Rock Art of Southeast Asia

This is the web’s most comprehensive guide to the rock art of Southeast Asia

Rock art is a particular research interest and specialty of mine. Despite perceptions to the contrary Southeast Asia has a surprisingly high number of rock art sites – they are found in almost every country in the region. A simple of definition of rock art is that they are man-made markings created on natural rock surfaces. Rock art can come in several forms, the most common being rock or cave paintings. In Southeast Asia, they are often found in rock shelters and on cliff faces. But ‘art’ is a deceptive term because it can imply some sort of decorative or aesthetic function – using the simple definition of man-made markings, rock art can also include religious rock carvings, such as the Hindu carvings on Phnom Kulen, inscriptions such as the Singapore Stone or the Cherok Tok Kun relics – and to that extent, even modern graffiti. I sometimes consider megaliths to be a form of rock art in that they are a form of marking by way of landscape modification using natural stones. This is not a widely-accepted definition of rock art, but it should be noted that some megaliths in Southeast Asia are also decorated with carvings and paintings.

This page covers the archaeology of rock art in Southeast Asia; you can find more details about the different countries in their respective pages, or explore the Resource Guide for thematic areas. There’s also the Virtual Archaeology page where you can visit archaeological sites online, learn something from the Online Lecture Library, or find recent academic papers for more up-to-date research. In this page:

One of the most difficult aspects of studying rock art is properly attributing dates to them. Rock art is traditionally difficult to date directly and have often been dated in association with other archaeological material found in the site. Sometimes, these associations can be applied across sites – for some reason, almost every prehistoric rock art site in Thailand has the same approximate date of 3,000-5,000 years! Iconography is another way of dating rock art: art historical approaches have been used to date Hindu-Buddhist carvings; writing in the form of languages and scripts also give clues about their age; while certain imagery is useful in providing secure terminus post quem dates, such as images of steamships and cars.

Due to the nature of the subjects, rock art dated by iconography is recent and often not older than a thousand years. The most common and most mysterious type of rock art, red paintings, are thought to be prehistoric (even though defining an exact date is problematic) but are typically older than living memory. In more recent years, new techniques in direct rock art dating have been used in Indonesia and East Timor, yielding surprisingly early dates: hand stencil and a pig image in Sulawesi is date to 45,000 years – comparable with figurative paintings in Europe. The age of rock art in Indonesia, along with a large corpus of dated rock art in Australia, all suggest that there is rock art in Mainland Southeast Asia that is at least as old, and probably older.

Recommended Books

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There aren’t that many books on the rock art of Southeast Asia, and on the study of rock art in general. The list below is my personal recommendation based on what I have in my library, have read, and most importantly, that are available. I should note that there are a good number of books in local languages that are not listed. Newer books are higher up on the list. Some of these links are affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you click on them and make a purchase. For other sources of reliable academic information, you can read my personal list of publications and rock art bibliography below. For other sources of information, you should also check out the books page for latest releases and the occassional free book, as well as the journals page for the latest scientific research.

Image Gallery

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For more images, check out and follow Southeast Asian Archaeology on Instagram.

My Rock Art Publications

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I first started researching rock art while doing my MA at Universiti Sains Malaysia, at the Gua Tambun site in Ipoh, one of the largest sites in Malaysia. I was an early adopter of the software DStretch, and in my MA thesis (vol 1 and vol 2) I was able to identify over 600 images, as well as work out a relative chronology of the paintings. For my PhD dissertation at the Australian National University, I wrote about the occurrence of rock art sites and religious shrines across Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Besides creating detailed recordings of the seven sites, discuss the various histories of the sites and how they came to be. Some of these sites, such as the Pak Ou Caves in Laos, showed a multiple layers of human activity at the site, while other sites like the Padalin Caves in Myanmar only had very distinct episodes of human occupation.

These days I try to document at least one rock art site a year and conduct a detailed rock art inventory and baseline record. Most recently, I recorded the Lewun Rockshelter in Shan State, Myanmar. I have been dabbling with a regional rock art inventory and database, as well as experimenting with data-mining to uncover associations within the rock art corpus of Southeast Asia. Here are some of my featured papers and presentations, for a full list, please visit my or ResearchGate pages:

Southeast Asian Rock Art in the News

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Looking for something specific? You can also use this search box:

Rock Art Bibliography

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If you’re interested in reading more about the rock art of Southeast Asia, here’s my extended bibliography of published and available research for your reference. This list is a work in progress – if you have a suggestion for inclusion, please let me know by sending me a message.

  • Gillette, D. L., Greer, M., Hayward, M. H., & Murray, W. B. (Eds.). (2014). Rock Art and Sacred Landscapes. New York: Springer. [Buy]
  • Whitley, D. S. (2005). Introduction to rock art research. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. [Buy]
  • Clottes, J. (2002). World Rock Art. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute. [Buy]
  • Whitley, D. S. (Ed.) (2001). Handbook of Rock Art Research. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press. [Buy]
  • Anati, E. (1994). World Rock Art: The Primordial Language (3rd English ed.). Capo di Ponte: Edizioni del Centro. [Buy]
  • GOH, H. M., SAW, C. Y., SHAHIDAN, S., SAIDIN, M. & CURNOE, D. 2019. Community heritage engagement in Malaysian archaeology: A case from the prehistoric rock art site of Tambun. Journal of Community Archaeology & Heritage, 6, 110-121. [Link]
  • TAN, N. H. & CHIA, S. 2012. Revisiting the Rock Art at Gua Tambun, Perak, Malaysia. In: TJOA-BONATZ, M. L., REINECKE, A. & BONATZ, D. (eds.) Crossing Borders: Selected Papers from the 13th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists, Volume 1. Singapore: NUS Press. [Buy]
  • TAN, N. H. & CHIA, S. 2011. Current Research on the Rock Art at Gua Tambun, Perak, Malaysia. Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, 31, 93-108. [Link]
  • MOKHTAR SAIDIN & TAÇON, P. S. C. 2011. The recent rock drawings of the Lenggong Valley, Perak, Malaysia. Antiquity, 85, 459–475. [Link]
  • TAN, N. H. & CHIA, S. 2010. ‘New’ Rock Art from Gua Tambun, Perak, Malaysia. Rock Art Research, 27, 9-18. [Link]
  • TAÇON, P. S. C., DATAN, I. & SAUFFI, M. S. 2010. New Engravings Discovered at Santubong, Sarawak, Malaysia. Sarawak Museum Journal, 67, 105-121. [Link]
  • DOHERTY, C., BUCKLEY, R., GNANARATNAM, A., BEAVITT, P. & BEAVITT, W. 2007. Archaeological investigations at Sungai Santubong, Kuching, Sarawak. The Sarawak Museum Journal, 63, 65-94.
  • PYATT, F. B., WILSON, B. & BARKER, G. W. 2005. The chemistry of tree resins and ancient rock paintings in the Niah Caves, Sarawak (Borneo): some evidence of rain forest management by early human populations. Journal of Archaeological Science, 32, 897-901. [Link]
  • DATAN, I. 1998. Rock engravings. In: NIK HASSAN SHUHAIMI NIK ABDUL RAHMAN (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History. Singapore: Archipelago Press. [Buy]
  • DATAN, I. 1998. Cave Drawings. In: RAHMAN, N. H. S. N. A. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Early History. Singapore: Archipelago Press. [Buy]
  • DATAN, I. 1993. Archaeological Excavations at Gua Sireh (Serian) and Lubang Angin (Gunung Muluh National Park), Sarawak, Malaysia. The Sarawak Museum Journal, 45, 1-191. [Link]
  • FAULSTICH, P. 1991. From ashes to gravestones: The Charcoal drawings of Gua Badak, Malaysia. In: PEARSON, C. & B. K. SWARTZ, J. (eds.) Rock Art and Posterity. Melbourne: Australian Rock Art Association. [Buy]
  • DATAN, I. & BELLWOOD, P. 1991. Recent research at Gua Sireh (Serian) and Lubang Angin (Gunung Mulu National Park), Sarawak. Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, 10, 386-405. [Link]
  • ADI HAJI TAHA 1991. Recent Archaeological Discoveries in Peninsular Malaysia (1987 – 1990). Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 64, 75-96. [Link]
  • ADI HAJI TAHA 1990. Conservation and Management Problems of Rock Art Sites in Peninsular Malaysia. Malaya in History, 18, 92-101. [Link]
  • HARRISSON, T. 1973. Newly Discovered Prehistoric Rock Carvings in Ulu Tomani, Sabah. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 46, 141-144. [Link]
  • HARRISSON, T. & REAVIS, J. L. 1966. The Sarang Caves in Sarawak. Sarawak Museum Journal, 14, 249-268. [Link]
  • KNUTH, E. 1962. The oracle at Tambun: Malay and Thai paintings compared. Malaysia in History, 8, 3-10. [Link]
  • TAN, N. H. & TAÇON, P. S. C. 2014. Rock Art and the Sacred Landscapes of Mainland Southeast Asia. In: GILLETTE, D., MURRAY, W. B., GREER, M. & HAYWARD, M. H. (eds.) Rock Art and Sacred Landscapes. New York: Springer Science. [Buy]
  • AUNG, Y. Y. 2013. New discoveries of rock art in Badalin Caves, Myanmar. Rock Art Research, 30, 253. [Link]
  • GUTMAN, P., HUDSON, B., HTIN, K. M. & AUNG, K. T. 2007. Rock art and artisans in the Lemro Valley, Arakan, Myanmar. Antiquity, 81, 655-674. [Link]
  • TAÇON, P. S. C., DAW YEE YEE AUNG & THORNE, A. 2004. Myanmar prehistory: rare rock-markings revealed. Archaeology in Oceania, 39, 138-139. [Link]
  • U AUNG THAW 1971. The “Neolithic” culture of the Padah-lin Caves. Asian Perspectives, 14, 123-133. [Link]
  • VALIENTES, E. A. (2019). The Archaeology and Meaning of the Boat-shaped Stone Markers in Vuhus Island, Batanes Province, Northern Philippines. Hukay, 21, 1-25. [Link]
  • JALANDONI, A. & TACON, P. S. C. 2018. A new recording and interpretation of the rock art of Angono, Rizal, Philippines. Rock Art Research, 35, 47-61. [Link]
  • FAYLONA, M. G. P. G., LISING, C. M. Q. & DIZON, E. Z. 2016. Re-Examining Pictograms In The Caves Of Cagayan Valley, Philippines. Rock Art Research, 33, 182-192. [Link]
  • BAUTISTA, A. P. 2015. Current Status of Archaeology in the Philippines. In: TAN, N. H. (ed.) Advancing Southeast Asian Archaeology 2013: Selected Papers from the First SEAMEO SPAFA International Conference on Southeast Asian Archaeology, Chonburi, Thailand 2013. Bangkok: SEAMEO SPAFA. [Link]
  • JENKINS, D. A. 2007. The voice at the red wall: A study of Philippine rock art and ethnography. Philippine Quarterly of Culture & Society, 35, 373-383. [Link]
  • PERALTA, J. T. 2000. The Tinge of Red: Prehistory of Art in the Philippines, Manila, National Commission for Culture and the Arts. [Buy]
  • LAIDLAY, J. W. 1848. Three fragments from the Singapore Stone. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 17, 66-72.
  • LAIDLAY, J. W. 1848. Note on the Inscriptions from Singapore and Province Wellesley Forwarded by the Hon. Col Butterworth and Col J. Low. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 17, 66-72.
  • BLAND, W. 1837. Inscription on the Jetty at Singapur. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 6, 680-682.
  • CRAWFURD, J. 1830. Journal of an Embassy to the Courts of Siam and Cochin China, London, H. Colburn and R. Bentley.
  • DAMBRICOURT-MALASSÉ, A., CAO, B., YOU, Q. & ZHANG, P. 2019. Agro-pastoral rituals and shaman dances of Dahongyan rock painting, Guizhou, Southwestern China, new investigations. Quaternary International. [Link]
  • SHAO, Q.-F., PONS-BRANCHU, E., ZHU, Q.-P., WANG, W., VALLADAS, H. & FONTUGNE, M. 2017. High precision U/Th dating of the rock paintings at Mt. Huashan, Guangxi, southern China. Quaternary Research, 88, 1-17. [Link]
  • DEMATTÈ, P. 2015. Travel and landscape: the Zuo River Valley rock art of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China. Antiquity, 89, 613-628. [Link]
  • GAO, Q. 2013. The Huashan Rock art Site (China): The Sacred Meeting Place for Sky, Water and Earth. Rock Art Research, 30, 22-32. [Link]
  • TAÇON, P. S. C., AUBERT, M., LI, G., YANG, D., LIU, H., MAY, S. K., FALLONG, S., JI, X., CURNOE, D. & HERRIES, A. I. R. 2012. Uranium-series age estimates for rock art in southwest China. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39, 492-499. [Link]
  • TAÇON, P. S. C., LI, G., YANG, D., MAY, S. K., LIU, H., AUBERT, M., JI, X., CURNOE, D. & HERRIES, A. I. R. 2010. Naturalism, Nature and Questions of Style in Jinsha River Rock Art, Northwest Yunnan, China. Cambridge Archaeology Journal, 20, 67-86. [Link]
  • MEACHAM, W. 2009. The Archaeology of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Press.
  • MEACHAM, W. 2009. Rock Carvings in Hong Kong, Hong Kong, William Meacham. [Buy]
  • SURINLERT, J., AUETRAKULVIT, P., ZEITOUN, V., TIAMTINKRIT, C. & KHEMNAK, P. 2018. Comparison of rock painting sites in the Pratu Pha Valley, Lampang Province, Thailand. In: TAN, N. H. (ed.) Advancing Southeast Asian Archaeology 2016. Bangkok: SEAMEO SPAFA. [Link]
  • SUKKHAM, A., TACON, P. S. C., TAN, N. H. & ASYAARI BIN MUHAMAD 2017. Ships and Maritime Activities in the North-eastern Indian Ocean: re-analysis of rock art of Tham Phrayanaga (Viking Cave), southern Thailand. The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 46, 108-131. [Link]
  • TAN, N. H., SUKKHAM, A., BOYLE, G., TANOMPOLKRANG, W., BOWONSACHOTI, J. & SINGHASENI, D. 2016. “What Rock Art?” Stories from Northeast Thailand. In: BRADY, L. M. & TAÇON, P. S. C. (eds.) Relating to Rock Art in the Contemporary World. Boulder, Colorado: University of Colorado Press. [Buy]
  • TAN, N. H. & TAÇON, P. S. C. 2014. Rock Art and the Sacred Landscapes of Mainland Southeast Asia. In: GILLETTE, D., MURRAY, W. B., GREER, M. & HAYWARD, M. H. (eds.) Rock Art and Sacred Landscapes. New York: Springer Science. [Buy]
  • ZEITOUN, V., AUETRAKULVIT, P., FORESTIER, H., ZAZZO, A., DAVTIAN, G., NAKBUNLUNG, S. & TIAMTINKRITG, C. 2013. Discovery of a Mesolithic burial near the painted rock-shelter of Ban Tha Si (Lampang province, Northern Thailand): Implications for regional mortuary practices. Comptes Rendus Palevol, 12, 127–136. [Link]
  • SIDISUNTHORN, P., GARDNER, S. & SMART, D. 2006. Caves of Northern Thailand, Bangkok, River Books. [Buy]
  • TREERAYAPIWAT, C. 2005. Patterns of Habitation and Burial Activity in the Ban Rai Rock Shelter, Northwestern Thailand. Asian Perspectives, 44, 231-245. [Link]
  • SHOOCONGDEJ, R. 2001. Gender Roles Depicted in Rock Art: A Case from Western Thailand. In: NELSON, M. & ROSEN-AYALON, M. (eds.) In Pursuit of Gender: Worldwide Archaeological Approaches. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press. [Buy]
  • MUNIER, C. 1998. Sacred Rocks and Buddhist Caves in Thailand, Bangkok, White Lotus. [Buy]
  • KHEMNAK, P. 1996. Sinlapa Tham Samai Kon Prawattisat Nai Prathet Thai [Prehistoric Cave Art in Thailand], Bangkok, Fine Arts Department. [Buy]
  • BLAKE, W. 1996. Drawings of ships in caves in Thailand. Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 20, 39-64. [Link]
  • DUNKLEY, J. R. 1995. The Caves of Thailand, Sydney, Speleological Research Council.
  • SRISUCHAT, A. 1992. Rock Art Of The Historic Period In Thailand, Bangkok, Fine Arts Department.
  • BULLEN, M. 1992. Rock Art in Thailand. In: LORBLANCHET, M. (ed.) Rock Art in the Old World. India: Thomson Press Ltd.
  • OLIVEIRA, N. V., O’CONNOR, S. & BELLWOOD, P. 2019. Dong Son drums from Timor-Leste: prehistoric bronze artefacts in Island Southeast Asia. Antiquity, 93, 163-180. [Link]
  • O’CONNOR, S., MAHIRTA, TANUDIRJO, D., RIRIMASSE, M., HUSNI, M., KEALY, S., HAWKINS, S. & ALIFAH 2017. Ideology, Ritual Performance and Its Manifestations in the Rock Art of Timor-Leste and Kisar Island, Island Southeast Asia. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 1-17. [Link]
  • GALIPAUD, J.-C., KINASTON, R. & GUILLAUD, D. 2016. Aleti Tunu Bibi: Contextualizing a New Rock Art Site in East Timor and the Wider Asia-Pacific Region. Asian Perspectives, 55, 128-147. [Link]
  • O’CONNOR, S. 2015. Rethinking the Neolithic in Island Southeast Asia, with Particular Reference to the Archaeology of Timor-Leste and Sulawesi. Archipel, 90, 15-47. [Link]
  • O’CONNOR, S., APLIN, K., PIERRE, E. S. & FENG, Y.-X. 2010. Faces of the ancestors revealed: discovery and dating of a Pleistocene-age petroglyph in Lene Hara Cave, East Timor. Antiquity, 84, 649-665. [Link]
  • O’CONNOR, S. & OLIVERA, N. V. 2007. Inter- and Intraregional Variation in the Austronesian Painting Tradition: A View from East Timor. Asian Perspectives, 46, 389-403. [Link]
  • LAPE, P. V., O’CONNOR, S. & BURNINGHAM, N. 2007. Rock Art: A Potential Source of Information about Past Maritime Technology in the South-East Asia-Pacific Region. The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 36, 238–253. [Link]
  • AUBERT, M., O’CONNOR, S., MCCULLOCH, M., MORTIMER, G., WATCHMAN, A. & RICHER-LAFLÈCHE, M. 2007. Uranium-series dating rock art in East Timor. Journal of Archaeological Science, 34, 991-996. [Link]
  • O’CONNOR, S. 2003. Nine new painted rock art sites from East Timor in the Context of the Western Pacific Region. Asian Perspectives, 42, 96-128. [Link]
  • O’CONNOR, S., SPRIGGS, M. & VETH, P. 2002. Excavation at Lene Hara Cave establishes occupation in East Timor at least 30,000-35,000 years. Antiquity, 76, 45-50. [Link]
  • TRAN KY PHUONG, LUONGKHOTH, T. & PHON, K. 2015. The New Archaeological Finds in Northeast Cambodia, Southern Laos and Central Highland of Vietnam: Considering on the Significance of Overland Trading Route and Cultural Interactions of the Ancient Kingdoms of Champa and Cambodia. In: TAN, N. H. (ed.) Advancing Southeast Asian Archaeology 2013: Selected Papers from the First SEAMEO SPAFA International Conference on Southeast Asian Archaeology, Chonburi, Thailand 2013. Bangkok: SEAMEO SPAFA.
  • TRINH, N. C. 2007. Nhung Hinh Khac Co Tren Da O Xin Man, Ha Giang. Khao Go, 149, 76-84.
  • GOLOUBEW, V. 1925. Roches gravées dans la région de Chapa. Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, 25, 423-433. [Link]
  • CARSON, M. T. 2017. Cultural spaces inside and outside caves: a study in Guam, western Micronesia. Antiquity, 91, 421-441. [Link]
  • MILLERSTROM, S. 2012. Polynesian rock art research, 2005- 2009. In: BAHN, P., FRANKLIN, N. & STRECKER, M. (eds.) Rock Art Studies News of the World IV. Oxford: Oxbow. [Buy]
  • TACON, P. S. C., MAY, S. K., FALLON, S. J., TRAVERS, M., GUSE, D. & LAMILAMI, R. 2010. A minimum age for early depictions of Southeast Asian praus in the rock art of Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. Australian Archaeology, 71, 1-10. [Link]

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