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The term petroglyph should not be confused with petrograph, which is an image drawn or painted on a rock face.

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Petroglyph styles has local or regional "dialects" from similar or neighboring peoples.

Natural rock formations made into statues or other sculpture in the round, most famously at the Great Sphinx of Giza, are also usually excluded.

Reliefs on large boulders left in their natural location, like the Hittite İmamkullu relief, are likely to be included, but smaller boulders described as stele or carved orthostats.

According to these theories it is possible that the similarity of petroglyphs (and other atavistic or archetypal symbols) from different cultures and continents is a result of the genetically inherited structure of the human brain.

Other theories suggest that petroglyphs were carved by spiritual leaders, such as shamans, in an altered state of consciousness, perhaps induced by the use of natural hallucinogens.

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