Siberia's most ancient rock carvings revealed and may be 10,000-years-old

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  • The petroglyphs of horses and bison are thought to be the oldest in Siberia
  • They were discovered on rocks on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains
  • Experts believe they were carved with stone tools after glaciers retreated
  • The identity of the people who made the carvings remains a mystery

By Richard Gray for MailOnline

Published: 13:05 GMT, 4 August 2015 | Updated: 15:21 GMT, 4 August 2015

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Mysterious prehistoric drawings etched into rocks high in the Altai Mountains of Siberia up to 10,000 years ago have been discovered by archaeologists.

The petroglyphs, which depict animals such as horses and bison, could be the oldest rock carvings to be found in Siberia.

They suggest the bleak grasslands of Ukok Plateau, 8,200 feet (2,500m) up in the Altai Mountains, were inhabited far earlier than had been previously thought.

Archaeologists have discovered a series of petroglyphs, like the one above, etched into the rocks on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. They believe they were carved using stone tools after the glaciers that covered the region retreated around 10,000 years ago. They could the the oldest rock carvings in Siberia

Archaeologists have discovered a series of petroglyphs, like the one above, etched into the rocks on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. They believe they were carved using stone tools after the glaciers that covered the region retreated around 10,000 years ago. They could the the oldest rock carvings in Siberia

Previously scientists have found evidence that the Siberian steppes were home to early bronze age cultures and have discovered the remains of a tattooed woman from 500BC.

However, researchers studying the petroglphys, some of which are up to 8 inches (20cm) say they resemble paleolithic drawings found in France.

They were drawn onto a volcanic rock called rhyolite, which had been polished by the movement of glaciers over them before the petroglyphs were made.

THE TATOOED SIBERIAN ICE MAIDEN: PRINCESS OF UKOK

The Siberian Ice Maiden, also known as the Princess of Ukok, is a mummy of a woman from the 5th century BC.

She was discovered in 1993 in a kurgan of the Pazyryk culture in Republic of Altai, Russia.

Analysis of her remains earlier highlighted sophisticated tattoos of 'great artistry' of fantastical creatures.

Researchers discovered, among other things, clothing and headdresses, a make-up bag, and a stash of cannabis, buried with her.

She had suffered from breast cancer, making her thin and weak at the time of her death. However, her actual cause of death may have been injury from falling from a great height.

The ice maiden often sniffed cannabis, it is thought, and her altered state of mind gave her a special status in her society. 

This would explain the care her people took to care for her and not leave her to die, or hasten death. It also helps to understand the way her burial was conducted in a style similar - but different - to royalty.

Researchers believe the artists behind them may have used stone tools to first scratch the outline of the figures to break the polished lacquer like skin over the rock.

They then used tools to carve out the drawings further.

Speaking to the Siberian Times, Dr Lidia Zotkina, an archaeologist at the Novosibirsk State University, said: 'We believe that we managed to prove that the petroglyphs were made in the Paleolithic era - and are the most ancient in Siberia.’

The carvings were made on flat rocks lying horizontal on the Plateau, where the high winds and extreme conditions have made dating the rocks difficult.

Normally archaeologists would use the sediment around the rocks to date the carvings, but the soil on the Ukok Plateau shows no clear time frames.

Instead the researchers, who have been working with archaeologists from France, have resorted to more innovative ways to date them.

Geologists estimate that the glaciers retreated from the site on the Ukok plateau between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, exposing the rocks to the air for the first time in millennia.

This would have allowed ancient people to access the area and make the carvings.

The team have been attempting to search for traces of stone or metal left in the carving which could also give clues to how they were made.

The petroglyphs, which were found on flat, horizontal slabs of rhyolite - a type of volcanic rock - depict horses and what are thought to be bisons, like in the image above. The people who made them remains a mystery

The petroglyphs, which were found on flat, horizontal slabs of rhyolite - a type of volcanic rock - depict horses and what are thought to be bisons, like in the image above. The people who made them remains a mystery

The carvings were discovered on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains, close to the border with Mongolia

The carvings were discovered on the Ukok Plateau in the Altai Mountains, close to the border with Mongolia

The harsh conditions on the Ukok Plateau, as shown in the image above, have made it difficult for the scientists to date the carvings and so they have had to resort to other techniques, such as studying the retreat of the glaciers and techniques used by the people who made the carvings

The harsh conditions on the Ukok Plateau, as shown in the image above, have made it difficult for the scientists to date the carvings and so they have had to resort to other techniques, such as studying the retreat of the glaciers and techniques used by the people who made the carvings

Dr Zotkina said: 'We are trying to find out if the ancient masters used stone or metal implements to make the petroglyphs.

‘Of course if we established that they used metal implements, all our theories about Paleolithic era would be disproved immediately.

‘At the moment we see the use of the stone implements. It is interesting that using a 20 times microscope we found traces of scraping the surface by stone.

‘Obviously, the ancient people made a kind of sketch with stone and only after this engraved the petroglyph.'

The researchers attempted to replicate the drawings using a variety of techniques to see if they could further unravel the mystery.

The archaeologists have analysed the carvings for traces of stone or metal, like above, that might give some indications of how they were made. So far they have found evidence they were created using stone tools

The archaeologists have analysed the carvings for traces of stone or metal, like above, that might give some indications of how they were made. So far they have found evidence they were created using stone tools

The carvings, some of which are about 18 cm long, depict animals and are in a style similar to Palaeolithic carvings found in France. The image above shows a drawing of one of the carvings

The carvings, some of which are about 18 cm long, depict animals and are in a style similar to Palaeolithic carvings found in France. The image above shows a drawing of one of the carvings

The researchers have been conducting experiments to replicate the petroglyphs in an attempt to understand how they were made. They have found the polished surface of the rock was first scratched to sketch out the carving and break the hard crust before stone tools were used to etch the drawing into the rock

The researchers have been conducting experiments to replicate the petroglyphs in an attempt to understand how they were made. They have found the polished surface of the rock was first scratched to sketch out the carving and break the hard crust before stone tools were used to etch the drawing into the rock

Dr Zotkina said as the rock is extremely tough, it needs to be prepared by breaking the polished crust on the surface.

The scientists found this could be done by scratching the surface with stones first before making the carving. Their experiments appeared to match the real petroglyphs.

However, who was responsible for creating the artworks remains a mystery.

Dr Zotkina added: 'Some big Paleolithic sites where people must have lived were not found yet.

‘The climate on Ukok does not help to preserve such sites, so we do not know who could make these Petroglyphs, if it is correct that they are Paleolithic.

‘Sooner or later Paleolithic sites will be found and we will get more information about the people who could engrave these images.'

The Ukok Plateau, shown above, was covered in glaciers until around 10,000 years ago when they retreated and prehistoric people would have been able to access it to make the carvings

The Ukok Plateau, shown above, was covered in glaciers until around 10,000 years ago when they retreated and prehistoric people would have been able to access it to make the carvings

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