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date: 31 March 2023

Rock Art Conservation with a Focus on Southern Africalocked

Rock Art Conservation with a Focus on Southern Africalocked

  • Ghilraen LaueGhilraen LaueKwaZulu-Natal Museum
  •  and J. Claire DeanJ. Claire DeanDean and Associates Conservation Services


Rock art sites around the world are disappearing due to natural weathering, vandalism, and development. In Africa, conservation problems are compounded by the continent’s colonial legacy. Conservation can no longer just be seen in the narrow sense of conserving only the rock art; rather, there is a need for “consultative conservation” that includes the broader significance of a site and accommodates all stakeholders, including local communities. In this way, we can decolonize practices and work toward ideas for sustainable African conservation. Before embarking on conservation projects, all the values and significance of a site need to be considered. There is no point conserving an object or a site unless people find meaning in that conservation.

The natural deterioration of a site can be due to exposure to the elements, rain, fluctuations in humidity and temperature, biological growth both on the art and in front of it, animal activity, wildfires, and geological and seismic activity. Human activities that degrade a site include scratching or writing of graffiti, repainting or adding details to images, water or other liquids splashed on the paintings to bring out the details, smoke from fires made in the shelters, and target practice. Some of these conservation problems can be mitigated with remedial interventions, but these require the skills of professional conservators that are often expensive and out of reach for many rock art conservation projects. Conservation through the management of sites is far more common and feasible in Africa. In working toward management practices that take all a site’s significance into account, there is a need to acknowledge and work toward undoing injustices, coercions, and exploitation in both conservation practice and legislation. Rather than seeing the conservators’ way of doing things as “best practice” to be implemented from a top-down level, local conservation practices that have worked for centuries need to be considered alongside other conservation measures. Although attempts here are made to be as inclusive as possible the authors’ experience means that the focus and many of the examples given are from southern Africa.


  • Archaeology

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