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inyathi

Having an interest in Africa’s culture/history as well as it’s wildlife I thought it was time for a thread on a subject that perfectly combines these two interests and that hasn’t come up as far as I can recall very often and that is rock art.

 

I’m not any kind of expert on this subject and haven’t visited a huge numbers of sites but I thought I’d write a brief intro before getting to some photos from the places I have been to.

 

All over Africa there are fine examples of rock art, ancient paintings and engravings or petroglyphs, such art has been found on all continents except Antarctica but there is more of this art in Africa than anywhere else in the world.

 

The Saharan Region is especially rich in both paintings and petroglyphs which provide a fascinating insight into the lives of the ancient peoples of this region and the of wildlife that they lived alongside, much of this artwork dates from a wet period when the Sahara was not a desert but a lush green land of rivers and lakes, lush grasslands and savannahs.  Besides depictions of people and their cattle and other livestock there are numerous representations of easily recognisable wild animals like giraffes, elephants and white rhinos in countries like Libya and Algeria far outside their modern historical distribution. Sadly much of this rock art is found in areas of the Sahara that are no longer accessible to tourists due to ongoing political instability, I don’t know enough about all of the countries of this region so there may be some sites that are safe to visit, certainly it should be okay to visit some of the sites in the Ennedi region of Chad, I have not done so. I have only admired the extraordinary engravings of giraffes for example found in Niger in photographs in Nat Geo and online.

 

Here’s a link to the Trust for African Rock Art click on the countries highlighted to see photos of this extraordinary art.

 

While rock art can be found in various places in East Africa the largest collection of paintings (that I know of) is as at Kondoa in Tanzania just south west of Tarangire NP, although I’ve not visited Kondoa the rock art sites are not that hard to get to being only 9kms from the main highway going south from Arusha to Dodoma.  While the site is accessible it’s only 3.5 hrs drive south of Arusha it is somewhat off the beaten track as far as Tanzania’s northern safari circuit is concerned and most people going from Arusha down to say Ruaha NP or Selous GR would tend to fly rather than drive. You really need to make a special trip to visit Kondoa  as you’re not likely to be passing by, therefore few tourists visit these paintings. The depictions of elongated human figures and local wildlife are thought primarily to have been painted by the Sandawe people, related to the San peoples of Southern Africa and speaking a similar click language the Sandawe were likewise originally hunter gatherers. 

 

Here’s a guide to Kondoa Rock Art of Kondoa Irangi

 

Further south, Southern Africa has an abundance of rock art, around the whole region numerous caves and rock shelters have been richly decorated with depictions of the local wildlife and people, for the most part these paintings and pictographs were created by San hunter gatherers and later Khoekhoe herders. The pictures are in many cases not actually depictions of the real world as observed by the San, but are in fact scenes taken from the spirit world visited by their shamans during trances brought on during ceremonial dances.  The frequency with which certain animal species were depicted depended on their spiritual significance to the people of the area. In South Africa (& Lesotho) where there could be anywhere up to 30,000 rock art sites and over 1 million images, the eland was the most totemic species in the Drakensberg and Maloti Mts for example there are whole galleries of eland paintings. In Namibia and Zimbabwe depictions of eland are far less frequent and giraffes much more common, other animals like zebras, rhinos, elephants and ostriches are also commonly depicted.  I don’t know if this reflects a difference in the past abundance of these animals or simply their significance to the artists who portrayed them.  Many of the painting and petroglyphs date back to around 2,000 years or so ago, although it’s recently been confirmed that some of the oldest paintings in South Africa date back to 5,000 years ago. The tradition may go back far longer but paintings on sandstone apparently don’t last for more than a few thousand years due to the porous nature of the rock. There are also much more recent paintings but it’s generally thought that certainly in South Africa the San stopped painting soon after European colonisation,  large numbers of San died from smallpox brought in by the settlers or were killed in conflicts with the newly arrived whites and also the expanding black tribes that were encroaching into their territory.  Conflict was inevitable as the San saw no distinction between wild game and domestic livestock regarding both simply as meat to be hunted, the severe reduction in their numbers, the disruption to their culture and mixing with other peoples brought an end to their production of rock art.

 

While I’ve not visited rock art sites in the Sahara or East Africa I have been to a couple of sites in Zimbabwe and in Namibia, as with the rest of Southern Africa the San were the original inhabitants of Zimbabwe and would have lived throughout the country, they produced the majority of the rock art found at over 15,000 sites around the Zimbabwe.  One of the highest concentrations of rock paintings can be found in the Matobos Hills just south of Bulawayo, throughout these beautiful hills caves and rock overhangs were decorated by the San. The most accessible of these caves sites in Matobos National Park is Nswatugi Cave, it has some of Zimbabwe’s most impressive paintings and is also conveniently close to Malindidzimu or World’s End the spectacular burial place of Cecil Rhodes.

 

Nswatugi Cave a Guide to the Big Game of the Matobos.

 

Rhodes Matopos NP as it was originally called was created in 1926, after Cecil Rhodes bequeathed the area to the country, much of the original big game that would once have been found in the Matobos had been hunted out. When it was decided in the 1960s to set aside an area of the park as a game preserve, that would be restocked with suitable wildlife, they needed to know which species they should reintroduce,  caves like Nswatugi provided a perfect guide to the original fauna of the park. At another site that I’ve not visited known as the White Rhino Shelter is the faint outline of what is clearly a white rhino, a species that was entirely extinct in the country when Southern Rhodesia was founded in the 1890s, exactly when they became extinct is not known (as far as I know) but this evidence of their former presence led to their reintroduction.  There is now a healthy and seemingly well protected population of southern white rhinos and also black rhinos in the park. Some of the other game hasn’t fared quite as well, some species like buffalo were actively exterminated some years ago for reasons of foot and mouth disease control and a lot of game was poached during the recent chaos, but hopefully more restocking will be carried out in future when the opportunity arises.

 

Photographing rock paintings can be a bit of a challenge as you can’t use flash which would damage the paintings, so I wasn't sure how well my photos would come out when I visited Nswatugi a few years ago. These paintings are perhaps 2,000 years old and have survived remarkably well, considering that Ndebele rebels hid out in caves like this one during the first Chimurenga or freedom war that lasted from 1894-97. It was from hideouts in the Matobos that they launched their guerilla war against the white settlers, a campaign that nearly extinguished the fledgling colony of Southern Rhodesia. 

 

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The large animal in the centre of the scene is an eland

 

The artists would often simply paint on top of the earlier paintings, frequently creating a jumble of images which can make it a little difficult to make out some of the individual animals and people, the shapes below the eland appear to be entirely abstract and I don't recall what their significance may have been if known.

 

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 Probably the finest painting of giraffes in Zimbabwe

 

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This would appear to be a female greater kudu

 

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Greater kudu bull

 

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Giraffes, zebras, antelopes and other animals

 

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Plains zebra

Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

Ever since switching to digital photography I’ve had a fondness for taking photos to create stitched panoramas, I must have created at a guess over 1,000 by now, mostly landscapes often including wildlife or sometimes specifically of wildlife. Every now and again though inspiration takes hold and I attempt to create to create a panorama from a less obviously panoramic subject, such was the case in Nswatugi Cave and I thought I wonder if I can create a panorama out of these wonderful paintings.  I had no idea at the time whether I would succeed in producing a worthwhile image given that I was shooting handheld and in pretty low light. What I ended up with was far better than I could ever have hoped and gives a very good impression of this fascinating place.

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Matobo NP doesn’t necessarily fit in terribly well if you are flying from Vic Falls or Hwange up to Mana Pools as people often do, but anyone planning a trip to Zimbabwe should definitely consider trying to include Matobos NP. Besides Nswatugi Cave and Malindidzimu and some of the most stunning landscapes in Zim, the park is one of the best places in the country to see rhinos. If you do decide to visit there’s probably no one better to go with, to see the paintings and Rhodes’s grave than Paul Hubbard one of the foremost experts on the history of his country, what he doesn’t know about the history of Zim either ancient or more recent isn’t worth knowing.

 

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Paul Hubbard in Nswatugi Cave

Edited by inyathi

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Tom Kellie

~ @inyathi

 

Thank you for a clear presentation of a fascinating subject.

 

Having never seen any rock art anywhere, your explanation with photos was especially appreciated.

 

May I add that the color tone of your images is  model, as it seems true-to-life when viewed on my screen.

 

Your respect for the artistry of those who lived in millennia past is moving.

 

Tom K.

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JohnR

I've seen rock art on game farms in Namibia where they are not being conserved. An example is the Farm Okomitundu where I took these pictures. The first shows a rock overhang where there are some primitive images. Not being in the protective enclosing of a cave the rock itself is crumbling so they won't be around much longer.

 

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... and what they were photographing (giraffe?)

 

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Game Warden

In 2014, during a road trip through South Africa and Botswana, @Bugs had arranged with John Hanks for us to visit the Lapalala Wilderness - www.lapalala.com: whilst there we were shown the San Bushman cavepaintings, a full overview of our visit can be read in this trip report, but for the purposes of @inyathi's topic here, below are a few photos from the experience.

 

 

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Our guide pointing out the more visible paintings.

 

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After 300 years the ochres and dyes are fading but a buffalo, sun, giraffe and lion (?) are clearly visible.

 

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Look carefully and you will see two handprints.

 

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@@Bugs wonders how the diminuative San would have reached up to make their mark.

 

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Comparing hand sizes. (Careful not to lay hands actually upon the rock).

 

An interesting article on San Rock Art can be found here. In this small cave our guide explained how this would have been the place of shamanistic practice - dancing and going into a trance to connect with the animal spirits represented in the stylised paintings. We discussed how the shamans would have ingested certain roots or leaves to produce hallucinatory experiences and how they would have called out to the clouds for rain. In terms of the hand prints, these were done for healing purposes: people would have come to this cave and placed their own hands upon the prints to absorb the positive energies. I found it an incredible place to be and we talked about similar pre Christian practises in Europe: it's believed we all originate from the early San People and despite this example being "recent", how many other proto religions share a similar root, similar shamanistic practises, trance states, connecting to animal spirits and cave paintings. It was a powerful place, with the sound of the river flowing below us, wind rustling the trees, atop the cliffs wildlife freely ranging. I felt this scene had not changed much since the paintings were originally done and I wondered before us, how many people had used the San staircase to be healed in this sacred place?

 

Matt

 

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JohnR

A similar problem with petroglyphs on a rocky outcrop on the Farm Okambara Elephant lodge in Namibia. The bare rocky surfaces are quite smooth so easy to scratch some drawings.

 

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I think that's a gemsbok/oryx I'm photographing. Okambara has an elephant herd and this area of the farm is one of the earliest to produce new growth in spring so popular with the elephants. It's my impression that with the sub-zero night-time temperatures, the hot daytime sun and the pressure of elephant feet as they walk around admiring the glyphs  the edges of these rocks are being eroded so again these petroglyphs may not last much longer .

 

 

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inyathi

@Game Warden Thank you I recall reading your report at the time, interesting that the animals while not that easy to make out because they're faded, seem far more stylised than the animals at Nswatugi, looking at photos elsewhere online the eland in my photos is also very different to the beautiful eland paintings in the Drakensberg.I suppose as these different San groups were living considerable distances apart it's logical that they would have had slightly different painting styles.

 

@JohnR Thanks, that last engraving must be a gemsbok given how common they are in Namibia and they do provide the most popular game meat in the country I imagine the San were pretty keen on hunting them, there's a good amount of quality meat on an oryx, maybe they still do, I don't know how much hunting surviving San communities in Namibia are allowed to do these days but I suspect more than they are in Botswana.    

 

Gosho Park in Zimbabwe

 

Gosho Park is a small private game reserve near Marondera in Zimbabwe primarily used for educational purposes by the nearby Peterhouse schools, it’s characterised by a mixture of beautiful Brachystegia woodland ‘miombo’ and grassland with numerous huge boulders in amongst. A variety of herbivores have been introduced mainly antelopes, zebras and giraffes, while these animals are beautiful and nice to see Gosho’s main interest for the international tourist is its miombo birds it is one of the best places in the country see some of these woodland species. Also along with Matobo it is one of the best sites in the country for seeing the boulder chat a regional endemic, although this proved not to be the case when I visited Gosho. The opportunity to see some good species has made this place a popular site for birders in the know, it also happens to be an extremely picturesque place.

 

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A little easier to find than some of the birds were a few San rock paintings simply painted on the sides of some of the huge boulders, the presence of these paintings just on the side of some rocks in a patch of woodland and not in a cave to me shows that there must be paintings everywhere around this region.  I have no doubt that there are plenty that have yet to be rediscovered. Looking at how worn and faded some of them are suggests that there were probably many more in the past, I don’t know what age they are but I imagine the San may have been driven from this area some long time ago.  While not as impressive as the paintings in Nswatugi Cave these paintings provide extra interest on a visit to this little reserve.

 

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San hunters at Gosho Park in Zimbabwe

 

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Zebra

This small rather more simple zebra than the large striped one at Nswatugi is actually painted on one of the large rocks in the top photo, I've circled it in the same photo shown below.

 

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You should be able to see where it is in the slightly closer shot below, a tiny painting on a huge rock.

 

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As you can see the painting is not exactly that sheltered from the elements, so the few paintings here have survived remarkably well, given that they could be a couple of thousand years old or at least many hundreds of years old.

Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

One of the best known and visited rock art sites is at Twyfelfontein in the Kunene region of Namibia within the area still commonly known as Damaraland. This site has the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in Africa some 5,000 individual images have been discovered.

 

Twyfeffontein

 

In 1946 a German Jewish settler David Levin and his family acquired the area that includes the engravings, undeterred by the harshness of this arid patch of the Namib Desert they set about establishing a farm hoping that the spring would provide sufficient water for their livestock. Whenever one of his Afrikaner friends would drop in and enquire how he was doing he would reply that he was fine but he wasn’t sure about the spring and how long it would last, his friend in response started to call him David Twyfelfontein meaning ‘uncertain spring’. Mr Levin decided that he liked the name Twyfelfontein and registered it as the name of the farm. When they first arrived there had in fact been a Damara family living at the site but the authority had them removed as the area had been earmarked for white settlement. David Levin and his family stuck it out trying to raise Karakul sheep until 1964 when it was then decided that the land would become part of a communal area for Damara farmers who were being resettled in the area. To the Damara people Twyfelfontein is known as /Ui-//aes or ‘Place amongst the rocks’ in the Khoekhoegowab language also called Nama/Damara this language that they share with the Nama is a click speech language hence the unusual spelling.

 

The history of the San people also known as Khoisan or Khoe-San goes far back into the distant past an article by Matt Ridley in today’s Times states that DNA extracted from a 2,000 year old San skeleton known as the Ballito Boy found in South Africa shows that the last common ancestor between his people and modern humans lived over 260,000 years ago.  I won’t provide a link as the Times is subscription only so you won’t able to read the full article, for those that are interested I found the following scientific paper

 

 Ancient genomes from southern Africa pushes modern human divergence beyond 260,000 years ago

 

Despite their very ancient history in Southern Africa it would appear that the San first occupied Twyfelfontein 6,000 years ago, the engraving and a few paintings are generally thought to have been produced 6,000 to around 2,000 years ago. The petroglyphs mostly depict wildlife, some are quite accurate representations of the animals and some are more stylised presumably depending on whether the artists had gone into a trance prior to creating the images and what sort of visions they may have had. Amongst all of the animals that you would expect to find in this region of Namibia like giraffes and ostriches and so on, there is at least one depiction of what is said to be a penguin and one that is very clearly a fur seal.  This would seem to suggest that the artists who made these particular engravings must have at some point travelled to the coast in order to have seen these animals. There are also accurate representations of animal spoor notably that of various antelopes which they would obviously have hunted and these may have been used as a teaching aid to help young hunters learn to recognise different spoor. Then there are purely abstract designs. Given the volume of images Twyfelfontein is one of the most important rock art sites in the world it has been a protected site since 1952 and was declared Namibia’s first World Heritage Site in 2007.

 

While most of these art works are perhaps not quite as fine as the paintings in caves like Nswatugi or some of the great cave painting sites of Europe like Lascaux or Chauvet I think if you are doing a tour of Namibia it is still worth stopping here for an hour or two on the way past to have a look around.

 

One of the best known engravings is the so called ‘Lion Man’ which depicts a lion with two pugmark like feet that have five toes like a human foot and an extra long tail that kinks in a right angle and has a seemingly six toed pugmark at the end of it. It is said to represent a shaman who is transforming into a lion but I don’t think anyone is completely sure what it means. When I decided to start this thread I presumed I must have a photo of the lion man which is in amongst a variety of other animal, however when I went through my photos which are scanned slides and were taken many years ago I found that I did not. Unless someone adds a shot of it, I suspect there will be one in someone’s Namibian trip report or else you can Google it.

 

The following shots are all scanned slides as this visit to Twyfelfontein was a long time ago

 

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The zebras with the obvious horizontal stripes are Hartmann’s mountain zebras since these animals have broad horizontal stripes on their rumps, the zebras at the top next to the kudu have only vertical stripes I presume this indicates that they are plains zebras. Plains zebras do also have horizontal stripes on their rumps but the type that occurs in this part of Namibia which is now recognised as Burchell’s zebra doesn’t have very broad stripes they’re certainly not as prominent as those of the mountain zebra. Alongside the zebras and greater kudu are some ostriches and a gemsbok/oryx and what appears perhaps to be a large very stylised rhino.

 

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As is sadly almost always the case at historical and cultural sites certain amount of vandalism has taken place in this case a bit of modern graffiti, after a fair bit of searching I managed to find a more recent photo of this rock face and the graffiti has been I presume scrubbed off or possibly even painted over I’m not completely certain, either way it has left a large rough yellowish rectangle almost worse than original vandalism. Besides the elephant and various giraffes and unstriped zebras is what to me appears to be a white rhino, today I would think this area is perhaps too dry for white rhinos but there are certainly white rhinos in the north of Namibia not far from here. Unlike black rhinos all of Namibia's white rhinos were reintroduced and on private properties with appropriate management they are capable of surviving in much more arid areas than they would be able to naturally so some current herds would be outside of their original range. Off to the right unfortunately missing from my photo is good illustration of what from the shape is clearly a black rhino which undoubtedly were here at the time and still are this region of Damaraland.

 

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The horned animal at the bottom of this rock looks to me like it could perhaps be a wildebeest or possibly it’s a cow this region is far too dry for buffalos, there are certainly depictions of cattle which record the arrival of cattle herders in Namibia. There are more animals in the middle of this rock that could be antelopes perhaps hartebeest or somewhat stylised kudu or they could also be cattle I’m not certain.

 

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Antelope, giraffe, birds and human feet

 

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More images of white rhinos, I presume rhinos as well as being common at the time had some special significance to the San, since there are images of them everywhere.

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inyathi

Somewhat controversially a few years back a large lodge Twyfelfontein Country Lodge was built within the buffer Zone of the World Heritage Site, although they did take some care to see to it that the lodge blended in with it’s surroundings, one might question why this was allowed. I have only stopped at the lodge very briefly to have lunch on the way past, I’ve not stayed here so I can comment on what it is like as a place to say, other than it is a little bit large for my liking. It is however a handy place to stay if you want to visit the engravings, the actual main site where the majority of the engravings can be found is the other side of the rocky hill behind the lodge. There are though some engravings within the grounds of the lodge at a little site known as Seremonienplatz The Place of Ceremonies, this is a little area around the huge rock on the left side of the following panorama.

 

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Although there is only a fraction of the number of engravings as there are at the main site these engravings are certainly worth looking at, if you are stopping at the lodge.

 

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You can see some of the engravings on the rock on the left 

 

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Giraffe

 

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Human hand

 

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Giraffes, zebras and ostriches

 

There are other animals in the photo above including what appears to be a possible rhino bottom left, there may also be a couple of antelopes possibly gemsbok though they don't seem to have any obvious horns. 

 

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Zebras

 

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Ostrich

 

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White rhino

 

The shape of this rhinos head suggests that it's probably a white rhino these animals were found in much of northern Namibia and there are reintroduced populations in various places today, whether the Khoisan artists were portraying white rhinos that they had actually seen in the vicinity of Twyfelfontein, or whether they had seen them elsewhere I don't know, but Twyfelfontein as it is today would be too dry for these animals, but not for black rhinos. It is therefore perhaps possible that it could depict a black rhino, but I think it shows more resemblance to a white one.      

 

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 The view from Seremonienplatz, the rhino above is in amongst a jumble of other animals on the rock on the left.

 

The art is not the only reason you might want to stop here, out in front on the way in, some distance away is a river, from our high vantage point in the lodge dining room during an entirely acceptable lunch, we could just make out some large shapes moving amongst the distant river side trees. Namibia’s famed desert elephants aren’t always easy to find it was just pure luck that this herd was resting in the shade beside the river at Twyfelfontein, there’s no guarantee that if you drop in or stay at this lodge that you will find them, but it is a possibility.

Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

The following not particularly striking paintings are at Spitzekoppe in Namibia, the place itself is spectacular anyone visiting this part of the country should stop for at least a brief look around, if you have time, perhaps if you’re on a self drive then camp here and have proper look around. My visit was really just a fairly quick birding and lunch stop as there is a nice little café on the way in, where we parked to go for a quick bird walk, I noticed a sign indicating there were some paintings and as they were only a few yards away I went to have a look. This sight is called Little Bushman’s Paradise, I believe there are more impressive paintings at what’s known as Bushman’s Paradise than these ones, but you have to climb the rocks aided by a chain to find them, I didn’t have time to go and look. Sadly, all of the paintings here are badly faded, in large part because seeing that the paintings are quite faint and not easy to see and photograph, ignorant tourists splash water over them or even soda, this sort of behaviour has been going on for years. It is unfortunately a vicious circle, because the more faded they become the more tempted people are to wet them to temporarily show up the colours making the problem even worse.

 

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White rhino at Little Bushman's Paradise Spitzekoppe

 

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? I'm not really certain what this figure represents

 

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Lion 

Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

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Paula’s Cave Erongo wilderness Reserve in Namibia

 

A short walk through the bush and up onto a hill side and along a bit of a rock shelf takes one to this little cave which has been decorated with a small number of paintings. Although there aren’t very many paintings and they're not among the very finest of Khoisan paintings they are still worth a look if you are visiting Erongo, the views are great and there are also birds and other animals to be seen on the way up and down.

 

 

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Hunting kudu

 

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Khoisan Hunters

 

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Khoisan Figures

Edited by inyathi

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inyathi

In 2005 Keith and Colleen Begg as part of their research studying carnivores in the Niassa National Reserve in the far north of Mozambique, were tracking a collared male lion, when they caught up with him, they found him asleep in the shade of a large boulder on the slopes of an inselberg called Nkopola. While taking a look at their lion through binoculars they noticed that there were a whole series of marks, dots on the rock just above him, that were clearly not natural, after the lion left, they took a closer look and saw as they suspected that they were looking at rock art, searching the surrounding area they found a few other less distinct paintings, this was the first rock art discovered in the Niassa Reserve.

 

Niassa25 Rock Art.JPG

 

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Photographing the rock art

 

The paintings have been ascribed to Batwa people, now long gone from Niassa exactly how these people related to Batwa Pygmy people in Uganda/Congo I don’t know, nor when the paintings were made, the significance of the marks and their meaning is not known as far as I know.  From Nkopola near the paintings you get a great view over the reserve and the miombo woodland, it’s not hard to see why people would have regarded it as good place to live, and perhaps a sacred place. Back then when the artists were living here amongst these rocks, I don’t suppose lions would have been very welcome.

 

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Bradshaw Foundation ROCK ART PAINTINGS IN THE NIASSA RESERVE - NORTHERN MOZAMBIQUE

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