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Some petroglyph images probably have deep cultural and religious significance for the societies that created them; in many cases this significance remains for their descendants.
Many petroglyphs are thought to represent some kind of not-yet-fully understood symbolic or ritual language.
Some many be astronomical markers, maps, and other forms of symbolic communication, including a form of proto-writing.
Petroglyph maps may show trails, symbols communicating time and distances traveled, as well as the local terrain in the form of rivers, landforms, and other geographic features.
Another form of petroglyph, normally found in literate cultures, a rock relief or rock-cut relief is a relief sculpture carved on "living rock" such as a cliff, rather than a detached piece of stone.
While these relief carvings are a category of rock art, sometimes found in conjunction with rock-cut architecture,they tend to be omitted in most works on rock art, which concentrate on engravings and paintings by prehistoric or nonliterate cultures.
Petroglyphs have been found in all parts of the globe except Antarctica, with highest concentrations in parts of Africa, Scandinavia, Siberia, southwestern North America, and Australia.
Petroglyphs were still common though, and some cultures continued using them much longer, even until contact with Western culture was made in the 19th and 20th centuries.
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.
Later glyphs from the Nordic Bronze Age in Scandinavia seem to refer to some form of territorial boundary between tribes, in addition to possible religious meanings.
Petroglyph styles has local or regional "dialects" from similar or neighboring peoples.
The term petroglyph should not be confused with petrograph, which is an image drawn or painted on a rock face.