"The earth is the stomach of the sky", a line from an Aboriginal mantra sung by Aranda tribesman at a site marked by a sacred ground-painting, where the Great Ancestor spirit energy first emanated from the earth (1). "Though asleep, the ancestor was thinking. His desires flashed through his mind, causing animals to emerge from his navel and armpits." A fragment of one of many cosmological 'dreamtime stories', each belonging to a specific site of the Australian continent. 

Countless generations recreate these tales 'reading' them from the landscape where they are 'written' and can be remembered because the tales are linked to specific physical features of the surroundings and animal life (2). Songs are recalled while walking along a trail. Such 'song-lines' become 'song-maps', depicting mythical events at successive sites. Thus the landscape is a map of dream stories. Stories are not just sung or told but also danced and visualized. This can be rock-, tree- and body painting and 'earth sculptures', whereby the land is shaped into relief maps that on some occasions, like complicated initiation rites, can extend over several acres.




Scratched into the stony surface of the desert mesa of southern Peru long lines are drawn, so long that the pictures they form can not be seen from the ground. These are the 'Nazca lines' and only from the air their pattern can be viewed. They date from far before the Inca empire, at the beginning of the first millennium, when the human race was not airborne yet. For a long time the function of these drawings was a mystery, but researches for over fifty years point clearly to their astronomical and calendrical function. The monkey picture (measuring 80 meters) was 'discovered' in the Pampa of San Josť in 1952 (3) and might depict a constellation of stars that partly belongs to what in the Greek zodiac is called Ursa Major or Great Bear. The lines that also mark points of sunrise and sunset are incised in the layer of red stones that covers the yellow earth of the Peruvian desert (4) and have been preserved for many centuries because of the dryness of the area.


Climbing up the mountain, in the Italian Alps, and looking down into the valley of Valcamonica in the late Bronze Age (1900-2000 BC) one could have had a sight of a cultivated landscape on the valley floor as depicted in the rock carvings at Bedolina (5). This 'pre-historic map', measuring 4 by 6 meters, consists mainly of geometric, non-figurative, lines and marks. The few houses, ladders and human like figures are later added, in the Iron Age. 

Another look from above of the same valley, also carved in the rocks, has some map like features, possible houses linked by paths with human figures (6). There is no big difference between the representation of the 'real' and the 'mythical' world in pre-historic rock art that has survived till our time. The Triora Stela, a slab of inscribed stone from the Ligurian Alps in Italy, shows a picture that looks like a house with a ladder, but it is recently described as a pre-historic 'cosmological map' with the heavenly-, earthly- and under world (7).






A calabash of a goatherd of the Bambala people (nowadays Mali) summarizes a vision of the world with one circular and two crossing belts (of water) around a celestial sphere divided in four parts (8) below which animals move in the underworld. 


Another diagram like division of the world (in nine parts) takes the form of a tortoise (9). The arched shell as heaven and the flat underside as the earth. It is a Puranic conception from India dating back to the middle of the first millennium AD. Each of the divisions (Kurmavibhaga) on the tortoise has a set of Lunar Mansions (Naksatras) attached to it that exert influence over the people and countries occupying that division. It is both a map and a divination tool.




Mother Earth (also called Changing Woman) and Father Sky, wearing the horns of power and holding sacred corn plants and star crosses in their hands, are the subject of a Navajo sandpainting (10). The sandpaintings of this American Indian tribe are made on the floor of the ceremonial house (Hogan) and form a part of ceremonials whereby a medicine man cures or brings blessing to a person or community. Drawings in dry sand coloured with natural pigment flow from the palm of the hand through the fingers. The one to be cured is sat on the drawing, while the chants of the medicine man let the powers of the gods enter his body. After the ceremony, that can last for days, the drawing is erased and the sand carried out of the hogan to be dispersed by the Northern wind.