When one says ‘rock art’ our minds are usually directed to the beautifully painted images hidden deep within dark Palaeolithic caverns of France
and Spain. Not many people are aware, however, of the huge diversity of different traditions involved in the production of stone images through time and space. They have been discovered on every continent, and in certain places they are as old as those found in Lascaux
and Altamira. The advancement of rock art research in different parts of the world varies from region to region. Rock art is still not fully recognised in Central Asian studies, although the beginnings of research inquiries in this area date back as early as the XIX century.
DISTRIBUTION AND AGE OF THE IMAGES
Currently we know of more than 140 locations of rock art sites in the territory of
Uzbekistan. The overwhelming majority of these are ‘petroglyphs’ (engraved or pecked
images in stone) which spread up from the southern borders of the country to the north
and across the Tien-Shan in the east to the extremely arid Kara-Kum desert in the west.
Their presence in a variety of ecological zones points towards to cultural diversities and, to
some extent, testifies to their antiquity; for instance, in arid areas people probably
created them when the land was less drier than today.
The detailed analyses of images enable us to propose some statements concerning their antiquity, although one must
remember that the exact date of their creation remains difficult to obtain at the moment.
The methods of direct dating rock art that have been pioneered in recent years involve
high costs and only provide a variable reliability of results that do not encourage their
future application. The uncertainty of the absolute dating of rock art, should not be,
however, perceived as a hindering barrier to other questions like the meaning of the
images, the ethnic identity of the image makers, or attempts at reconstructing the social
contexts in which the images operated. Furthermore, in some cases, it appears not too
difficult to distinguish between older and younger
images and their connection to a given pre- or historic
The examination of image superimposition, degree of
patination (‘desert sunburn’), technique of execution
(especially in the case of engravings), and stylistic and
subject analyses can create the basis for the
establishment of a relative chronological scheme. The
most productive method among them is the careful
identification of motifs. Correlating different rock art
subjects with, if possible, the archaeological record
makes it possible to distinguish some iconographic
elements specific to particular chronological periods.
In particular, the images of bulls can be associated with
the Stone or early Bronze Age, wheel vehicles could of
appeared no earlier than the Bronze Age, and the
images of warriors armed with metal swords can not be
older than the local knowledge of metallurgy. Thus,
considering such aspects of rock art imagery scholars
have been able to distinguish four general chronological complexes in Central Asia which are applicable also to the prehistoric art of Uzbekistan: the Stone Age (IV-III mill. BC; some
images like the paintings in Zaraut-Kamar can be older), Bronze Age (III-II mill. BC), Iron
Age (I mill. BC – I centuries AD), and Middle Ages (I mill. AD).