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In Zimbabwe, the term “rock art” refers mainly to prehistoric engravings and paintings that were executed on the walls of shallow caves, rock shelters, or faces of boulders across the country. Rock paintings were executed using pigments in a variety of colors and textures while engravings were etched into the rock using incisions, polishing, or pecking methods. The paintings dominate the corpus of rock art in the country. They are found within the granitic boulders that cover much of the country while rock engravings are confined to narrow belts in the eastern, southern, and southwestern parts where the sandstone is found. The spatial distribution of rock art in Zimbabwe helps to show that geology was the influential factor in choosing whether to paint or to engrave. In terms of subject matter, the rock art of Zimbabwe is mostly dominated by what is known as hunter-gatherer art, with a few sites having what has been termed “farmer art.” There is a possibility of some of the art having been made by herders but this requires further research and conformation. The hunter-gatherer art is made up of mostly animals and humans. Nevertheless, the occurrence of plants and geometric figures, especially the “formlings,” sets the rock art of Zimbabwe apart from that of other areas in southern Africa. Farmer art has animal and human figures, mostly in white kaolin and usually found superpositioned on top of the hunter-gatherer images. The color and superpositions led the art to be termed the Late Whites. The possibility of herder art has been raised due to the occurrence of depictions such as handprints and finger-painted dots. These images are associated with herders in neighboring countries such as South Africa and Botswana. Research in Zimbabwe has tended to favor the dominant aspects of rock art. As such, rock paintings have been extensively investigated at the expense of engravings. In the same vein, hunter-gatherer research art has been preponderant as compared to the study of farmer and possibly herder art. Nevertheless, it is important to note that although a lot of strides have been made in rock art research, fewer researchers, especially among the indigenous, have had an interest in these aspects of the Zimbabwean past. Rock art is often overshadowed by the archaeology of the farming communities, which has Zimbabwe culture and particularly Great Zimbabwe as its hallmark. However, it is encouraging to note that there has been an upsurge in students working on projects concerning rock art, which foretells good prospects for the uptake of rock art research in the future

Article

The contexts of hunter-gatherer rock arts of the southern Maloti-Drakensberg are characterized by enduring patterns of cultural acquisition and social transformation, resulting in communities with highly contextual identities and cultural possessions, but with nonlinear relationships between the two. Attempts to mitigate discontinuities between ethnographic source and interpretive subject, however, have left interpretive methodologies to represent authorship in more singular terms, to the exclusion of potential contextual sources who express identities not outwardly San, despite ancestral trajectories overlapping those of the artists. Recognition of the inheritances of the communities of the present Maloti-Drakensberg, and their transformative histories, necessitates their inclusion not only as sources, but as contributors to ethnoarchaeological process.

Article

Reviews of southern Africa’s Later Stone Age (LSA) have seen many different iterations. Generally, however, they summarize the technocomplex from its earliest industry until it ceases to be recognizable in the archaeological record, summarizing the variety of research topics, questions, and approaches. Binding much of this together, despite the diaspora of studies, is the use of ethnography to understand past hunter-gatherer lifeways. This resource has guided interpretations of the past and helped design research approaches since the 1970s. And yet, from as early as the 1980s, archaeologists as well as anthropologists have debated the influence ethnography plays in understanding the past. Nonetheless, without it, significantly less would be written of hunter-gatherer prehistory in southern Africa, which includes belief systems, settlement structures, mobility patterns, subsistence habits, and social relations. Using ethnography as a vehicle, it is possible to navigate the LSA pathways created by scholars and examine the aforementioned contributions this knowledge system has made to interpretations of the past. From this vantage, envisioning a future for ethnography within the field is possible. This should involve expanding the ethnographies archaeologists use, moving beyond the Kalahari Desert, creating a diverse group of LSA researchers, and decolonizing the discipline.

Article

Southern Africa’s past five thousand years include significant shifts in the peopling of the subcontinent. Archaeological approaches tend to characterize this period following these changes. This includes the appearance of herding and food production on a landscape that only hosted hunting and gathering, the arrival of new and competing worldviews and settlements systems, the local development of complex and state-level society that involved multiple groups, the arrival and eventual colonization of the region by European settlers, and the segregation, imbrication, articulation, and creolization of various identities. As part of studying this phase, quite often it is viewed as a series of “wholes” that share space and time. These “wholes” are usually identity groups: foragers, herders, farmers, or colonists. While regularly kept separate, archaeological remains and historic records more often indicate inter-digiting and fluid social entities that interacted in complex ways. However, the past is frequently constructed around rigid concepts of people that usually reflect contemporary groups to some extent. Understanding past identities is historically contingent and rooted in contemporary approaches, methods, and frameworks. This is no different in the mid- to late Holocene in southern Africa, which also involves the construction of pasts and people associated with non-colonial communities. The role of identity in how the past is formed has played a significant role in building sequences, interpreting material culture, and assigning change to migrations and movements within the subcontinent. Archaeologists regularly grapple with issues involving identity that include the influence of colonial writings, the impact of social contacts, and the relationship between past and present people. Taxonomizing the archaeological past by following ethnic groups and subsistence practices has led to intense and frequent discussion and debate. The nature of identity, however, is hard to define and relinquish from the influence of Western ontologies of being and community. Archaeologists are therefore forced to orientate themselves betwixt and between the past and the present to more accurately reflect people.

Article

Joshua Kumbani and Oliver Vogels

Rock art is ubiquitous in southern Africa. It can be assumed that playing musical bows was a similarly widespread cultural tradition in prehistoric southern Africa. But discerning musical performances from other uses of the bow in the rock art is not trivial. Qualified arguments for musical performances therefore rest on the ethnographic record. Depictions of musical bows have been identified only in two rock art collections from South Africa and Namibia. In South Africa musical bows are known from the Maloti Drakensberg mountains in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, and Maclear District in the Eastern Cape Province. In Namibia, the musical bows have been identified mainly in the mountainous massif called Dâureb (its local Damara name) or Brandberg (its foreign Afrikaans name) and the surrounding region in northwestern central Namibia. The occurrence of musical bows in the rock art sheds light on some of the musical instruments that were used in the past and their playing techniques. This is important in music archeological studies, which involve the analysis of music-related artifacts or sound-producing artifacts and their cultural background from the archeological record, or the investigation of the effects of sound in past societies. Rock art is an important source that can be used in music archeological studies. Ethnographic information also gives another depth in describing musical bows and allows one to differentiate contemporary music cultures from the past. There are some notable similarities and differences between the musical bows from South Africa and Namibia. These similarities and differences come in the form of the technical aspects of how sound is produced (organology) by the musical bows and playing techniques, exhibiting distinct music cultures. What stands out is that in most cases the string is turned away from the player, which is different when a bow is used for shooting, as well as the use of a tapping stick to play the bow. The musical bow depictions in Namibia do not have resonators, whereas most of those depicted in South Africa do. However, the musical bows in Namibia are braced or have a string that divides the bow string into two sections (tuning noose), whereas none have been recorded in South Africa.

Article

Ghilraen Laue and J. Claire Dean

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.