Two Southern African Rock Art Sites as Indicators of Ancient Migratory Routes

By van Rooyen, Piet | Rock Art Research, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Two Southern African Rock Art Sites as Indicators of Ancient Migratory Routes


van Rooyen, Piet, Rock Art Research


KEYWORDS: Southern Africa - Rock art - Stylistic similarity - River systems - Migration

Abstract. A recently rediscovered rock art site at Farm Hornkranz-South in the Khomas Hochland of Namibia presents a close resemblance to the Fallen Rock site at Bushman's Kloof in the Cederberg of South Africa. This discovery may well point to early San migration up the river systems from the Western Cape via Namaqualand and the Orange River to the interior of Namibia. If a migration hypothesis can be archeologically expounded by means of, for instance, pot shards, lithic assemblage, or by linguistics, then the same should be possible by means of rock paintings, especially in the case of ones so convincingly similar as those from the two sites under consideration. It may here be productive to analyse the two sets of paintings, not only in terms of age, placement, symbolism and orientation, but also in terms of artistic style and aesthetics, in order to explore a cultural (art-historical) connection. Although the aesthetic approach may not solve the symbolic problems of ancient rock art, it may well be of use in indicating relatedness between artistic styles, and time/space. Traces of a cultural relationship, as evidenced through styles of art, would then necessitate a closer look at river systems as possible arteries for migration in pre-Historic southern Africa.

A set of rock paintings was recently discovered by a group of hikers of the Wilderness Therapy Group in a ravine offthe Gaub River on Farm Hornkranz-South, No. 201 in the extreme south-western corner of the Windhoek district of Namibia (Van Vuuren 2011) (Fig. 1). The drawings are well-hidden in an inaccessible ravine on the south-western end of the farm. The site was, to all evidence, never known of by recent farmowners, or other post-pre- Historic visitors to the area. Although Scherz describes rock art on adjacent farms like Weissenfels and Gölschau (Scherz 1986: 327), no mention is, for instance, here made of the Hornkranz-South paintings.

I made a field visit to the rock art site just a week-end after its re-discovery. The paintings consist of anthropomorphs and zoomorphs. The most prominent drawing is of an 'elephant' of dimensions of approximately 180 mm × 230 mm, done in a monochrome red (Fig. 2). There is some water damage to the 'elephant' painting from rainwater drainage down the rock face, but in general it is still sharp and clear, partly due probably to the protected position within a rock frame. The paintings are adjacent to a non-perennial water source in the form of a small spring, the only water source in many square kilometres of arid terrain.

On the lefthand side of the 'elephant' is a red figure of an elongated 'person', with lines connecting to the upper part of the body, and apparently carrying a 'shouldered bag' of some sort. It has been suggested in the shamanistic rock art literature that such anthropomorphs depict shamans (see for instance Lewis-Williams and Pearce 2004: 174). To the right of this figure is another elongated figure in 'running' posture (Fig. 3). More to the leftstill is a drawing, which looks like a sitting duck (Fig. 4) and there is a figure that could be vaguely interpreted as flying (Fig. 5).

What immediately struck me is the close resemblance to the well-known Fallen Rock paintings in the Cederberg, in the so-called Bushman's Kloof (J. Fourie pers. comm. 2011; also Parkington 2003).

At the Fallen Rock site is a similar 'elephant' to the one at Hornkranz-South (Fig. 6), as well as a similar 'knapsack-carrying' anthropomorph with long lines and adjacent elongated figure (Fig. 7). Although some other 'human' and 'animal' figures obscure the primary drawings at both rock art sites, and some differences appear in style and presentation, the combination of the features - an 'elephant', anthropomorph with 'attached' lines, and an adjacent elongated figure - is too striking to be accidental.

The Fallen Rock 'elephant' faces to the right - Maggs and Johnson (1979: 95) even suggests this to be a general convention in the Cederberg 'elephant' paintings - while in the Hornkranz-South painting the 'elephant' faces to the left. …

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