What inspired prehistoric man?
Our English-speaking guide Elena tells us about one of the interesting Neolithic sites in Karelia – the Belomorsk Petroglyphs.
We are heading north once more along the Kola Motorway which runs from Saint Petersburg to Murmansk in the Republic of Karelia. Our final destination is the Solovetsky Islands which we will reach by boat from the town of Kem. On our way we make a few short stops to catch a glimpse of some picturesque sites in the area. One of the most amazing places is the rock-art site called the Belomorsk Petroglyphs. The term “petroglyph” comes from two Greek words: petro, which means “rock”, and glyph, which means, “carving”. Petroglyphs were carved or hammered into rocks with the help of a quartz hammer. The prehistoric artist must have been very strong to create rock art.
Scholars call petroglyphs the “Bible of the Stone Age”, a workshop of consciousness or a prehistoric temple. Studying the rock carvings, we wonder what prehistoric man believed in and what inspired him.
For a modern man used to consuming the produce of a highly developed civilization it is very hard to picture life in Neolithic times, where man had to struggle to survive in the wild. Using only primitive tools he had to hunt for prey to obtain the food, clothing and medicine necessary for his well-being. Through exploring petroglyphs we are trying to delve into the life of these primitive people. Rock-art is very informative as it reflects the major activities of a primitive man who lived here in ancient times.
On the smooth granite rocks we discover clusters of images with one figure often superimposed on another. Some of the petroglyphs are not well preserved. We step aside and can suddenly distinguish three meter long giant figures of reindeer, and then a procession of smaller reindeer. (Pictures 1and 2).
As well as animals, we come across a lot of human figures. In the most striking scene three hunters in three boats have stuck their harpoons into the strong body of a beluga whale. We can see this hunt was challenging, and the hunters must have developed special tactics to catch this marine animal.
Nearby we come across a detailed scene of winter hunting. Three skiers chase and shoot arrows into three elk.
What is the purpose of these rock carvings? On the one hand, rock carvings might have served future generations as instructions for a successful hunt; or they could be an allusion to Stone Age myths. One of the scenes is interpreted as a legend about “Crime and Punishment”, where three archers hit a man who has stolen a basket-like object. Alongside, the image of a reindeer whose leg ends in a spiral is thought to be related to ancient solar cults.
Finally, we come to one of the most famous and expressive petroglyphs, which depicts a long boat with a group of hunters. Judging by the figures standing upright in the boat, the hunters are excited because one of them has already stuck a harpoon into the prey. They are definitely going to win this sea animal! And, to end the hunt successfully, they might be making encouraging sounds to support their chief catcher.
Today, reading the pages of the rock book by this ancient master, we conclude that living in Neolithic times was hard. People could only survive the severe climatic conditions through their own efforts. To get through cold winters people needed warm clothes and caches of food. Reindeer skins made perfect winter coats and boots. It was incredible good fortune when they caught a beluga whale because it provided them with meat for the winter months. Beluga fat was also a source of vitamins and medicine. Hunting sea animals was hazardous but it ensured the tribes well-being.
Nowadays the Belomorsk Petroglyphs are a museum of prehistoric rock carvings where we can see the first attempts of a human to express thoughts and feelings. Thinking about the petroglyphs, we can bring our own imagination into play. We relive the images in the rock carvings, picturing their life, values, difficulties and achievements. Rock-art features a lot of realistic scenes from the life of prehistoric people. We guess that a Neolithic man was a great worker, who hunted animals successfully with primitive tools and simple boats, but every time he risked his life and survival. Afterwards, exhilarated by the success of a dangerous hunt, Neolithic man commemorated his achievement in rock-art. We can see, it was hard and risky work that inspired this prehistoric master. However, another tourist might interpret this art metaphorically, so we are giving you, the curious traveler, this chance to explore the best sights of the Russian North.