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Horse Petroglyphs, Nei Mongol (Inner Mongolia), China
Credit & Copyright: Dr. Bruce G.
Explanation: We are standing on a lonely volcanic rock outcrop in the heart of Nei Mongol (Inner Mongolia), China. Below us stretches a vast, frozen windblown plain, the central Asian steppe country. Before us, however, is recorded in stone a series of seldom-visited petroglyphs of people and animals from another era ... from a time when climate and habitats were more mild and diverse. Here is a history of past conditions, a window into another time.
In November 2002, I visited this bleak and remote location with a small team of Chinese researchers, on an expedition to study restoration of the steppe grasslands being lost to overgrazing and deforestation.
The petroglyphs here date to three periods: the Neolithic Age, about 3,000 BCE; the Bronze Age, about 2,000-1,000 BCE; and the Ironware Age from 12th century CE. Some images are easy to determine ... others are weathered or stylized and not so easy ... and most are simply beautiful in their artistry. View a slide series of the images here.
Some images show deer -- likely Western Roe Deer -- which occur in forest edges, woodland patches, and tall grassland. Other images show gazelles or antelope, and robust horses. One image is most significant, showing a tiger; tigers have not occurred in this area for many centuries.
Curiously, there are no images of birds, including swans or cranes so prominently represented in older Chinese paintings, although their habitat may have been more extensive in the past here and still occurs in nearby Dalai Nur Lake and Nature Reserve. Dalai Nur Lake has itself grown and shrunk many times in the past, indicating changing climatic and hydrologic (rainfall and precipitation) conditions. We will explore the amazing Dalai Nur ecosystem in a future EPOW episode.
So here we stand, shivering in the stiff wind, trying to imagine the world gone before. How true, that deciphering the species represented in these wonderful images, and dating the carvings, provides a window into the unrecorded past.
Acknowledgments: My thanks to Mr. Li Xiaohui, Director of the Center for Environmental Communications and Education in Chifeng, Hongshan District, Inner Mongolia, PRC, for guiding me to this location and helping decipher the images. My thanks also to Ms. Lu Xiaoqing for her excellent interpretive services.
Next week's picture: Barrel Cactus Pollinator
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