KIDS’ BLOG! Picture This: Pictograms and Petroglyphs and the Stories They Tell

An example of Aboriginal hand stencil rock art.

An example of Aboriginal hand stencil rock art.

Update! This post was originally published on July 23rd, 2013. In the post below we explore the ancient history of rock art and how we’re still using pictograms to communicate today. Recently, ancient petroglyphs have been back in the news with the discovery of an ancient Aboriginal site in a suburb of Sydney, Australia. Researchers say the site is tens of thousands of years old and has probably been dismissed by locals as graffiti.[1] Actually, it is kind of like ancient graffiti and it helps us see into the past and get a glimpse of what life was like for the ancient people living in the area. The art is made up of hand stencils of things that were a part of everyday life, such as “eels, a spearhead and a crescent-shaped moon.”[2] The images are a particularly advanced form of aboriginal hand stencils in which numerous hands combine to form a particular shape.[3] There’s a waterhole nearby and the petroglyphs are on a rock overhang so the artists were probably living in this spot, using the rock for shelter and fishing out of the waterhole. Because of the size of the hands, researchers have concluded that this site was created by women and children.[4]

Isn’t it incredible how we can learn about people that lived tens of thousands of years ago just by looking at the pictures they left behind on rock walls? Read more below and don’t miss the activities at the end of the post. We’ve added a new Aboriginal Hand Stencil Activity!

And next Tuesday look for our new Lesson Plan to go along with an Ancient Origins blog post about ancient rock art.

Also, Ancient History Encyclopedia has a fascinating new article about the meaning of rock art in Europe. There’s so much to learn about our ancient ancestors!


Prehistoric painting from the Lascaux caves. Image courtesy of Peter80.

Prehistoric painting from the Lascaux caves. Image courtesy of Peter80.

More than 6,000 years ago people were telling stories, not with words as we do today, but with pictures.  This is during a preliterate time of human existence, or a time before language was written down and people were able to read and write. A pictograph is a “picture” of a person or idea.  Ancient peoples painted on rocks and caves the stories of their lives and the things that were important to them, such as hunting animals, celebrations and decorative art.  Below are pictures from the Lascaux Caves (Figures 1&2), which are a series of caves in France famous for their paintings from the Paleolithic Era.  This era or period of time started around 2 million years ago and is when humans began to live together in small societies or bands and use stone tools. How old are these paintings in the Lascaux Caves?  More than 17,300 years!  The paintings show the large animals alive at the time, which from fossil evidence we know really did exist.

For more pictographs and to see how they can be classified, click here.  This site shows you ancient rock art in Arkansas.

Another way that pictures were created is as petroglyphs, or pictures that were carved or scraped into rock rather than painted.  This rock art is able to be seen throughout the world in thousands of cultures that lived and died, but whom we can remember today because of these wonderful pictures in rock.  The petroglyphs below (Figures 3&4) are from the “Newspaper Rock” site in Utah, known for its many figures and forms.  Certainly these ancient people had a lot to say.

For more pictures, see these amazing petroglyphs from around the world at

But pictures telling stories are not just ancient history.  We use pictures in our modern world, too.  Look at the United States National Park Service’s signs that are in their parks.  Why do you think they use these signs?  Can you figure out what each sign means?

national park service

[1] Barker, A. (2014, November 20). Ancient Aboriginal rock art site found in suburban Sydney. Retrieved January 31, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Korff, J. (n.d.). Aboriginal rock art. Retrieved January 31, 2015.

[4] Barker, A.


Bon Appetit Wednesday! The Ancient Pierogi

1024px-Pierogi_in_london_feb_10Winter here in the northern hemisphere is showing no signs of abatement, and as the snow piles up, there’s no better time than the present for some good, old fashioned comfort food. Luckily, we’ve got a recipe with a long history of filling the belly and warming the heart. Homemade pierogis are perfect for a cold winter night. We’re bringing you a scrumptious recipe for making your own Polish potato and cheese filled pierogis from scratch. Get the kids involved and make it a fun family activity on a bleak and frigid snow day!

Pierogi are pockets of unleavened dough stuffed with various fillings and then boiled. They are most often identified with Poland, but they are commonly eaten all over Eastern Europe and even in Italy and Germany. No one knows for certain how the pierogi first made its way to Poland, but it is speculated that Marco Polo introduced the dumpling from China in the 13th century and the pierogi developed from there.[1] You can read more about the history of the dumpling and even find a recipe for pork dumplings for the Chinese New Year in our post Bon Appetit Wednesday! Pork Dumplings for the Year of the Horse. Still another theory credits Marco Polo again, but posits that he brought pasta from Italy and that is what began the development of the pierogi.[2] Learn more about the history of the noodle in our post Bon Appetit Wednesday! The Ancient Noodle. There is another theory that names the Tatars (or Tartars) as the originators of the pierogi and says they brought it with them from Eastern Russia as they migrated from the former Russian Empire.[3]

Like many historic foods, it is difficult to know the moment a particular food appeared and what its exact origins were. Generally, there are a number of influential factors that combine at just the right time and a new recipe emerges. Whatever the pierogi’s beginnings, it had an important place in Polish culture from the moment it first entered the cuisine. It was a dietary staple for the peasants because it was easy to make and could be filled with many different ingredients, from meats and vegetables to fruits. According to some 17th century cookbooks, pierogis were made especially to celebrate holidays such as Christmas and Easter, with each holiday having its own variation.[4]

Of course, the pierogi was so delicious it quickly spread from the poor classes through to the middle and upper classes, eventually becoming perhaps the most popular dish in Poland. Today, pierogis are enjoyed all over the world in numerous flavors. You can buy them fresh, frozen or even order them at a restaurant thousands of miles from their homeland. Still, there is nothing like making your very own pierogis with your family or friends, filling those dough pockets with fresh ingredients and sitting down to a warm meal.

Authentic Homemade Potato and Cheese Filled Pierogi

*Recipe courtesy of Sharon Smith. This is Sharon’s grandmother’s personal pierogi recipe, straight out of Poland.

Makes approximately 12-15 pierogis


For the dough:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup of sour cream
  • ¼ cup of butter softened (cut in small pieces)

For the filling

  • 5 large potatoes
  • 1 large onion finely chopped
  • 2 T. butter
  • 8 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper


For the dough:

  1. Mix the flour and salt together. Beat the egg and add to the flour mixture. Add sour cream and softened butter and kneed (Grandma used her hands) for about 5 minutes until it loses its stickiness. A mixer with a dough hook can be used but be sure not to over mix it. It needs to be a consistency that is easy to roll out. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. The dough can be kept for up to 2 days in the refrigerator.
  2. Roll out the pierogi dough on a floured surface until it is about 1/8” thick. Use a round cookie cutter or drinking glass to cut out circles of dough approximately 3” in diameter.

For the filling:

  1. Peel and boil 5 large potatoes until soft. Grandma used red potatoes. While the potatoes are boiling, finely chop 1 large onion and sauté in butter until tender and translucent. Mash the potatoes with the sautéed onions and cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let the potato mixture cool. The consistency should be thick where you can roll it into a ball if you wish.

Prepare the pierogi:

  1. Place a small ball of filling (approx. 1 tablespoon) on each dough round and fold the dough over to form a semi-circle. Press the edges together with your fingers to ensure a good seal. You can decorate the edges with the tines of a fork if you wish. If the edges are not sticking together, it may be because there is too much flour on the dough. Add a little water to help get a good seal.
  2. Place pierogi in a large pot of boiling water, maybe 6 or so at a time, for about 8-10 minutes. You will know they are done when they float to the top. Remove and let cool on a cookie sheet.
  3. How Grandma would serve her pierogi: Chop onions and sauté in butter in a large frying pan until the onions are tender. Add cooked pierogi and fry until lightly browned. Serve with the onions and a side of sour cream.


[1] Facts & History About Pierogi. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2015, from

[2] Pierogi History. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2015, from

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Strata: Portraits of Humanity, Episode 4, “The Secret Passage,” “Weedon Island Canoe” and “Alchester Memorial Stone”

StrataImage-webThis month we’re pleased to bring you Episode 4 of the new series Strata:  Portraits of Humanity, produced by AntiquityNOW’s partner, Archaeological Legacy Institute. In this three-part episode we look at memory and how we preserve the past to remember the lives that were lived so long ago. Continue reading

Happy Year of the Ram, Sheep or Goat From AntiquityNOW!

Hanging scroll from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911/1912)

Hanging scroll from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911/1912)

We hope you enjoy a festive New Year filled with tradition, feasting, family and friends! Check out our previous posts on Chinese New Year to find fascinating history and some delicious recipes for the holiday:

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Tray of Togetherness for Chinese New Year

LNY2015-Forever-single-BGv1Chinese New Year is a fun and meaningful time filled with family, feasting and important traditions with deep, ancient roots. In the past we’ve brought you recipes for pork dumplings, Nian Gao (sticky cake), egg custard tarts and sweet cream cheese fried wontons. This year we’re featuring another essential part of Chinese New Year, the Tray of Togetherness or Chuen Hop. In fact, this piece of the celebration is so important that it is featured on the 2015 U.S. Postal Service Year of the Ram stamp. Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! Take a Glimpse into the Lives of the Ancient Judeans and Make Your Own Piece of History

A cuneiform tablet similar to the ones on display in the Bible Lands Museum.

A cuneiform tablet similar to the ones on display in the Bible Lands Museum.

Have you ever sat down at the end of a long day and written in your diary? Or maybe you just updated your Facebook status and shared what you ate for dinner or how you were feeling after a difficult day at school. What if ancient people from thousands of years ago had done the same thing? We could learn so much about the way people lived, how they felt, what they did. These are the kinds of things archaeologists get to study when they are lucky enough to find written records and testimonies from ancient times. Continue reading

5 Ways to Celebrate an Ancient Valentine’s Day, Courtesy of AntiquityNOW

BigPinkHeartIt’s the most romantic day of the year and you’re not quite sure how to show your one true love that you’ll love him or her for a thousand years…. We have the answer. Give a Valentine’s Day inspired by the ancient past and remind your one and only that no matter how many years pass, your love is as timeless as the Mona Lisa and as enduring as the pyramids. Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Naan: Hot, Bubbly, Soft, Crispy and Ancient

Naan_shivaNaan—warm, round, flat, its surface bubbled to perfection. A bread so simple and yet so profoundly scrumptious. The perfect accompaniment to a delicious South Asian meal. Like so many unassuming, but integral dietary staples, naan has an ancient history. Today we bring you a recipe for a modern, homemade, vegan naan and the history behind this ancient comfort food. Continue reading

To Repatriate or Not to Repatriate, That is the Question….James Cuno’s Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts

AN Forum

The Elgin Marbles, one of the most famous cases in the debate over repatriation, are seen here in the British Museum.

The Elgin Marbles, one of the most famous cases in the debate over repatriation, are seen here in the British Museum.

The topic of repatriation of cultural artifacts is hotly contested, with intense opinions and emotions on both sides of the argument. Repatriation of cultural artifacts is a process by which an item is returned to its country of origin. Whether or not an item should be returned to its country of origin may seem like an easy question to answer. Of course a nation’s cultural history should rest with the nation itself. However, the issue is not so simple. Most people agree that when repatriation is requested because an item has been looted and illegally removed from its origin, it should be returned, but when the repatriation request is based solely upon a nation’s claim to their cultural heritage, the issue becomes extremely complicated. There are questions about a nation’s ability to safeguard the item, questions surrounding regions at war and embroiled in violent conflict, issues with humanity’s right to its shared cultural heritage and problems that arise when multiple nations claim a right to the artifact because the original home of the artifact no longer exists. In fact, the topic is so nuanced and is impacted by so many different forces, it is sometimes difficult to figure out which side you’re on. Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! Proverbs II: Timeless Words and the Soul of a People

An ancient Viking rune symbolizing fertility and new beginnings. In modern times, it is often used as a symbol for the saying "Where there's a will, there's a way."

An ancient Viking rune symbolizing fertility and new beginnings. In modern times, it is often used as a symbol for the saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

In Part I, we discovered how proverbs, sayings that carry a message or truth, seem to be a part of every culture going back millennia. In the oral tradition, before writing could delve deeply into the world of ideas, societies needed ways to instruct people as to how they had to behave. Proverbs arose as an effective way to do just that. Their wise and often witty words and images embodied the values of a culture. And while cultural values can be quite complex, proverbs were popular because they conveyed that idea, that value, that moral in a distinctive and memorable way. Continue reading