Neolithic rock art uncovered by Egyptologists

The art was difficult to decipher because of its age, but it was pecked into the rock with a hard point, the researchers say.

After thousands of years, the image is barely visible to an untrained eye

The around 6,000-year-old rock engravings can hardly be seen today. They were pecked into the rock with a hard point. (David Sabel/University of Bonn)

Newly discovered art found pecked into rock during the 4th millennium BC may be a link between the Neolithic period and ancient Egyptian culture, opening up a new window into that period of history.

The latest discovery was made by Egyptologists from the University of Bonn, Germany, near an acropolis in Aswan, Egypt, during excavations in 2015.

"It opens up a new archeological dimension," lead researcher Ludwig Morenz said.

The discovery also adds another 1,000 years of history to an already significant location, Morenz told CBC News.

The image was in Qubbet el-Hawa, meaning hill of wind, which has been a research site for the university for 30 years, Morenz said, but this discovery was made at the beginning of a new spot in the area.

"It shows some cultural marks which are quite distinct from what we know from further on," he said.

'Style and iconography provide solid clues when dating these,' Prof. Ludwig Morenz said in a statement about the find. (David Sabel/University of Bonn)

The art was difficult to decipher because of its age, but it was pecked into the rock with a hard point, the researchers say. Upon closer inspection, experts found that the images were a hunter with bow, an ostrich and a dancing man wearing a mask.

"It's quite visible he's sort of imitating in dancing the movements of the ostrich," Morenz said.

The researchers say the dots come together to portray, from left to right: a dancing man with raised arms, an ostrich and a hunter with a bow. (David Sabel/University of Bonn)

One striking feature of the work is that a living person is wearing a mask, something which wasn't known to be common in Egypt, he said. Most masks from that time period were used as part of burial rituals.

These types of scenes are new to Egyptology, the researchers say.

"The social practice and the associated complex of ideas have barely been looked at in Egyptology," Morenz said in a press release.

Some similar images were discovered a few years ago in the form of paintings believed to also be from the 4th millennium BC, the university's statement said.

'New horizons for research'

Those previous findings are consistent with the latest discovery.

Morenz said these findings open up "new horizons for research" because of the potential link between the Neolithic period in parts of Europe and ancient Egyptian culture.

This link is important because it was a time when society changed from various territories to having "one dominant high culture."

"There are various changes in social behaviour and in style of interpretation," Morenz said. "This rock image represented the earlier stage."

This piece of rock art is also likely not alone, he said.

"With these rock images it's always the case that if you have one rock image you can expect a second and a third one and probably more to come."


  • An earlier version of this story said the rock art is from the 4th century BC. In fact, it is from the 4th millennium.
    Mar 23, 2017 8:19 PM ET