There are pictures of people hunting for deer, marine hunting and mysterious human-shaped amanitas.
Petroglyphs are among the most ancient ways of communicating and began being used back in the Stone Age. They are often found around sanctuaries, places for ritual gathering and important geographical points, such as passes, crossings, etc.
The Pegtymel petroglyphs were discovered on the right bank of the river, about 50 km from East Siberian Sea, in the 1960s.
The majority of illustrations cover a distance of 1.5 km on the Kuikule cliff at a height of 30 metres. There are dozens of them on each of the 12 rocks. Expeditions in the 2000s revealed 170 more depicting entirely different stories, as compared to those previously discovered.
The Pegtymel drawings are the only Russian artefact of rock art located north of the Arctic Circle.
Another unique fact about the Pegtymel petroglyphs is that they are the latest among all the petroglyphs ever found on the planet. Their age is estimated at between the first millennium BCE and the first millennium CE.
The Kuykuulsky cliff's illustrations were made with a variety of techniques: embossed or scratched into the rock.
The painters used pieces of white quartz. On many of the embossed pictures, you can see thin lines of sketches.
The Pegtymel petrglyphs are not large – about the size of a palm. They are hard to spot from the river and don't show from the upper edge of the cliff; many are hidden in rocky niches. Drawings are displayed at eye level of a seated or, more rarely, standing person.
The Pegtymel petroglyphs can be broken down into two groups associated with the cultures that existed at that time. The ancestors of the Yukagir people hunted wild deer in Chukotka, while the ancestors of the Eskimos pursued a more advanced field – sea hunting.
Pictures of wild deer hunting were repeated more often than others.
Animals are depicted individually or in herds. There are often half face figures of animals with narrow muzzles and characteristic outlines of horns.
The one most common picture illustrates a hunter tracking a swimming reindeer. The hind legs of the animal were depicted below the front ones and the water line forms a smooth arc between the hunter and his victim. The prey was often drawn disproportionately large, while hunters could be shown very schematically, literally with one stroke. That said, there are other examples, when animals were illustrated more realistically, and men – in greater detail. Hunters in these images went on a small boat – a kayak – and hit wild deer with a spear or harpoon.
Some petroglyphs depict larger boats with many rowers: they held deer back, preventing them from swimming down the river. Previously, in these places in spring and autumn, deer crossed the river, becoming easy prey for hunters.
There are unique pictures of hunters carrying an upturned corpse of a killed deer in a kayak.
There are petroglyphs of hunting for deer with dogs on land, as well as pictures of wolves pursuing deer. Sometimes, ancient people carved only a part of a deer or just the hoof prints.
There are pictures of hunting on foot with a pike or a slingshot for a bear or elk. You can also see other animals and birds: polar bears, arctic foxes, or cranes.
More rarely – marine animals: whales, orcas, or seals. In similar pictures of marine hunting, you can see canoes that were used by the northern peoples.
On the Kuikule cliff, you can also see images of constructions used to dry the whale carcasses.
Many drawings on the rocks of Pegtymel depict extreme states. Sometimes, pictures of hunting are drawn beside somewhat mysterious images that look like dreams. These are mesmerising scenes of dialogue between spirits, people, and animals beyond human language, which, apparently, were reproduced in ancient rituals.
Among the petroglyphs of Pegtymel, mysterious images stand out which depict dancing human-shaped amanitas.
These are anthropomorphic figures in mushroom-shaped hats. Many of them look like they are moving around or dancing. A mushroom is placed above, upon, or in place of a human head. Sometimes, there are several mushroom caps. And occasionally people's feet resemble stipes.
The largest petroglyph (35 cm in height) depicts a mushroom-woman with two braids. Next to her, there is a group of mushroom-people performing a ritual dance around a fallen deer.
Ancient people had a cult of the amanita. The people of Siberia, the Far East, and Alaska have centuries-old traditions of using these mushrooms in medicine and for rituals. Chukchi shamans used them to go into a trance. Anthropomorphic amanitas were sometimes depicted next to ordinary people, symbolising the connection between this world and the world of the dead. According to ancient beliefs, amanitas led people to the other world to reveal the essence of life.
A cave and camps of ancient hunters were discovered on the edge of the cliff, not far from the rocks with petroglyphs.
Getting to the Pegtymel petroglyphs is not easy – it means going on a real expedition on all-terrain vehicles or an all-terrain bus from Pevek. Although the way to Pegtymel could be quite a challenge, taking a flight to the northernmost city of Russia – Pevek – is not that big of a deal. This is the second city in Chukotka, which can be reached by direct flight from Moscow.