Saturday, August 17, 2013


I have often argued in the past, perhaps a little too strenuously for some of my friends, that I do not believe that most rock art identified as maps can possibly be actual maps in the way we understand the term. Indeed my very first posting on RockArtBlog, ARE THERE MAPS IN ROCK ART?,18 April 2009, addressed this question and I detailed the reasons for my skepticism concerning maps in rock art at that time. Part of the disagreement concerns the semantics of the meaning of the term map. My definition of a proper map is a pictorial or symbolic representation that conveys information on the geography, features, and distances of a place, area, or region. This could range from the diagram of a campsite to something on the scale of a seasonal migration throughout a region, and larger. Just making a picture of a place is not making a map of it, but making a picture that encodes information about distances, scales, and features of that place would be making a map.

Inca carved stone map.
One category or variation of maps was carved into stone by the Incas. This is an amazing little landscape carved onto a boulder, with stairways and buildings shown as can be seen in the example. Some of these small scale Inca stone carvings seem to be intended to be used with running water channeled through the carving such as a carved miniature city with water poured from a pitcher to run down the water channels in it. It would be easy to imagine all sorts of wonderful ritual connections, although they would be just that, imagination. The truth is, I do not think that we know what this three dimensional cityscape was actually intended for but we do know of Incan water features carved into stone for ritual purposes so this is at least a possibility.

Machu Picchu. Photo from:
Another Inca phenomenon that many people link with the concept of maps is represented by stones that seem to have been shaped to reflect the shape of mountain peaks seen in the background. Although these do not match my definition of what a map actually is they certainly seem to have been purposefully created to copy the shape of the horizon. One of the most commonly seen examples is found at Machu Picchu. The jagged top of this boulder roughly mirrors the contour of the mountains behind it in the background (although those are obscured by clouds in this photo).

So, what do you consider to be maps, are there maps in rock art, and what are some of your favorite examples?

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