History of documenting petroglyphs of the Far East

Early Stage, 1888–1935

The first attempt to document the petroglyphs of Sikachi-Alyan was made, apparently, by Staff Captain P. I. Vetlitsyn in 1888 or 1889. However, “photographing the drawings on the occasion of the great cold was not possible, so they had to be sketched in pencil.” These sketches were subsequently lost.

In 1894, Lieutenant Colonel V. A. Alftan , a headquarters officer for assignments under the commander of the South Ussuriysk division of the Amur Military District , who surveyed the Ussuri River valley, sketched part of the petroglyphs of the Sheremetyevo 1, 2 and 3 locations and performed an eye survey of the fortified settlement located next to Sheremetyevo 3.

Sketches of petroglyphs  Sheremetyevo
V.A.Alftan, 1894 

In the spring of 1899, an attempt to document the petroglyphs of Sikachi-Alyan 2 was made by the American orientalist Berthold Laufer, a member of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. According to him, “… unfortunately, most [petroglyphs] are so erased that it seems impossible to obtain satisfactory photographs, for this reason, the petroglyphs were drawn on paper placed on boulders.” Not having received good sketches, Laufer, according to N. G. Kharlamov, “… wanted to cut the drawings to send to America, but, fortunately, he did not have the right tools for this.” In October 1899, seven of Laufer’s sketches were published in the American Anthropologist.

Sketches of Sikachi-Alyan petroglyphs

B. Laufer, 1899 

At the beginning of June 1910, ethnographer L. Ya. Sternberg made an attempt to photograph the petroglyphs of Sikachi-Alyan , however, “the exceptional size of the flood made access to the rocks completely impossible, and the huge boulders, on which there are most of the images, were all deep underwater.”

The first photographs of the Sikachi-Alyan 2 petroglyphs were made only 30 years after the attempts of P. I. Vetlitsyn. In 1919, the Japanese historian, ethnographer and archaeologist Torii Ryuzo photographed stones with images of “reindeer” and “tiger”. For better readability, Torii tinted the indented lines with chalk.

In 1930, the rock carvings of Sikachi-Alyan were documented by the archaeologist N. G. Kharlamov, who not only photographed the petroglyphs but also made their paper squeezy. Kharlamov’s materials were handed over to the Khabarovsk Museum of Local Lore and later, apparently, were lost.

In 1935, the petroglyphs of the sites Sikachi-Alyan 1, Sikachi-Alyan 2, Sikachi-Alyan 3, and May were documented by members of the expedition of A.P. Okladnikov. In addition to photographing, they made at least 25 paper squeezes, which are currently kept in the funds of the MAE RAS. Prints were made from scrap materials (newspapers, cardboard, wrapping paper). In general, they are of low quality, but valuable, since the original petroglyphs cannot always be found on the ground. The appearance of the lost petroglyphs with a fairly high degree of reliability can be restored from the print using the method of three-dimensional modeling.

A paper squeeze made by the Low-Amur expedition in 1935,  and a three-dimensional model of this paper squeeze.

Works of the Far Eastern Archaeological Expedition, 1953–1971

The study of the petroglyphs of the Amur Region was resumed after the creation in 1953 of the Far Eastern Archaeological Expedition of the IIMK (later IA RAS, and then SBAS) under the leadership of A.P. Okladnikov. The first works in 1953-1954. were of a reconnaissance nature, large-scale documentation began in 1958, simultaneously at the Amur and Ussuri sites. Work on documenting petroglyphs was carried out mainly in 1958 (Sikachi-Alyan, Sheremetyevo) and 1963 (Sikachi-Alyan), while photographing, “tracing” and sketching of rock carvings were used. When photographing, the images were tinted with chalk, however, unlike Torii Ryuzo’s photographs, it was not the depressions that were tinted, but the protruding parts of the bas-relief image or the bends limiting the knockout on the rock surface.

Based on collected data in 1966–67, A. P. Okladnikov wrote the first popular scientific publication about the rock art of the Amur region “Faces of the Ancient Amur: Petroglyphs of Sakachi-Alyan”. Apparently, A. P. Okladnikov planned a more ambitious work, but during the preparation of the publication it turned out that the tracing papers with the Sheremetyevo 2 petroglyphs were lost under not entirely clear circumstances, and the documentation materials for Sikachi-Alyan have a number of significant shortcomings. Therefore, in 1967-1970, the work on documenting the petroglyphs of the Amur region was resumed. In 1967, the petroglyphs of the newly discovered Kiya locality were documented, the rock carvings were “traced” by S. G. Glinsky and A. P. Derevyanko and photographed by Yu. A. Polumiskov. In 1968, a team of the FEAE under the leadership of A.P. Okladnikov, the petroglyphs of the Mai locality near the Auri nomadic encampment were copied onto tracing paper. At the same time at Sheremetyevo 2, a team of FEAE consisting of M. Ya. Romensky and V. A. Timokhin again “traced” surfaces with petroglyphs, thereby restoring the lost materials of the 1958 survey. Presumably,  schematic sketches of petroglyph sites on the rocky cliffs of Sheremetyevo 1, 2, 3, and Kiya dates back to 1967–1968.

In 1969, work on documenting Sikachi-Alyan was resumed. Complete “control survey of images and checking of old tracing paper” was undertaken. The methods of documentation remained generally the same – “tracing”, sketching, photographing. The production of contact copies from plaster was undertaken, but this method was not fully implemented. A small number of copies were made – only 5 casts are known, which are currently kept in the funds of the Tomskaya Pisanitsa Museum-Reserve. The paper squeezes made during this period are unknown – they were either not made at all, or not preserved. For all locations of the Sikachi-Alyan petroglyphs, eye and semi-instrumental surveys of the location of stones and surfaces with drawings were made and plans were drawn up.

Examples of drawing petroglyphs based on tracing papers of the 1969 “control survey”.
A.P. Okladnikov, 1971 

Documentation materials 1967–69 served as the basis for A. P. Okladnikov’s monograph “Petroglyphs of the Lower Amur”, published in 1971. This publication was considered exhaustive for a long time, and no new attempts were made to complete documentation of the petroglyphs of the Amur Region over the next 30 years.

An example of a sketch of a rocky cliff with petroglyphs. Location of Sheremetyevo 2.
A.P. Okladnikov, 1971 

An example of a sketch of a boulder with petroglyphs by the artist.
Location of Sikachi-Alyan 1.
A.P. Okladnikov, 1971 

An example of a sketch of a boulder with petroglyphs by the artist.
Location of Sikachi-Alyan 1.
A.P. Okladnikov, 1971 

Documenting of Far Eastern Petroglyphs, 2000–2015.

The resumption of research on the petroglyphs of the Amur region in the last years of the 20th century was associated with the awareness of the threat of destruction of the petroglyphs of Sikachi-Alyan. During this period, M. I. Gornova developed and implemented in 2000 a project to preserve the sites, within the framework of which 4 boulders with petroglyphs were moved to the upper part of the floodplain. In 2003, the study of Sikachi-Alyan was continued by E. G. Devlet and A. R. Laskin, who prepared a dossier of the Sikachi-Alyan rock art for inclusion in the preliminary UNESCO World Heritage List. Low water level in the Amur River at that time (75 cm below normal) resulted in the discovery of 12 previously unknown boulders with petroglyphs. At the same time, the Khabarovskgrazhdanproekt design institute carried out an instrumental topographic survey of the Sikachi-Alyan 1, 2 and 3 locations.  

Topographic plans of the petroglyphs of Sikachi-Alyan 1, 2 and 3.
“Khabarovskgrazhdanproekt”, 2003 

In 2004, a non-profit foundation “Historical Heritage of the Amur Region” was created in Khabarovsk. Its organizers A. Babaev and A. Sudakov carried out work to make more than 20 copies of petroglyphs. They prepared negative molds from an elastic compound based on silicone rubbers that were used to create facsimile copies of petroglyphs. They were exhibited in museums and participated in traveling exhibitions, one of which was organized in 2005 during the international conference “The World of Rock Art” in Moscow. In 2009, E. G. Devlet, E. Yu. Girya and A. R. Laskin made facsimile copies of a number of images of Sikachi-Alyan and Sheremetyevo for further study, but the expeditions were interrupted for several years and resumed only in 2014.

The introduction of digital methods of documentation into the practice of researching rock art of the Amur Region began in 2014–2015. During this period, photography with an off-camera flash (I. Yu. Georgievsky), multi-angle shadow photography, photogrammetry, and photography from an unmanned aerial vehicle (A.S. Pakhunov), determination of the coordinates of boulders with petroglyphs from using GPS navigators (A.R. Laskin) were first used. These works were mainly experimental.

Comprehensive documentation of rock art in the Amur Region with modern technical means was undertaken in 2016 by joint efforts of the Center for Paleo Art of the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (under the leadership of E. G. Devlet, since 2018 under the leadership of E. S. Levanova), the Khabarovsk Regional Heritage Preservation Center (A. R. Laskin) and the RSSDA Laboratory (Yu.M. Svoisky and E. V. Romanenko). The purpose of this work is to create the “Corpus of petroglyphs of the Lower Amur and Ussuri”.