The prehistoric petroglyphs near Malyshevo village in Khabarovsk region are among the most remarkable in the world – an ancient art exhibition dating to neolithic times.
On the basalt rocks on the right shore of the Amur River are carvings of faces and shaman masks along with woolly mammoths, horses, snakes, concentric circles and hunting scenes.
One image resembles a prototype of The Scream, by Expressionist artist Edvard Munch, but is said by some of the experts to be an ‘elk goddess’ dating to the late Mesolithic period, some 7,000 years ago.
One image resembles The Scream by Expressionist artist Edvard Munch, but is said by experts to be an ‘elk goddess’ dating to the late Mesolithic period, some 7.000 years ago
Known as the Sikachi Alyan petroglyphs, the area has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The early petroglyphs on a 6 kilometre stretch near the Amur shore belong to the Osipov culture, carved with stone tools.
Horses depicted here only lived in this region during the last Ice Age, say experts, but ancient people came here to add to the artistic richness over many millennia, with the more recent petroglyphs made using iron tools in the third century BC.
But modern graffiti artists have recently visited the site and added their unmistakable imprint, in doing so destroying these ancient messages from prehistory.
The petroglyphs were first reported by the local media in 1873. Pictures: Rossiya TV, V. Popov
Villagers from Malyshevo village – a tiny settlement with 1,300 inhabitants – are seeking to save the ancient art show from modern spray painters.
Graffiti is not the only threat to the petroglyphs at a site once believed to be the gateway to the underworld.
Some of the amazing art collection is said to have vanished into the river after flooding.
Others were shifted by the force of ice, turning the rocks upside down, obscuring their precious art work.
Changes in temperature led to more moss and river weed, which also obscured some of the hundreds of ancient petroglyphs, yet it is people and their graffiti who are seen as the biggest villains.
Modern graffiti artists have recently visited the site and added their unmistakable imprint, in doing so destroying these ancient messages from prehistory. Pictures: V.Popov, Rossiya TV
The petroglyphs were first reported by the local media in 1873, when it was thought the petroglyphs had been craved by ancestors of Nanai population.
Expeditions came from all over the world to see the rock art.
Berthold Laufer, member of an expedition of the Natural History Museum in New York, to the Russian Far East in 1897-1903, published an article where he described the petroglyphs.
A Japanese traveller and archeologist Torii Rudzu saw the petroglyphs in 1919 during his trip to Siberia.
He noticed a resemblance between the petroglyphs and Japanese clay ‘dogu’ figurines that date back to Stone Age: they both had solar signs in their faces.
This was an important observation for further archeological research at Amur’s lower reaches.
In the 1930s, archeologist Nikolay Kharlamov described the location of the petroglyphs, taking photographs and making prints.
Several expeditions led by academician Alexey Okladnikov were conducted in the area in the 1960s.
They resulted in two books that described about 300 petroglyphs near villages Sikachi-Alyan and Malyshevo in detail.
Okladnikov classified and interpreted the images. He established that a complex and highly developed culture had developed in the lower Amur in the Neolithic age, and claimed that Lower Amur art resembled ancient art items from the Pacific ocean, South East Asia, Australia and Polynesia.
Top image: Known as the Sikachi Alyan petroglyphs, the area has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Picture: V. Popov
This article, originally titled ‘Sacred site up to 17,000 years old – believed to be gateway to the underworld – under threat from modern spray paint artists’ was published on Siberian Times and has been republished with permission.