The painted caves of Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain are well known to the public because of their geographic location and their inclusion in art history textbooks. What is less known is that these sites represent only a small fraction of the world's heritage of rock art. Recent discoveries show that in many parts of the world early man chose to depict and engrave on rock surfaces. Although exploration has by no means been exhaustive, rock art is reported from thousands of sites. Scientific evidence such as Carbon-14 dating, paleo-climatic data and archaeological analysis indicates that the oldest rock art known today was executed ca. 40,000 years ago.

This art reveals the human capacities of abstraction, synthesis and idealization; it describes economic and social activities, ideas, beliefs and practices, and provides unique insight into the intellectual life and cultural patterns of man. Rock art contains the most ancient testimony of human imaginative and artistic creativity, long before the invention of writing, and constitutes one of the most significant aspects of the common heritage of humanity.

This endowment is rapidly deteriorating due to such processes as deforestation, pollution, urban growth and the spread of roads and development areas; vandalism and other human actions are by far the major cause of degradation. Most of this heritage has not yet been recorded or studied, and humanity risks losing it forever. It has become urgent to operate on an international scale for the recording, inventory and salvage of whatever may still be preserved for future generations.