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Rock Art of Twyfelfontein, Namibia, Africa
A Survey into the Relationship between
Animal-Engravings and Cupules

Cupules and animal engravings at Twyfelfontein

2.2: Analogies of Cupule-Animal Combinations (Page 3)

Rock Art of Twyfelfontein in Namibia, Africa


This indifference towards the natural number of eyes in engravings seems to occur more often in Saharan rock-art.

Huard & Leclant (1989b: 513) describe an engraving of a rhinoceros with three eyes represented by cupules. On the other hand they argue (Ibid. 513) that such cupules not necessarily represent the eyes, as seems to be the case with an engraving of a rhino from Djerat (Figure 39 Site 13). Also a rhino engraving from Wadi Adroh, Messak Settafet (Figure 39 Site 8) has more cupules than eyes, but two of the cupules are associated with circular geometric designs and could belong to a different tradition (Figure 42 C).

rock art cupules namibia africa
Figure 48
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In some cases however, cupules clearly seem to have been added intentionally to existing figures to serve as an extra eye, like the second (right-hand) eye of the "lion" superimposed upon another animal (lion or hippopotamus) in the Akakus (Figure 39 Site 12). Notice however (Figure 48) that there are altogether six cupules associated with these animals, four incorporated as eyes and a one as nostril (?). The sixth cupule is much weathered and may be the remnant of an earlier engraving, now obscured by anthropic pecking and natural weathering. It equally may be a natural depression, however.

Coulson & Campbell (2001: 187) include a photograph of an elephant with one eye indicated by a shallow cupule surrounded by a ringmark, while to the left and at a slightly lower level a second shallow cupule seems to represent an extra eye. Also the rhino and lions described above (Figure 42 C and Figure 48) and many other animals (Huard & Leclant 1989b: 510-512) have cupules representing eyes at unnatural looking positions. Especially when animals are depicted in lateral elevation, the extra eye proves to be placed in a rather unnatural position on the head of the animal resulting in an odd twisted perspective. This practice also occurs elsewhere, for instance in the rock-art of Murujuga "Peninsula" of Western Australia, probably the most extensive rock-art area of the world. Here, many engravings of kangaroos have been depicted in side-view, but twisted perspective is suggested by the incorporation of an extra eye, both usually deeply pecked and sometimes abraded (Vinnicombe 2002: 21).

And what to think of the engraving of two reptiles possibly depicting a crocodile and her young (Figure 57 A) in Wadi In Habeter, Libya (Figure 39 Site 9)? The smaller reptile has one small cupule added near the incised grooves that originally form the eye, whereas the larger animal has two cupules added. The larger cupule (6cm in diameter) partially obliterates the incised grooves of the original and secondary eyes (Coulson & Campbell 2001: Fig. 182, not mentioning the cupules). Frobenius (1978: Tafel XVII) suggests that those cupules were added later and that they do not represent the eyes. Indeed, both reptiles already had incised eyes; the larger example even has a secondary grooved eye according to Coulson & Campbell (2001: 152). What then was the reason to add those cupules? Perhaps these cupules represent eyes after all and were added by members of a later culture who preferred to use cupules for eyes. Remarkably, there are no other cupules outside the crocodiles' bodies. This absence seems to be quite common in Saharan rock-art when animals incorporate cupules, but can also be noted at other sites, for instance at Toro Muerto, Peru. This seems to indicate that such cupule production was intended to specifically relate to the existing animal engraving.

At Téguidda-n-Tagaït (and also at Moradi), in the Aïr Mountains (Figure 39 Site 17), some interesting engravings of giraffes occur, their outlines enclosing a thick cluster of cupules. Importantly, also these cupules occur only within the body outlines (Figure 49 B), indicating again that their execution was completely focussed on the animal itself. Such internal cupules may have been added to represent the natural skin pattern (as suggested by Lhote 1987: 12, 18), although there are many other and "better" ways to suggest natural skin patterning for giraffes, as is evidenced at many other giraffe engravings in the Sahara.

Surprisingly, much further north, on the Djado Plateau (Site 39.18), Hallier & Hallier (1992) report an almost identical giraffe engraving (Figure 49 C). Frobenius (1978: Tafel XIII) reports a similar cupule-giraffe in Wadi Tel Issaghen II (Figure 39 Site 9), and Huard & Leclant (1989b: 323-325) mention several giraffes with cupule-infill, for instance at Masauda (Figure 39 Site 6) and Ouadi Zigza (Figure 39. Site7).

Ulrich Hallier (2002: pers. comm.) also informed me of two most interesting rock-art panels in the western branch of Wadi Irahar Mellen, Messak Settafet (Figure 39 Site 8). The first site comprises a large vertical wall with a frieze of at least thirteen giraffes, six of which enclose clusters of cupules within their deeply polished outlines. Many of the cupules have almost weathered off completely; only two of the giraffes still clearly show identifiable cupules (Figure 49 A). Again there are no cupules discernible outside the giraffe bodies.

In the same Wadi is a large, slightly sloping, sandstone slab with at least three giraffe engravings (Figure 50). The interior of two of them seems to have been lightly pecked, a technique often used at giraffe engravings, but the central giraffe is remarkable for having a thick cluster of deeply and crudely executed cupules. They are much deeper than the cupules at the previously mentioned examples, and, in order to represent the natural skin pattern, they are also "unnecessarily" deep. They seem to have a more ritual character.

It is therefore thinkable that the cupules are later additions (one cupule seems to superimpose the outline of the giraffe) and also that the cupules were enlarged and deepened during special giraffe-related rituals at intermittent periods. Again there are no cupules outside the bodies of the giraffes, which again emphasises a special cupule-giraffe relation. I would like to carefully suggest that possibly those cupules were produced at rain-evoking rituals (the giraffe is considered as an important rain animal in many African cultures), the cupules possibly representing raindrops.

rock art cupules namibia africa

Figure 49
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rock art cupules namibia africa

Figure 50
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However, giraffes are not the only species in rock-art that appear dotted by cupules. Small cupules are found at engravings of (naturally spotted) hyenas in South Africa (Fock & Fock 1989: Tafels 13.1 and 29.2). In the Sonora Desert of northern Mexico engravings of tortoises have been reported that have dots for (natural?) skin patterning (Figure 53 E). It is not stated however whether those dots (called "puntos" by Ballereau 1988: 302) are actually true cupules. At Toro Muerto, Peru, I noticed many engravings of birds, snakes, foxes and other animals filled with distinct cupules (Figure 51), whereas cupules outside the animals' bodies are practically absent in this extensive boulder field (Van Hoek 2003b). At least one animal at Toro Muerto is outlined with small cupules only (Figure 51 J).

Examples of dotted feline engravings occur in the High Atlas of Morocco (Figure 52 B), but also in other continents, like at Peñas Coloradas, Argentina (Figure 53 A), at the Salado River in northern Chile (Gallardo, Sinclaire & Silva. 1999: 70, 72, 90) and at "nearby" Chiuchiu (Figure 53 D) and especially at Toro Muerto, Peru (Figure 51 A). In Andean cosmology, it is argued (Aschero 1999: 113), that sometimes the power of the highly venerated feline is transmitted especially to camelids by attributing for instance llama engravings with feline-spots. This is evidenced by engravings of dotted camelids, for instance found at Tarapacá 47, Chile (Figure 53 B), and possibly also at Peñas Coloradas, Argentinia (Figure 56 B). Also in Meso-America, possible feline engravings are adorned with cupules, like an example from Nicaragua (Figure 53 C).

There are however, animal engravings with cupules at more enigmatic places. At Tamokrine in the Aïr Mountains (Figure 39 Site 17), there is an engraving of a lion with a vertical row of cupules below its raised tail and one cupule within its body and possibly a cupule at the tail end (Figure 47 B). Rows of cupules are also found at engravings of other animals like the diagonal row of eight cupules near a hippopotamus (Figure 46 D) and a horizontal row below a giraffe (Figure 46 E), both from Gorgod in Sudan (Figure 39 Site 22). Also at Toro Muerto, Peru, there is a fine instance of rows of cupules hovering over three small animals, one with a small cupule for an eye and two more cupules upon its body. The meaning of those rows and the relation with the animals (if any exists) remain enigmatic. Also the association of the isolated cupule with the Aïr lion engraving (Figure 47 B) could be incidental and without specific meaning, but its position may be compared with a large cupule superimposed upon a llama engraving from Argentina discussed further down (Figure 56 A).

There might, however, be a special explanation for the row of cupules engraved near the back end of the lion. There are notably animal engravings that feature one single cupule that specifically occupies a position just below the tail. Several examples are found in the High Atlas of Morocco. At Yagour (Figure 39 Site 1) many engravings of dotted felines are found. Of special interest however, are the felines at sites XI-78, XI-210, XI-391, XI-410 and XI-523 (Rodrigue 1999: 323, 335, 359, 362 and 372), as each displays one single small dot (cupule?) below a long and often exaggerated and uplifted tail. The example at Yagour XI-210 (Figure 52 B) is particularly interesting, as it also features a body with an infill of dots (cupules?) and clusters of small dots (cupules?) just below the legs (four or five for each leg - representing spoor instead of the paws?).

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Rock Art of Twyfelfontein in Namibia, Africa

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Rock Art of Twyfelfontein in Namibia, Africa

Rock Art of Twyfelfontein, Namibia, Africa
| Namibia Preface | Namibia Introduction | Twyfelfontein Cupules | Cupules & Animals | Picture Captions |
| Appendix 1 | Appendix 2 | Bibliography | Acknowledgements |
| Bradshaw Foundation Homepage | Africa Rock Art Index |

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