The first scholarly studies on South American and Caribbean rock-carvings did not appear until the beginning of the twentieth century. Even today most archaeologists working in the field of South American and Caribbean prehistory neglect the testimony of petroglyphs. To remedy this situation, the author of the present work offers a critical summary of the crucial data for an analysis of South American and Antillean rock inscriptions. He discusses the techniques used in making the carvings, the nature of the sites, and the orientation of the inscriptions. He examines possible methods of dating the petroglyph, arguing that, beyond the observation that they are undoubtedly pre-Columbian, so far no firm conclusion to their relative or absolute dates can be drawn. Similar limitations apply to the interpretation of the rock inscriptions. Although one may glimpse possible pictorial, symbolic or social significations, no reliable conclusions can be drawn about their exact function and meaning, given the scarcity of data on the cultural background of the petroglyph carvers.
The author therefore proposes an alternative approach, isolating eighteen distinct motifs and thus classifying the South American and Antillean petroglyphs according to their geographical distribution. This type of analysis enables the inscriptions to be assigned to specific culture areas. The author concludes the study by suggesting a number of indispensable elements of future petroglyph inventories.
C.N. Dubelaar (1917), who studied Dutch language and literature, worked as a teacher and researcher in the Netherlands and Suriname for nearly forty years. He has previously published on Surinam Negro folktales and on the Afaka script, an indigenous syllabic script of the Djuka Negroes in Suriname. He took a degree in general linguistics at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in 1971 and was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Leiden in 1984. This study is an updated and revised version of his doctoral dissertation.