Pearls in Petroglyphs

The desire to communicate and leave a legacy of one’s existence is ancient. The Lascaux Cave paintings in France are estimated to be 15,000-17,000 years old and feature a predominance of large animals. Horses were frequently painted, but interior cave walls also hide bison, bulls, felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human figure.

At least 5000 years ago, the ancestor of writing (called proto-writing) is recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The word hieroglyph means “sacred carvings.” Hieroglyphs with over 1000 distinct characters were carved and/or painted on tomb and temple walls. Additional hieroglyphs appeared on papyrus, wood and most famously, on stone. The meaning of many symbols was unclear until the 1820’s when the Rosetta Stone revealed the same message in three “scripts” – ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic Egyptian script (writing used for 1000+ years), and finally a Greek translation.

What voices speak from the Rosetta stone? Believed to be carved post-coronation of King Ptolemy V, the Rosetta Stone is a decree announcing the divinity of the new ruler. Times were troubled in 196 BC. Ptolemy V became Egypt’s ruler at age 5 after his parents were murdered, supposedly in a power grab that involved the mistress of his father (Ptolemy IV). Conspirators ruled the country as Ptolemy V’s “guardians.” Ptolemy V was coronated at age 12 amidst war and internal conflict.

Petroglyphs offer mysterious rock-Pinterest images. The social media of the times featured many animals but a persistent petroglyph is the human handprint. Many interpretations offer important legacy messages: a holy place, a family marker, a ceremonial signature, a prayer or perhaps a map signifying, “Go this way.” Handprints with a spiral in the palm are thought to express messages of power, migration, or healing (read more about petroglyph spirals in Pearls and Swirls, 1-10-22).

Vikings recorded their voices in stone, wood and metal in often-ambiguous symbols called runes. Many runestone inscriptions were remembrances of those who died. Older runes might include the wording, “May Thor hallow these Runes.” Later runes integrated both Norse and Christian symbols on coffins, gravestones and monuments until the medieval church banned runes in the 17th century. One Norwegian runestone translation is dear: “Gunnvor, Thryrik’s daughter, built a bridge in memory of her daughter Astrid. She was the handiest girl in Hadeland.” Astrid is a Scandinavian name meaning “divinely beautiful.”

Cave and hieroglyph painters, petroglyph and rune carvers, and writers release their pearls for unknown audiences. Painters and writers of the ages reach hands across years for future observers to carry precious meaning forward. Meaning is tucked into cryptic messaging. Whether anyone deciphers such communication attempts or not, [wo]mankind is comprised of meaning-makers.

People search hidden caves, boulders, and dusty attic storage boxes for pearls of understanding the human condition.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

54. What meaning from your family tribe will you pass onto later generations?

55. What legacy will you leave for others?   

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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