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Credit: Anthony Peratt


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Aug 13, 2004
Origins of Rock Art

The origins of rock art recede into prehistory. Images such as this one from New Mexico are commonly assumed to have shamanistic or spiritual meaning. But this only begs the question of origins. The Hopi, for example, attribute spiritual meanings to the images on the rocks, but they also claim the originators were the "Ancient People" who inhabited the mesas before the Hopi came. No one knows what meaning those Ancient People attributed to the images.

A suggestive light is cast on this question by Anthony Peratt's recognition that rock art forms are identical to forms generated by instabilities in high-energy plasma discharges. He presented this idea in the IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, Special Issue on Space Plasmas, December, 2003. Peratt is one of a handful of experts who have studied plasma instabilities for many years. Such instabilities evolve through a characteristic series of forms regardless of the scale of the discharge: a centimeter-long spark in a laboratory will progress through a series in a fraction of a second; computer simulations indicate each phase of a planet-sized arc could last many months.

If the electric currents that produce auroras in the Earth's plasma sheath (magnetosphere) were to experience a severe power surge from unusual solar activity, visible instabilities of this sort could form around the Earth. If this happened in prehistoric times, the ancient sky would have come alive with glowing, writhing forms. Ancient people, awed by the appearance of these giant instabilities, would incorporate the images into their cultures. The themes of ancient art and myth that occur in common around the world would be explained by the common experience every ancient society had of the "enhanced  aurora" in their sky.


David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill
Amy Acheson
  CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Mel Acheson, Michael Armstrong, Dwardu Cardona,
Ev Cochrane,   Walter Radtke, C.J. Ransom, Don Scott, Rens van der Sluijs, Ian Tresman
  WEBMASTER: Michael Armstrong

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