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Rock carvings in northern Greece tell their own story

When rock carvings were first discovered in Greece 45 years ago, some archaeologists saw them as being of little value and difficult to interpret. But recent, more attentive, examination has led to them receiving greater respect. Hunters on horses, deer, foxes and other animals, arrows and spears, boats and tools, human figures and ideograms ranging in length from just a few centimeters to one meter, all carved into rock at various sites from Lake Heimaditida in Florina to Evros, open a window onto the past. «They reveal the tools people used for thought and the ways in which they first gathered knowledge,» says archaeologist and geologist Dr Lazaros Hatzilazaridis, who has spent 20 years studying the rock carvings in northern Greece that a resident of Kryoneri, Kavala, happened to show him one day. The beginnings of writing How far are the rock carvings in the Pangaios river bed in Kavala, the Angiti Gorge in Serres, and caves in Alistrati and Roussa in Thrace from the beginnings of writing? «Making them satisfied some human need,» explains Hatzilazaridis. «They are a traditional form of expression and probably aided communication,» he writes in his recent doctoral dissertation «Prehistoric Rock Paintings in Northern Greece.» He traversed all of Macedonia and Thrace, making the first photographs, drawings and records of thousands of carvings of various subjects with rich layers of meaning. Similarities and differences Perhaps the most impressive pictures are those of the deer at Palaio Hortokopi, in Kavala, with their astonishing plasticity, and the carvings at Loutra, Aridaia, which are reminiscent of those done by indigenous Australian people. «Some of the carvings are fine, others broad, some deep and some shallow,» says Hatzilazaridis. «This is probably because there were different artists over different periods and with different tools. But there are general characteristics and similarities in the way in which the body and legs of animals are depicted (firm carving with great vigor and movement), which shows that different people carved but portray the same subjects in the same way.» «In many cases, standardization is observable and this, along with the large body of pictures, indicates a cultural phenomenon,» he added. The oldest rock carvings depict deer and other animals (in the caves of the Angiti Gorge and on rocks at Palaio Hortokopi and on bows found at Philippi, which recent research tentatively dates to the late Neolithic Age (4,500-3,500 BC). The plowing scenes found at Palaio Hortokopi belong to the Bronze Age (2,800-1,100 BC), and a large group of rock paintings found in recent years belong to the early Iron Age (1,100-800 BC). Many of the paintings that depict horses, probably with saddles, belong to a later period, possibly the Byzantine era. «Rock carvings comprise a significant chapter in the history of humanity, which can illuminate the unknown past,» remarks Hatzilazaridis. «Rock carvings comprise a significant chapter in the history of humanity, which can illuminate the unknown past,» remarks Hatzilazaridis.