placing a flexible transparent sheet over the motif and tracing the image upon it, which may damage rock art. No longer an acceptable practice.

Tradition: Groups of two or more styles that are similar in content and expression, and for which a temporal and cultural continuity can be demonstrated.

Type: Descriptive unit for imagery with distinctive attributes and elements, often defined within broad categories such as anthropomorph, zoomorph, abstract; data on time & space may be available; e.g., a stick figure is a type of anthropomorph.

~ V ~
Vandalism: The defacing or destruction of rock art, or impairing of its scientific potential.

Varnish: A type of rock patina consisting of a dark, thin accumulation of manganese and
iron-oxides, clay minerals, minor and trace elements which forms in arid and semi-arid environments through the catalyzing action of manganese-oxidizing bacteria.

Varnish Microlamination (VML): Varnish microlamination (VML), as a correlative dating technique, is relatively new and different in principle and independent of both cation-ratio and AMS 14. Rock varnish is a dark coating on subaerially exposed rock surfaces. It is probably the world's slowest-accumulating sedimentary deposit, growing at only a few to tens of microns per a thousand years. As a unique dating technique, the VML method has great chronometric applications in earth science and geoarchaeology. it can yield minimum-limiting surface exposure ages for various geomorphic features (e.g., alluvial-fan surfaces, desert pavements, hillslope deposits, lava flows, debris flows, fault scarps, meteor crater) and geoarchaeological features (e.g., stone tools, petroglyphs, geoglyphs).

~ Y ~
Ye’i: Navajo holy beings ceremonially depicted by masked dancers and in rock art. Male ye’i are usually drawn with round heads, and female ye’i with square/rectangular or triangular heads. “Yei bi chai” specifically refers to leader or elder ye’i such as Talking God.

~ Z ~
Zoomorph: Any rock art motif of animal-like form, whether stylized or realistic.

Zoomorphic: Pertaining to a zoomorph.