Southern African Rock Art Facts

Did you know ? Southern African rock art facts

  • Painted stones found in Namibia date back at least 25,000 years
  • Rock engravings are generally much younger, with the oldest one dated at 11,000 years ago
  • Rock painting continued up until the time of the European settlers, as some rock art depicts wagons

  • San artists used fingers, animal hair brushes, stick and feathers to draw on the rocks
  • Iron was commonly used to make red and yellow coloured pigments, but manganese oxide, burnt bones, ash and fine clay were also used to make other colours
  • Scientists are not entirely sure what exactly bound all the pigments together, but it is likely that egg white, plant sap, blood and urine might have been used.

  • Paintings with several colours are generally the most recent, and often show the experiences that a healer might have had while in a trance. Trance paintings may show aquatic animals, lines with dots linking elements of a picture, and part human-part animal figures
  • The San believed that the eland had mystical powers, explaining its frequent appearance in rock art.

  • Archaeologists believe that the art works provided a way for an entire community to share mental images, such as those that occurred while in a trance state
  • Rock engravings are found in both hard and soft rocks, with the more recent engravings thought to be those that are more finely carved
  • Rock paintings themselves cannot be dated, but paintings on small stones, known as burial stones, can be radiocarbon dated.

  • As some panels have overlapping images, archaeologists can tell which pictures are the oldest, to provide a sequence showing the development of the art form
  • The San were in the lowveld long before the Africans arrived and long before the first whites came into the area.
  • A date and reason for the disappearance of the San in the KNP area is not known.

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