These Are The Most Important Sacred Symbols Of The Stone Age

Throughout the Palaeolithic era (50,000 BCE – 10,000 BCE), our distant ancestors often used cave walls and rock faces as a canvas to paint their thoughts and experiences upon. In a time dominated by hunting and survival, these images would often take the form of animals, warriors, and ritualistic activity.

However, there are also a large number of strange symbols which appear repeatedly throughout Stone Age, in all areas of the world. Spirals, triangles, zigzags, and handprints were common motifs etched upon the cave walls of Europe, America, Asia, and Indonesia. This begs us to ask the question, did our ancestors use symbols as a means of pictorial communication?

The oldest known geoglyphs ever recorded can be found in the Spanish caves of El Castillo and Altamira, dated to between 39,000 – 34,000 years ago. They include red ochre dots and club-shaped images known as claviform. Genevieve von Petzinger, a cave art researcher, has recorded 28 significant symbols which appear repeatedly and consistently around the world.

An Illustration of sacred symbols
The Sacred Symbols of the Stone Age. Image Credit: Simon E. Davies.

It is not currently possible to determine what these ciphers mean, but their repetition across the globs suggest there was a common value encoded into each symbol. What we do know is that in most cases, these symbols are associated with animal imagery (suggesting the language of the shaman).

From anthropological studies of shaman today, we can get a glimpse into the minds of these spirit workers who practiced their magic craft tens of thousands of years ago. They were intimately connected with the spirit world, which was believed to permeate every object on Earth (living and inanimate).

The shaman could communicate with all souls, whether human, animal, tree or stone. It was at night that their powers were said to be most acute, and perhaps there was no realm more conducive to their powers than the underworld. Caves and grotto’s all exist in an eternal darkness, so perhaps the subterranean world was used as a gateway between the living and the dead.

These religious leaders may have had a desire to communicate ideas that were not necessarily easy to depict in a physical form. It is possible, then, that these geometric images represent abstract ideas or concepts about animal possession, trance states, divining and healing (the tools of their trade).

Many shamans use psychotropic substances to enter the spirit world (e.g. psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, and Ayahuasca). While in trance, these spirit workers often describe seeing strange psychedelic patterns like crosses, dots, zig-zags and wavy lines appearing before their eyes. Could it be that these geoglyphs are pictorial symbols of what they see while in a trance state?

Sadly we may never know.

Based on the works of Genevieve von Petzinger

Article written by: Simon E. D. Contributor to

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