Rock carvings on the shores of Cape Besova. Photo: Press service of the Head of the Republic of Karelia

Karelian petroglyphs listed as World Heritage Site

Petroglyphs by the White Sea and Lake Onega unanimously obtain UNESCO World Heritage Site title during the 44th UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
August 13, 2021


Artur Parfenchikov, the head of the Republic of Karelia, has just announced that the petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea have acquired the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The petroglyphs received the UNESCO World Heritage Site status on July 28th at the 44th UNESCO World Heritage Committee session chaired by China. During the conference, which spanned from July 16th to the July 31st, 2021, the committee had unanimously decided to grant Russia’s petroglyphs a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Karelian petroglyphs thus became the 31st Russian site on the list.

The Onega petroglyphs are in the Pudozh region. Photo: Press service of the Head of the Republic of Karelia


Other famous Russian UNESCO World Heritage Sites include the natural heritage site Lake Baikal and the cultural heritage sites of Moscow Kremlin and the Red Square. 

The sites by the White Sea and Lake Onega contain approximately 4,500 petroglyphs and are amongst the largest in Europe. The petroglyphs have been carved into rocks during the Neolithic period about six or seven thousand years ago and give observers a sight into the Neolithic culture of Fennoscandia. 

The 4,500 petroglyphs are located in 33 distinct sites in split into overarching areas 300 kilometers apart from one another. 


22 of the carving sites, which feature about 1,200 figurines, are located on the eastern bank of Lake Onega in the district of Pudozhsky. The remainder 11 sites are scattered on the islands of the Vyg River located at the White Sea in the District of Belomorsky and are composed of 3,411 petroglyph figures. The petroglyphs in both areas date as far back as to the third and fourth millennium BC. 

However, the art subject differentiates in the two different areas. At lake Onega, the petroglyphs mostly represent various types of birds, animals, half-human-half-animal mythical creatures, cosmic symbols, and geometric shapes. While the petroglyphs at the White Sea mostly depict carvings of hunting, fishing, and sailing scenes, as well as animal and human footprints. 

Petroglyphs of the cape Peri Nos. Photo © N.V.Lobanova / Republic centre for the state protection of cultural heritage of the Republic of Karelia


UNESCO has reported that the petroglyphs are thought to be associated with sacred sites including burial grounds as well as typical settlement sites. 

On the 28th of July, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that the event emphasizes Russia’s presence as a vital cultural center on the global arena. 


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