South African Rock Art


South Africa is known for its rock art. All around the Drakensberg Mountains there are examples of rock art painted by the San people. The San people, or bushmen, were hunter-gatherers who lived in South Africa during the Stone Age and settled in the Drakensberg Mountains over 8000 years ago. According to a BBC article, the San used black, white and orange pigments to paint over 40,000 animal and human scenes in the Drakensbergs over 3000 years ago.

In Cape Town, we visited the Iziko South African Museum and saw our first rock art: rock paintings included in the museum’s temporary “Made in Translation” exhibit. As I read and learned about the artists, the types of images painted and materials used, I looked forward to seeing some rock art in its natural environment.

As we traveled from the Wild Coast to the Drakensbergs, I saw many notations of rock art on the map. When we passed by without stopping, I wasn’t worried. After all, we would be staying in the Drakensbergs for two nights and should have plenty of opportunities ahead. But traveling with a group has its downsides. Compromise is always a necessity, and rock art just wasn’t on anyone else’s list of things to see.

Our last morning in Royal Natal National Park, I talked my family into walking a mile to see an example of rock art near our lodging at Sungubala. We left our friends at the cabin and walked down the mountain path, crossing a stream, climbing around some rocks as we counted our steps and followed the instructions on our trail description. And there it was. Not quite the art I was anticipating, or even looking forward to seeing, but art nonetheless.

To see some San rock art, check out nasmus.co.za for a list of locations and property owners or go to KwaZulu-Natal’s new Kamberg Rock Art Centre which has more than 40,000 San Bushman images in the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. For more information on the San people, check out the article on rebirth.com. For photographs of their art, check out the gallery on southafrica.info.

Photo of Sungubala rock art by Tommy Taft.

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