Kruger Park Facts | Rock Art

vapour trail paintings.

Although Kruger rock art has its own stylistic personality, it is part of a much broader legacy of rock painting in southern Africa where there are literally tens of thousands of rock art sites scattered across the subcontinent. Most of the rock art found in Kruger is in the south-western foothills but recent research suggests that shelter paintings are prolific throughout the Park.


A rock art survey done in 2007 by Conraad de Rosner revealed an additional 57 sites in addition to the 120 known sites, identified mostly by Mike English, who pioneered rock art research in Kruger. De Rosner believes there is much more. Almost all of Kruger's rock art appears to have been made by San hunter-gatherers of the Late Stone Age, although former Kruger head Dr Salomon Joubert reported there were several sites in the far north of the Park that are of a completely different and more recent style.

These geometric finger paintings are believed to have been made by Khoi pastoralists who inhabited the Limpopo valley from the beginning of the first milennium. Most of the San rock art in Kruger is much older – with dates of between 1 500 years and 3 000 years old.

Most researchers agree San art is deeply spiritual, reflecting upon the rituals and spirit-world experiences of their ritual specialists: the !gi:xa, or shamans. However, Kruger rock art also appears to incorporate naturalistic elements – several sites depicting hunters with bows and arrows that appear to reflect the reality of hunting. There are also many depictions of trance states and a strong regional theme is the occurence of strange, other-wordly ‘vapour trail' figures – humans with long, streamer-like protrusions.

These have been found at no fewer than 12 different locations. Other common themes are the depiction of three-legged animals, hollow-bodied figures with patterning within them, and armless human figures.
Animals most represented in Kruger rock art are the eland and mountain reedbuck. Depictions of giraffe, buffalo, sable, roan, impala and elephant have also been recorded, while dots and dotted lines regularly occur, which some researchers believe are indicators of potency.

One of the most beautiful images, according to de Rosner, is that of a zebra found in a shelter near Bushman Wilderness Camp – only the white stripes are painted with the dark rock suggesting the rest of the animal. Materials used to paint the images include various plant saps, ochre, ash and blood – possibly to add potency.

The best way to see the rock art is to either do the Bushman Walking Trail near Berg-en-Dal which is close to several interesting sites, or to book into the neighbouring Bongani Reserve which may have the highest concentration of rock art in Mpumulanga, with 180 sites identified so far by de Rosner.



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