Rock Art in Africa

Rock Art Sites in Africa


3. Rock Art Site at Tsodilo, Botswana

Rock Art Site at Tsodilo, Botswana

Botswana has long been a magnet for travellers from the world over yearning to experience its great riches that include the Okavango Delta. Even as the heady days of the delta come to a close over the warm months of the year, one can find a Kalahari bushman guide to tour the Tsodilo Hill, which contain not less than 2,000 Stone Age rock paintings. In 2014, the Okavango Delta was inscribed as the 1,000th World Heritage Site. The only mountains or rocky hills in Botswana are either on the eastern side of the country near the border with South Africa or in the extreme north east of the country near the borders with Namibia and the Caprivi Strip, west of the Okavango Delta. This is where the Tsodilo Hills are located – inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2001 – where almost 4,500 paintings have so far been recorded, earning it a fine reputation as “the world’s greatest outdoor art gallery.” Or again, as the “Louvre of the Desert” owing to its spectacular quality and quantity of rock art in a relatively small area of only 10 km2. “Tsodilo Hills are a small area of massive quartzite rock formations that rise from ancient sand dunes to the east and a dry fossil lake bed to the west in the Kalahari Desert. These revered hills have provided shelter and other vital resources to people for over 100,000 years” – UNESCO. The rock art shelter is characterised by a wide variety of paintings on exposed rocks made mainly by Khoe pastoralists. The “white-painting shelter” has been periodically inhabited almost 100,000 years. Early Iron-Age villages and prehistoric mines set Tsodilo apart from other Southern African sites. It is possible that most of this art was made during the last 2,000 years. In eastern Botswana a lot of the art is San art but there is also some Khoe art in the east. Today, Tsodilo as a place of worship.

Spatial Location of the Rock Art Site at Tsodilo, Botswana
Spatial Location of the Rock Art Site at Tsodilo, Botswana

4. Rock Art in the Drakensberg Mountains

Rock Art in the Drakensberg Mountains

There are two simple reasons that the Drakensberg Mountains have become a lighthouse attraction for South Africa – and together they have tickled the fancy of a sizeable number of travellers and elite researchers to a place of exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts as well as its visually spectacular sculptured arches, caves, cliffs, pillars and rock pools. The first is its conservation area, the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, which is a popular transnational property composed of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho. The second reason is the Rock Art in the Drakensberg Mountains. This spectacular natural site containing caves and rock-shelters, has the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa south of the Sahara. They represent the spiritual life of the San people, who lived in this area over a era of 4,000 years. Inscribed in 2000 as a World Heritage Site, the 2,493 km2 Maloti-Drakensberg Park, that spans the boundary between Lesotho and South Africa, constitutes the primary water production area in Southern Africa. 

Spatial Location of Rock Art in the Drakensberg Mountains
Spatial Location of Rock Art in the Drakensberg Mountains

5. Kondoa Rock Art Site, Tanzania

Kondoa Rock Art Site, Tanzania

Discoveries of new rock art sites in Africa are still grabbing the headlines and sometimes get significant commendation. Researchers carry out years of costly studies to prove the age, decrypt the symbols and effectively document these findings: bringing together experts from multiple disciplines to participate, hunting down local experts who understand the finds, tracking to relevance and relation to other similar finds across the world, and then combining through heaps of data the official reports. It’s the little-talked about side of archaeology and anthropology, and it’s a big reason it can take years to officially launch a new rock art site. Currently, there are eight African rock art sites inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Tassili n’ Ajjer, Algeria 1982, Tadrart Acacus, Libya 1983; uKhahlamba/Drakensberg, South Africa 2000; Tsodilo, Botswana 2001; Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe 2003; Chongoni, Malawi 2006; Kondoa/Irangi, Tanzania 2006; and Twyfelfontein, Namibia 2007. Kondoa Rock Art Site in one of seven World Heritage Sites in Tanzania along with: Cultural Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara (1981); Stone Town of Zanzibar (2000); Kilimanjaro National Park (1987); Selous Game Reserve (1982); The Serengeti National Park (1981); and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (1978). This site is situated on the eastern slopes of the Masai escarpment bordering the Great Rift Valley and contains natural rock shelters, overhanging slabs of sedimentary rocks fragmented by rift faults, whose vertical planes have been used for rock art for at least two millennia. The collection of images from over 150 shelters over 2,336 km2, many with high artistic value, displays sequences that provide a rare testimony to the changing socio-economic base of the area from hunter-gatherer to agro-pastoralist, and the beliefs and ideas associated with different societies. Some of the shelters are still considered to have ritual associations with the people who live nearby, reflecting their beliefs, rituals, and the cosmos.

Spatial Location of Kondoa Rock Art Site, Tanzania
Spatial Location of Kondoa Rock Art Site, Tanzania

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