Rock Carving

Three Gorges Museum, Chongqing

This undated petroglyph was found along the Yunyang (eastern Chongqing) section of the Yangtze river. It is the only rock carving that has been discovered, so far, in the Three Gorges area. As with any one-of-a-kind object, its uniqueness makes it difficult to interpret. What I see on this boulder is a sketch of a prosperous agricultural village, perhaps from the Warring States period or slightly earlier. The boulder's regular scored lines must have been inscribed by metal instruments, thus placing it securely in the Bronze Age. Additional data include the lack of writing or proto-writing on its surface, the rationality of its overall design (see below), and its "stick-figure" representations of the human form.

The face of the boulder is divided by three long horizontal lines into four registers. The faded bottom register glyphs are repeated in the top three registers, and needn't be discussed further here.

The next, lower middle, register has a "hairy line" on its right, continuous with a "building line" on its left. The "hairy line" with its numerous parallel upright marks suggests planted fields. Squares that are erected on the "building line" are probably buildings, some with trapezoidal roofs and others without. All but one of the roofs are decorated with numerous parallel upright marks; I interpret this as thatching, the dried straw from fields like those seen on the right. The most elaborate building has a double roof with a sawtoothed upper edge, perhaps a crenellated guard tower. Inside two of the buildings are a confused tangle of lines that might represent their occupants. The double-roofed building is duplicated in the upper middle register; perhaps the lower middle register was a sketch pad or trial run for the more elaborate design of the register above it.

The upper middle register is the most complicated. A tall, upright, spear-tipped pole bisects the register from top to bottom. To the left of the pole, are buildings that echo the ones in the lower middle register. In particular, the double-roofed building is repeated from the register below. In the center, the tip of the pole crosses a bent rectangle whose interior is scored with numerous parallel lines. Two long lines in a narrow "V" interrupt the textured area and extend out far past its boundaries. The pole is grounded in a narrow rectangular base that is decorated with a pair of "eyes" (concentric circles). The entire assembly looks like a flagpole with spear-pointed finial; it carries a fish-shaped windsock or banner, whose streamers blow in the wind. Such poles mark important sacred, civic, or festival locations. An identical pole with the same elements is repeated, at slightly smaller scale, to the left of the buildings.

In the right half of the upper middle register, above a planted field to the right of the central flagpole, an elaborate seated figure holding a standard is flanked by two upside-down figures. The figure on the left appears to be performing a handstand, and the figure on the right is acrobatically climbing down two poles that are set on either side of him. This appears to be a performance for a dignitary.

The top register shows a bird next to a fowling or fishing net. This could be a sketch of a lake near the village.

In summary, this petroglyph seems to depict a prosperous agricultural village with fields, lake, watchtower, and buildings; a celebration with festive banners is conducted for the headman or visiting dignitary. The two lower registers are preliminary sketches for the scenes above. Your interpretation may vary, but here for reference is a photo of the museum label.