Rock Art in Sub-Saharan Mali. (Special Section)

By Kleinitz, Cornelia | Antiquity, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Rock Art in Sub-Saharan Mali. (Special Section)


Kleinitz, Cornelia, Antiquity


Sub-Saharan West Africa has remained largely a blank space on the world rock-art map, in spite of a steady trickle of reports during the past century on pictograph and petroglyph sites in the West African sahel and savanna belts. It seems that the nature of the rock art reported, predominantly `geometric' and saurian motifs, and `stick figures', as well as its apparent recent age, formed little incentive for in-depth studies of rock art in this region. From sub-Saharan Mali, for example, only two sites have been published to a satisfactory standard (Huysecom 1990; Huysecom et al. 1996). The richness of the region in rock art, as indicated by several authors (e.g. Griaule 1938; Huysecom & Mayor 1991/92; Togola et al. 1995), has been confirmed by on-going research on rock art in the Boucle du Baoule region (map, FIGURE 5) in the southwest of the country (Kleinitz 2000). In three field seasons, 14 known and 38 newly identified rock-shelters and open-air sites with pictographs and petroglyphs have been recorded. These sites show an unexpected variety of motifs, pointing to the existence of several rock-art traditions of different age and/or function in the region. Four of the studied rock-art sites from the Boucle du Baoule region will be briefly presented here to illustrate the range of motifs and their placement, and different techniques of manufacture.

At Fanfannyegene Siguifri, a large, tunnel-like rock-shelter with occupation debris dating from the Late Stone Age to the recent past, many of the motifs and painting techniques encountered in the study area can be found. Paints in a wide range of shades of red and white, and black, have been placed on the side and ceiling walls of the shelter primarily using the hand as a tool (fingerlines, fingerdots), but also utilizing sticks or brushes. Motifs are often based on circular, rectangular and, less frequently, triangular forms, and combinations of these (FIGURE 1). Equally, groups of fingerdots, zig-zag lines, `stick figures', saurians and a great number of other forms are frequent, often in different states of preservation and superimposed upon each other. A number of pictographs at Siguifri have been re-marked at least once, indicating that these motifs were given significance beyond the initial act of painting. Several boulders at the site have been marked with circular depressions of a diameter of up to 10 cm and a depth of up to 4 cm. Such cup-marks were also encountered at a number of other sites in the study region, often placed on large boulders in prominent position in the entrance area, but also on the shelter floors and walls. While few cup-marks show evidence of pecking, most seem to have been abraded and polished.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Abraded, polished and incised grooves of varying shape, as well as cup marks, together with a lesser number of pictographs, characterize the large cave of Mogoyabougou Fanfanba (FIGURE 2). While most motifs are found on the walls flanking the cave entrance, some panels are located in the only sparsely lit, deeper parts of this 51-m deep site. These petroglyphs seem to mark the four `pillars' of a distinct dome-like middle section of the cave. The use, elaboration and imitation of natural features of the rock surface in the rock art of the Baoule region become especially apparent in this cave. Grooves of differing shape and number are placed in cavities and large round hollows, as are handstencils, while painted lines often follow the outlines of exfoliated areas. Beside several thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs, architectural remains in the front part of the cave, as well as stone tumuli, grinding stones, and a large number of ceramics, lithics and other artefacts, illustrate the intensive use of Mogoyabougou Fanfanba during past occupation periods. …

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