Biblical Archaeology Review 38:4, July/August 2012

Archaeological Views: The Archaeology of Scribbles

By Davida Eisenberg-Degen

Many archaeologists in Israel refer to the Negev’s ancient rock art as “scribbles.” They mean this quite literally, as most of the drawings (technically called petroglyphs) are far from being the work of master artists. Depictions of human figures lack detail, and sometimes don’t even show the correct number of arms and legs. Animal drawings are little more than a few lines used to form a body, some legs, and maybe a horn, hump or tail. And the abundant geometric patterns are often just simple clusters of lines, circles and other basic shapes.

Although lacking aesthetic appeal, the rock art of the Negev, unlike most “mainstream” categories of archaeological evidence (such as pottery, lithics and architecture), gives us direct entry to the lives and thoughts of real human beings. The drawing and its style can reflect the carver’s interests, his state of mind and even his relationship to the society in which he lived. Among the Negev’s rock art, for example, are scenes of hunting, trapping, combat and worship. On occasion, one also finds depictions of parents accompanied by their children, and animals with their young. There is even a panel or two showing individuals having sex.

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