Art Austral-Asia

Polynesian Pitcairn

The pre-history of the Polynesian people has been the subject of great study and debate. Since the time of Cook’s voyages, explorers, archeologists and anthropologists have wondered about this rich culture which flourished scattered across many islands in some of the most remote, inaccessible places on earth. In modern times, advances in such disciplines as archeology, genetics, and linguistics have enabled some remarkable discoveries, and new theories about these ancient peoples continue to emerge. The most widely held of these theories trace a migration from Asia sometime between 2,000 and 6,000 years ago, although there are competing theories which point to a migration from South America. 

In 1971 the Pitcairn Islands released this four stamp set entitled Polynesian Pitcairn in celebration of the fascinating archeology of the island. When the mutineers of the Bounty arrived on Pitcairn Island in 1790, the ancient Polynesian inhabitants had already been gone for several centuries. However, they left behind temple platforms, petroglyphs (rock carvings), and stone tools which have helped to shed light on their lifestyle.

Unfortunately many important artifacts were destroyed by the early settlers. However, enough evidence remained for modern researchers like Marshall Weisler to piece together a story of a seafaring Polynesian culture heavily dependant on trade with its larger neighbors which died out when such neighborly trade connections were lost. 

The stamps in this set show various Polynesian artifacts; Polynesian petroglyphs which can be seen at places such as Down the Gods and Down Rope; Polynesian implements – stone axes and cutting tools; A stone fish hook and a Polynesian stone statue of a deity. With heavy brows, long noses, and solemn expressions, the statues discovered at Pitcairn are similar to the larger statues discovered at Easter Island. 

Art Europe Prehistoric


The Rock Carvings in Tanum are located in an area on the west coast of Sweden, in an area known as Bohuslan, which contains the densest concentration of Bronze Age rock art in Scandinavia.  Several hundred engravings are known around Tanum, and more are believed to be buried under the soil and moss.  Though many of the engravings are now filled with red or white paint to be more visible, originally, they had no color to set them off from the surrounding rock.

The Bronze Age artists used stone hammers and points to grind and peck the rock surfaces to make these carvings. Thousands of ship engravings have been found, with upward curving bows and sterns.  Engravings of humans are male, they carry weapons, ride chariots, pull plows.  Animals such as cattle, horses, deer, canines and birds also appear, along with abstract designs such as wheels and spirals which may symbolize the sun.  Many of the engravings depict scenes for everyday life such as farming or hunting while others show rituals and processions and battle axes show the status of warriors in Bronze Age society.

Various interpretations have been advanced; did they tell stories for future generations?  Did they express relations between the worlds of the living and deities or myths?

The Rock Carvings of Tanum were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.

Art Europe Prehistoric

Prehistoric Goddess Figures

They had large hips, pendulous breasts and by today’s standards would be considered – obese?  They are still being discovered today.  Some date as far back as 40,000 BCE, some as young as 6,000 BCE.  

Found throughout Eurasia with most from Europe, the original meaning of these female figurines is not known, though it is frequently suggested they may have served a ritual or symbolic function.  The statues are among the earliest examples of figurative art.

Archaeologists call them goddess figures, fertility talisman, revered mothers.  Better known examples are depicted on stamps.  From the Goddess of Willendorf; dated to 24,000 years old, this well-endowed upper paleolithic statue was found in Austria and depicted on a 3D stamp in 2008.

Another well-known figure is from Catal Huyuk, a Neolithic archaeological site in Turkey.  Seated, she is believed to date from 7,500 BCE and was found in the late 1950s- early 1960s.  Another was found in 2016 but has not been depicted on a stamp . . . yet.

The Lady of the Waters is from Malta and is also seated.  Though not as well know as the others mentioned here, there has been a book written about her in 1992, The Goddess of Malta.  Dating from 5,800-2,500 BCE, the figure was found in Skorba Temple Complex.

These female figurines dating from the Upper Paleolithic are called “Venus Figurines” in reference to Venue, the Roman goddess of beauty.  This came abut because early 20th century prehistorians assumed the figures represented the ancient ideal of beauty and/or fertility.

Art Prehistoric South America

The Nazca Lines, Peru

Located on the dry Peruvian plain the geoglyphs of the Nazca civilization are a mystery.

They represent coastal and jungle birds as well as a monkey, spider, snail, whale, llamas, iguanas, lizards and a recently discovered cat.  Some of the birds depicted are hummingbird, condor, pelican, crane, parrots and seagulls.  More than 800 figures have been found.

It is unknown how or why these images were etched into rock more than 1300 feet above sea level.  Some archaeologists think the lines may be sacred roads and others an astronomical map or some type of calendar.

The Nazca society thrived between 500 BCE and 500 CE and it is believed the images were created from 1 to 650 CE. The  Nazca Lines became a UNESCO world Heritage Site in 1994.

Peru issued stamps depicting Maria Reiche, an archaeologist known for her research of the Nazca Lines.

Africa Art Egypt

Abu Simbel

Since 1955 UNESCO has been working with Egypt’s Documentation Center to record Nubian temples.  In 1959 Egypt proposed that UNESCO led a campaign to save the monuments of Nubia.  Egypt would provide a sum of money but would need much assistance.  

A planning conference was held in October 1959 at the Nubian Documentation Center where experts in archaeology, geology, engineering and architecture attended.  

Abu-Simbel Monument

At the end of the conference it was announced the first monuments to be addressed would be the Temples of Abu Simbel.  Cut into the cliffs near the second cataract these monuments were built to honor Rameses II and his chief wife Nefertari around 1279-1213BCE.

The UNESCO council earmarked $110,000 for research into this project.  These temples were the last to be saved because of the immensity of the project which took over two years to complete.  The work was done by Swedish firm VBB (AB Vattenbyggnadsbyrån), who in a feat of spectacular engineering, cut and moved the temples, elevating them more than 200 feet above their original position so to be saved from the water.

Abu-Simbel Monument

The Campaign officially began March 8th 1960 when UNESCO Director General Vittorino Veronese launched the appeal from Paris.  The Work on the Aswan High Dam began January 9th, already they were racing the rising waters. The United Nations Educational Scientific & Cultural Organization collected funds from over 100 countries, and skilled engineers were sent from more than 50 nations to help, saving for future generations to see and study these monuments of Ancient Nubia.

$65,690.64 was collected through philatelic campaigns whereby about 50 nations issued stamps with Nubian motifs paying part of the revenue (for example first day issues and covers) to the campaign.  Though the amount collected was small, it produced a significant promotion.

100% of the monies collected through the sale of first day covers produced by the various governments went directly toward saving these monuments.  Stamps were semi-postals, some were overprinted and a “Tourist Tax” instituted by Egypt (US$2.00) went toward saving Abu Simbel.  The “TT” is still there, paying for upkeep.

Art India

The Cave Temples and Monasteries at Ajanta

The facades of the temples are known for their murals, paintings and sculptures.   These striking rock cut temples, more than 30 located in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, western India, date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480CE.  These Buddhist temples today are a UNESCO World Heritage Site protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, The temples were covered by jungle when first discovered in 1819 by a group of British Army Officers lead by John Smith who found the entrance to Cave #10.  After their discovery the caves were numbered 1 to 29 in order of their discovery, not their inception.


A treasure of Buddhist art, it’s believed today that they were constructed in two phases over five centuries. Several of the caves are still residences of Buddhist monks.  The paintings represent the several lives and rebirths of Buddha. Some of the caves contain some of the largest ancient Indian wall painting.

amanita painting

Africa Art

African Cave Paintings in Botswana

Tsodilo cave, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, has one of the highest concentrations of rock art in the world. Also referred to as the “Louvre of the Desert”.  It has more than 4,500 paintings preserved in an area of about 10 sq km of the Kalahari Desert.  Tsodilo has a unique spiritual significance to the local population as well as being a unique record of human settlement over millenia.

Giraffe from Tsodilo cave

The archaeological record of the area dates back thousands of years for painting and rituals.  It is estimated that the hills contain more than 500 sites, representing human habitation.  The rock art is linked to local hunter-gatherers. It is believed that ancestors of the San people created paintings at Tsodilo and there is also evidence that Bantu people were also responsible for some of the art.  Some paintings have been dated to be 24,000 years old

The Tsodilo Hills consist of a number archaeological sites. Two of them, known as Divuyu and Nqoma, have been dated to Early Iron Age.  Excavations from the caves contained pieces of jewelry and metal tools, indicating that these areas may have been iron smelting areas, making them one of the few Early Iron Age sites in southern Africa with evidence of metal working.

Ostriches Tsodilo Hills

In justification of inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the area has been used for many thousands of years by humans who have left traces of their presence in their rock art.  Tsodilo has been settled by successive human communities for many millenia and the area has symbolic and religious significance for the human communities who continue to inhabit the area.