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Dear Brigitte, sorry, I didn't mean to confuse anyone. Pictogram was the term I was looking for. I will discuss with my proof-reader whether it is suitable here. Many thanks to everyone who took the time to answer.
To Yorkshireman: Petroglyph is a good one, but perhaps still too technical for a casual conversation.
As you may have noticed by now, if your question is not precise you might get plenty of answers which might or might not fit.
What kind of story? Modern day? Who (what kind of person) is asking the question? Why not provide the original sentence and some context? In this kind of guessing game I won't even venture to comment.
OK, pictogram was the term I was looking for. Thank you. But now a slightly extended question: Does this only refer to modern-day signs? What about ancient ones? In my translation (a fictional story), somebody asks: "Is there an old Celtic sign for fire?" and I found the word sign too simple. Now, on second thoughts, pictogram is perhaps too modern and technical.
Explanation: In signs, a pictogram is the image used to convey the message of the sign. In statutory sign pictograms follow a very specific set of colour, shape and sizing rules. In UK and EU signs the width of a sign's pictogram is set at 80% the height of the area it is printed to. In the US, a pictogram that identifies a room or space (such as the gender pictogram on a restroom signs), must follow specific rules. Other pictograms that must comply with rules are the four "Symbols of Accessibility" specified in the ADA Accessibility Guidelines.