Gobustan petroglyphs

This item appears on page 34 of the November 2008 issue.

About 70 kilometers south of Baku, Azerbaijan, the settlement of Gobustan and the Gobustan State Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are worthwhile places to visit.

12,000 years ago the Caspian Sea was some 80 meters higher than it is today, and hunter-gatherers lived on its shores in caves surrounded by lush vegetation. Today, in a most unusual setting of rocks and caves, there are an estimated 600,000 petroglyphs in this area.

We spent several hours looking at the etchings, which were rendered in three different modes: gouging, stippling and scraping. They range from large-scale Stone Age depictions to figures on a smaller scale rendered during the Bronze and Neolithic periods.

We saw extraordinary pictures of people, animals, rain and, most interestingly, Viking longboats. These proved intriguing enough to bring explorer Thor Heyerdahl to the site to do research many times in the last 40 years of his life.

Also in the area are hollowed-out holes in the ground for collecting rainwater. Most interestingly, there is the musical Gaval Dash stone, which is playable today and makes a sound like a tambourine. It was used for the yalli dance, depicted in the rocks, which is still danced today.

The Roman legions that were there in the first century A.D. left their own graffiti in the form of signatures and remarks. A small museum on the site houses tools and pottery found in the area and has dioramas representing life in the caves.


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