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Geography and Culture

- Family Traditions
- Role of Masks
- Making a Living & Leisure Activities
- Healing Art
- Making Peace
- Origins and Identity
- The Meaning of Rock Art
- Spiritual Power of Symbols
- Community & Architechture
(Academy Library)
- African People
- African Animals
African Photos

The Meaning of Rock Art

SUMMARY: Students will about the significance of rock art and will be given the opportunity to create their own rock art and to explain its significance to classmates.

This lesson is part of a series. Select this text to learn more about the series and how to extend its usefulness.

GOAL: Students will learn that art often contains a message and that ancient works of art need to be preserved or the messages will be lost.
  • Students will learn how symbols can be used to depict a story.
  • Students learn how to communicate stories to their classmates.
  • Activity: Creating Rock Art
    All grades

    Every society has used art as a way to describe their world and to communicate their traditions and history. About 4,000 paintings and etchings can be found in the eroded rocks of a place called Tassili-n-Ajer in Algeria. Long ago, before the Sahara became a desert, this area was home to people who hunted animals found today only in the savannas located far to the south. By looking at the paintings and etchings created thousands of years ago, we can see how life changed as the Sahara slowly became a desert.

    The Dogon people of Mali often depict great events by painting them on walls of sacred Dogon cliffs. The paintings depict stories that adult members of the community intend to pass on to the young. Generation after generation, the Dogon renew the ancient paintings while adding additional designs that tell new stories.

    In America, street artists paint murals that depict life in urban communities. Sometimes the murals commemorate special events and other murals portray family life or make political statements.

    Artwork preserves the thoughts and views of people long after they have passed away. Vandalism of rock art and murals silences the voices of those people forever. Much of the world's ancient rock art has been destroyed by vandals during the last 100 years. Efforts should be made to preserve remaining rock art sites and modern murals.

    4 to 5 inch flat stones, acrylic paints of various colors, glue and paint brushes.


      1. Have the students paint designs on the rocks that tell stories about their lives. When dry, paint over the design with glue. The glue creates a shiny surface and protects the paint.

      2. Encourage students to use African and American symbols in their designs and to create their own symbols that relate to their lives.


    Double-headed Serpent/snakes The double-headed serpent reminds the Bamum people of Cameroon that their king once fought his enemies on two fronts and won. The Edo people of Benin City believe that snakes consume and destroy illness.
    Crocodiles The Edo people of Benin City believe that the crocodile symbolizes power. The king or Oba is able to crush opposition like crocodile crushes its prey.
    Roosters The Edo people of Benin City believe that the rooster symbolizes power and authority. The queen mother rules over the king's wives like a rooster rules the hens.
    Chevrons Chevrons symbolize rain or water to the Dogon of Mali.
    Bird To the Edo people of Benin, the bird symbolizes the king's power to overcome false prophets and fortunetellers.
    Stool To the Dogon peoples of Mali, the stool symbolizes dignity and authority.
    Navel The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) believe that the navel is a focus and release point of strong emotions.
    Bared teeth Bared teeth generally symbolize ferocity and aggression
    Round hollow Eyes Round hollow eyes symbolize the ability to project penetrating inner powers.
    Half-closed eyes Half-closed eyes symbolize contemplation.

      3. Have students stand in front of the class and show their own painted rock and explain its symbols.

      4. Discuss the importance of preserving rock art and murals.


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    Material on this page was contibuted by the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art with the generous support of Disneyland.

    Activity developed by Jim Angus