Rock Art in Africa

A Guide to Rock Art Sites in Africa

About Rock Art Sites in Africa

According to the Trust for Rock Art in Africa, there are upwards of 10 million rock images spread across more than 30 countries, far more than in any other continent. Some are vast in scale covering at least 1 km2, while others are at least 12,000 years, and all point to Africa’s rich history and culture, of a time long before writing was invented. Today, the rock art of southern Africa enjoys the most worldwide appreciation of the sites found across Africa, and some of these sites have been inscribed as World Heritage Sites. Concomitantly, “aware of emerging conservation problems, African states are creating management plans and encouraging local communities to get involved in the arts protection”.

Rock Art Distribution in Africa

Map of Rock Art Distribution in Africa

List of Major Rock Art Sites in Africa

1. Twyfelfontein, Namibia

Twyfelfontein Rock Art in the Kunene Region of Namibia

Inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2007, Twyfelfontein in the Kunene Region of Namibia has one of the largest concentrations of rock engravings seen on the African continent. The rock art engravings and paintings at Twyfelfontein Site forms a coherent, extensive and high-quality record of ritual practices relating to hunter-gatherer people in this frontier of southern Africa over at least 2,000, and eloquently illustrates the links between the ritual and economic practices of hunter-gatherers. Most of these well-preserved engravings represent rhinos. The famed site also includes six painted elephant, ostrich and giraffe, as well as drawings of human and animal footprints rock shelters with motifs of human figures in red ochre. The objects excavated from two sections were date to the Late Stone Age. Discovered in the late 1940s, although the elemental discovery goes back to before 1915, this site, on the slope of a wide flat basin in a hilly dry terrain, has several thousand engravings on sandstone slabs and walls. There are also a few interspersed rock painting shelters which deviate in their motif repertoire by an emphasis on the human figures. The human figures are almost entirely lacking in the engravings where large game animals, animal spoor and geometric designs prevail. Today, the area is occupied mainly by Damara Tribe.

Spatial Location of Twyfelfontein Rock Art Site in Namibia
Spatial Location of Twyfelfontein Rock Art Site in Namibia

2. Brandberg Mountain Rock Art Site, Namibia

Brandberg Mountain Rock Art Site, Namibia

Another noteworthy rock art site in Namibia, not far south of the outstanding rock art site at Twyfelfontein (being well visible from here) is the Brandberg mountain rock art site. Both of these sites lie in ‘DamaraLand’ in the Erongo region in north western Namibia. Brandberg is entirely dissimilar in character from Twyfelfontein, being a huge granitic inselberg rising up to over 2500 ms, with the rock art located mainly in the upper reaches. Generally speaking, the whole mountain contains almost 1,000 distinct rock painting. “The paintings largely date from the Later Stone Age period of 4000-2000 years ago, and a specific painting of which a small exfoliated piece was excavated in a stratified layer and was dated at 2760 years old. The art comprises largely human figures in a rich variety of activities. Motifs of the animal kingdom are dominated by rather few species – springbok, giraffe, gemsbok, ostrich, zebra, and elephant – that surprisingly do not thrive or live in the mountain. It is thought the animals drawings may have been used as metaphors for imploring or for celebrating an intact and prolific environment. Another important rock art area in Namibia is the Erongo Mountain rock art site, found southeast of the Brandberg Mountain.