Interesting and Unusual Ancient Art


Many forms of ancient art are still unexplainable how they are formed or what is the purpose of the art. Most of them are ancient. Some people believe that they are not man-made, they are from extra-terrestrial beings when they visited the earth. Here are some of the interesting and unusual art works:

1. Ancient rock art in Scotland

There is rare prehistoric rock art in the Scottish Highlands discovered by archeologists. The large stone found contains numerous cup and ring marks. The researchers are not sure what the marks mean but they suggest that it might been used as a ritual site, territorial markings or mapping of the stars.

Cup and ring marks are often found carved on standing stones or at stone circles as these places thought to have been used for religious or ritual purposes. Carvings mostly found on an outcrop rock where it is believed that the place has been chosen for its view over the surrounding country marking their territory or their territory’s boundaries. Others say it is a reflection of the constellations of the stars.

The carvings found in the large boulder at Ross-shire in Scotland date back to Neolithic or Bronze Age or around 4, 000 to 5, 000 years ago. John Wombell of North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS) stated that it is one of only a few decorated stones of its kind in Scotland.

2. Grave Naiskos of an Enthroned Woman with an Attendant

Grave Naiskos of an Enthroned Woman with an Attendant is an ancient Greek statue that some people claim it shows a woman using a laptop. The statue is over 37 inches tall with a woman sitting on a throne-like chair and has a young servant in front of her who holds open a thin box for her to inspect.

People speculate that the young servant was holding an open laptop for the woman. The small two circles on the sides are believed to be USB ports. Speculations have gone as far as suggesting that the statue was a prophecy of the “Oracle of Delphi,” thought to have foreseen things in the future.

Historians maintain a general agreement that the object is a box. They suggest that it could be a jewelry box or a hinged mirror as they exist during the woman’s time based on her appearance. A professor from the University of Oregon identified the “USB ports” as drill holes used to support an additional piece of art.

Other scholars do not feel any mystery about the statue. They stated that in other monuments, women are commonly shown in the process of selecting jewelry.

3. Rock panel in Egypt

Archeologists discovered a rock panel in the Kharga Oasis, west of Luxor in Egypt. It is believed to date back to the pre-dynastic era or around 4, 000 BC. Egyptologist named Salima Ikram claims that the rock art is a display of spiders, webs, and insects trapped by spiders.

However, other researchers do not agree with her. They came out with alternative explanations. The author of “400, 000 Years of Stone Age Science” Dr. Derek Cunningham suggest that the linear comb patterns are an archaic form of astronomical wiring.

He explained that the angular offset of the “spider body” and the lines drawn on the panel is aligned with astronomical values. Cunningham stated that it is considered as an accurate prediction of lunar and solar eclipses. He gave an example, a calculation which corresponds to half a sidereal month is equivalent to when the body of the proposed spiders is rotated by 13.66 degrees from vertical.

The author of “On Earth as it is in Heaven: The Cosmic Roots of the Bible” Michael Ledo provided another suggestion. According to him, the figures are a representation of zodiacal and other constellations.

4. Magistrate’s Tombstone in Pompeii

A large monumental grave was excavated in Pompeii. It has a long stone epigraph about 4 meters or 13 ft and has seven narrative registers. It unfolds in pictures of the deceased’s life.

The figures portray his coming-of-age, wedding, sponsorship of games and other celebrations. Although his name is nowhere to be found, a short biography mentions that he was one of Pompeii’s magistrates.

Many things are learned about the past with the excavation of this tombstone. The stone epigraph has an account of a public disaster. It happened when Pompeii held a gladiator event in 59 AD.

Tempers flared and a violent brawl erupted in the amphitheater during the game. It was a very serious incident and Emperor Nero ordered an inquiry into the incident. The Senate in Rome found some people guilty of incitement. They were exiled including a former senator. Since then, Pompeii was banned from organizing gladiator games for a decade.

The story is not new to scholars since it is included in the writings of the Roman historian named Tacitus. The tombstone backs up the story of Tacitus and it also mentions that among the exiles were Pompeii’s magistrates which was an unknown detail before the excavation of the tombstone. Some believe that the deceased magistrates inside the tomb died during the amphitheater incident.

5. Tassili n’Ajjer

Tassili n’Ajjer is described as the finest prehistoric open-air museum in the world. It is located in the south-east of Algerian Sahara at the borders of Libya, Niger, and Mali in a vast plateau. It covers an area of 72, 000 square kilometers.

The rock art was discovered in 1933 which made the Tassili n’Ajjer world famous. Tassili is a land with an exceptional density of paintings and engravings. It shows animal migrations, climatic changes and on the edge of Sahara is the evolution of human life from 10, 000 BC to the first century.

Groups of people left lots of archeological remains, burial mounds, enclosure and habitations over thousands of years. The art includes more than 15, 000 paintings and engravings. It is on exposed rock faces that show pictures of wild and domestic animals, ancient script, humans, geometric designs and mythical creatures like men with animal heads and gods or spirit beings.

It covers five distinct periods, each of them corresponds to a particular fauna and can be characterized by stylistic differences. Thousands of paintings and engravings from Tassili n’Ajjer are now found and it is more likely that there are many more yet to be recorded. The images have shed light on the lives of the ancient people of the Sahara but it also left people with many questions on who painted them and what it means.

6. Small slab in Spain

Discovered in 2013 at Moli del Salt site in Spain, it was first thought of as an unimpressive find. But then it was noticed that a carved tableau rose to the surface after the grime was cleared. The tableau dates back to 13, 800 years ago.

It has a carved picture consisting of seven structures resembling huts. It is one of the most ancient image that shows a prehistoric camp.

The pictures of an architectural drawing on the tableau are not typical of Paleolithic art. Paleolithic art stylistic themes mostly are of animals, people, and symbols.

The reason behind the carvings is still unknown. Besides of the unusual choice of drawing, the huts are strange. They have three levels and attempt to show 3-dimensional depth which is unusual.

Studies have conducted on hunter-gatherer tribes from around the world and it revealed a strong similarity and preference on domed dwellings. They have the tendency to set up a camp with 3-7 households that fit with the seven huts in the carvings.

7. Oldest Petroglyphs in North America

A set of petroglyphs dating between 10, 500 to 14, 800 years old was found in western Nevada on August 2013. It is the oldest rock art found in North America. The former oldest rock art in North America dates 6, 700 years old which is found at Long Lake in Oregon.

The ancient petroglyphs found in Nevada are carved in limestone boulders located on the west side of the Winnemucca Lake. It includes simple petroglyphs like straight lines and swirls. It also has more complex petroglyphs that are similar to flowers, trees or the veins of a leaf. The rock art shows a series of abstract designs that look like the shapes of ovals or diamonds in a chain.

The geometric designs that are deeply carved are similar to the petroglyphs that are found in Oregon. The meaning and symbolism are still unknown.

8. Ancient Egyptian “billboard” Hieroglyphs

Archeologists from Yale and the Royal Museums of Art and History in Belgium discovered ancient Egyptian “billboard” hieroglyphs called “El-Khawy.” It was discovered in an expedition made in 2017. It dates around 5,200 years ago, the time when Egyptian script was taking its shape.

The archeologists were surprised with its enormous individual symbols. Single hieroglyphs stand over 0.5 meters or 1.6 ft tall compared to the 1-2 centimeters or 0.4-0.8 inches of previously discovered writings.

The hieroglyphs provide an important insight into the making of the unique hieroglyphic system. Scribes wrote from right to left with the same direction as the later established form.

El-Khawy is important in ancient times as it shows that the written word supplemented the communications used there. Other systems were merely small labels and tokens. This discovery proves that hieroglyphic script was more likely widely used than previously thought. This finding goes against the belief that early Egyptian writing developed slowly and was only limited to bureaucratic use.

9. Asian Cave drawings

A study published in the Journal Nature on October 2014 revealed that more than 100 ancient paintings of hands and animals were found. It was found within seven limestone caves on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. They are as old as the famous prehistoric art in Europe. The ancient drawings show that humans started creating rock art around 40,000 years ago at different ends of the Pleistocene Eurasian period.

An archeologist and geochemist of Griffith University in Australia named Maxime Aubert lead a study and explained that before the discovery, experts had a Europe-centric view of when, where, and how humans started making cave paintings and other forms of art.

Since people in Sulawesi were also producing art at the same time, archeologists suggest that either human creativity emerged independently about the same time around the world or they already had the capacity and inclination for art when humans left Africa.

10. Female Gladiator in ancient Rome

The female gladiator in ancient Rome can be seen in a German museum that was cast around 2,000 years ago. No one knows where the bronze statuette came from.

She is wearing only a loincloth while brandishing a scythe-like weapon in her left arm in the air. The woman was first believed to be clutching a “strigil,” a scrapping tool used for cleaning the body. But the researchers thought it would be odd for her hold a cleaning tool up in the air.

The researchers then became convinced that it was a “sica” which is a short and curved sword associated with gladiators known as Thraex or Thracian. The statuette is a rare depiction of a female gladiator.

The woman’s arm gesture fit a victorious fighter who gives the crowd a salute. Her downward stare shows her staring at a defeated opponent.

Female gladiators were famous and common in ancient Rome but they were banned in 200 AD. Ancient references noted that they fought fiercely and audiences are excited to watch them in games.  The statuette also shows that the woman has a bandaged knee which was common among gladiators.

Ancient arts play an important role in learning from the past yet they are often mysterious. Painters and craftsmen in the ancient times create unexpected and unique images that show contemporary fears, aspirations and personal experiences.

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