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Cryptic rock paintings — all over 6,000 years old — rediscovered in China. Take a look

Scattered across the hills of China, numerous rock paintings have been rediscovered. The meticulously crafted designs have become cryptic messages from millennia ago.

Archaeologists in Nanyang have identified several more petroglyphs, or ancient rock paintings, with a variety of designs, the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in a Friday, Jan. 6, news release via China News Network.

The petroglyphs were hammered into granite and quartz sandstone, researchers said. Photos show the rock paintings with two distinct design styles: a linear carving style and a dotted carving style.

One of the rock paintings with a looping line design.
One of the rock paintings with a looping line design.
A smaller rock painting made of carved dots.
A smaller rock painting made of carved dots.

Rock paintings are common across Nanyang and tens of thousands of petroglyphs have been identified, according to the release. The diverse petroglyphs are all considered part of the Central Plains rock painting system.

A large rock painting with an abstract dot design.
A large rock painting with an abstract dot design.

Petroglyphs in Nanyang were carved from the Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age, according to a 2012 study by Tang Huisheng published in the Rock Art Research journal. The paintings are anywhere from 6,000 years old to 11,000 years old.

A rock carving with a design of dense dots.
A rock carving with a design of dense dots.

Unfortunately, the “purpose, function (and) cultural meaning” of the seemingly “randomly executed” rock art has become harder to interpret over time, Huisheng said.

A rock painting with groups of double dot rows.
A rock painting with groups of double dot rows.

Researchers have speculated that the petroglyphs may be part of an early human writing system, a sort of astronomical calendar or an expression of ancient human ideology, per the news release.

Nanyang is in Henan province and about 580 miles southwest of Beijing.

Google Translate and Baidu Translate were used to translate the news release from the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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