Tsodilo, Botswana: With one of the highest concentrations of rock art in the world, Tsodilo has been called the 'Louvre of the Desert'. Over 4,500 paintings are preserved in an area of only 10 sq. km of the Kalahari Desert. The archaeological record of the area gives a chronological account of human activities and environmental changes over at least 100,000 years. Local communities in this hostile environment respect Tsodilo as a place of worship frequented by ancestral spirits.
Rock Carvings in Tanum, Sweden: The rock carvings in Tanum, in the north of Bohuslän, are a unique artistic achievement not only for their rich and varied motifs (depictions of humans and animals, weapons, boats and other subjects) but also for their cultural and chronological unity. They reveal the life and beliefs of people in Europe during the Bronze Age and are remarkable for their large numbers and outstanding quality.
Mogao Caves, China: Situated at a strategic point along the Silk Route, at the crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences, the 492 cells and cave sanctuaries in Mogao are famous for their statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art.
Tamgaly Gorge: Set around the comparatively lush Tamgaly Gorge, amidst the vast, arid Chu-Ili mountains, is a remarkable concentration of some 5,000 petroglyphs (rock carvings) dating from the second half of the second millennium BC to the beginning of the 20th century. Distributed among 48 complexes with associated settlements and burial grounds, they are testimonies to the husbandry, social organization and rituals of pastoral peoples. Human settlements in the site are often multi-layered and show occupation through the ages. A huge number of ancient burials are also to be found including stone enclosures with boxes and cists (middle and late Bronze Age), and mounds (kurgans) of stone and earth built above tombs (early Iron Age to the present). The central canyon contains the densest concentration of engravings and what are believed to be altars, suggestsing that these places were used for sacrificial offerings.
Tassili N'Ajjer: On the borders of Tassili N'Ajjer in Algeria, also a World Heritage site, this rocky massif has thousands of cave paintings in very different styles, dating from 12,000 B.C. to A.D. 100. They reflect marked changes in the fauna and flora, and also the different ways of life of the populations that succeeded one another in this region of the Sahara.
Altamira: Painted by the Magdalenian people between 16,000-9,000 BC. Spanish archeologist Don Marcelino first discovered the caves at Altamira with their unique showcase of cave paintings. The paintings are located in the deep recesses of caves in the mountains of Northern Spain, far out of the reach of the destructive forces of wind and water. Thus these paintings have undergone little change from when they were first painted 11,000-19,000 years ago. The wall illustrations are not the only signs of human habitation here. Tools, hearths and food remains were preserved here for thousands of years. Altamira is the only site of cave paintings in which the signs of domestic life extend into the first cavern which contain the actual paintings. Oddly, the walls and ceilings of the Altamira caves lack the soot deposits which have been found in other similar caves. This might suggest that the people at Altamira had slightly more advanced lighting technology which gave off less smoke and soot than the torches and fat lamps which Paleolithic people are given credit for.
Rock Drawings of Alta, Norway: This group of petroglyphs in the Alta Fjord, near the Arctic Circle, bears the traces of a settlement dating from c. 4200 to 500 B.C. The thousands of paintings and engravings add to our understanding of the environment and human activities on the fringes of the Far North in prehistoric times.
Altamira Cave, Spain: This prehistoric site in the province of Santander was inhabited in the Aurignacian period and then in the Solutrean and Magdalenian periods. Most of the stone implements and, in particular, the famous paintings in the great chamber (in ochre, red and black and depicting a variety of wild animals such as bison, horses, fawns and wild boar) date from this latter period.
Prehistoric Rock-Art Sites in the Côa Valley, Portugal: This exceptional concentration of rock carvings from the Upper Palaeolithic (22,00010,000 B.C.) is the most outstanding example of early human artistic activity in this form anywhere in the world. The Upper Palaeolithic rock-art of the Côa valley is an outstanding example of the sudden flowering of creative genius at the dawn of human cultural development. Criterion iii: The Côa Valley rock art throws light on the social, economic, and spiritual life on the life of the early ancestor of humankind in a wholly exceptional manner.
Central Amazon Conservation Complex, Brasil: Many of the numerous rock shelters in the Serra da Capivara National Park are decorated with cave paintings, some more than 25,000 years old. They are an outstanding testimony to one of the oldest human communities of South America.
Grottoes of the Vézère Valley, France: The Vézère valley contains 147 prehistoric sites dating from the Palaeolithic and 25 decorated caves. It is particularly interesting from an ethnological and anthropological, as well as an aesthetic point of view because of its cave paintings, especially those of the Lascaux Cave, whose discovery in 1940 was of great importance for the history of prehistoric art. The hunting scenes show some 100 animal figures, which are remarkable for their detail, rich colours and lifelike quality.
Rock Drawings in Valcamonica, Italy: Valcamonica, situated in the Lombardy plain, has one of the world's greatest collections of prehistoric petroglyphs more than 140,000 symbols and figures carved in the rock over a period of 8,000 years and depicting themes connected with agriculture, navigation, war and magic.
Rock Paintings of the Sierra de San Francisco, Mexico: From c. 100 B.C. to A.D. 1300, the Sierra de San Francisco (in the El Vizcaino reserve, in Baja California) was home to a people who have now disappeared but who left one of the most outstanding collections of rock paintings in the world. They are remarkably well-preserved because of the dry climate and the inaccessibility of the site. Showing human figures and many animal species and illustrating the relationship between humans and their environment, the paintings reveal a highly sophisticated culture. Their composition and size, as well as the precision of the outlines and the variety of colours, but especially the number of sites, make this an impressive testimony to a unique artistic tradition.