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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 4)

Rock Art of Twyfelfontein in Namibia, Africa

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Also other species of animals incidentally feature such an enigmatic tail-cupule. At Oukaimeden VI, also in the High Atlas of Morocco, there is a frieze of animal engravings (Rodrigue 1999: 180), where two engravings of elephants (Figure 52 D) and one rhinoceros also feature the enigmatic tail-dot. Also at nearby Yagour IX-36, an elephant and, at XI-454, a rhinoceros (?) with such tail-dot occurs (Rodrigue 1999: 266, 365).

The tail-cupule is also found outside Africa. The feline (?) engraving from Nicaragua (Figure 53 C), which much resembles the examples from Morocco, also seems to have a tail-cupule. Well known are the two bull engravings from Aspeberget, Sweden (Figure 52 A), each definitely featuring a tail-cupule. Also an engraving of a bull (looking more like an elephant, though) from Kamjana Moglia, Ukraine, has a cupule below its tail, but this placement seems to be fortuitous, as there are more cupules scattered across, four apparently randomly superimposed upon the figure of the bull (Figure 47 D). The enigmatic mounted deer at Naquane 57, Valcamonica, Italy, shows a tail-cupule (Figure 52 E) that is said to represent a solar disc re-appearing in the morning after having been ritually swallowed in the evening (Wanke 2000: 76). The analogy is interesting, but there is no proof.

Interestingly, the tail-cupule resembles rare rock-art scenes where animals are defecating. In the Tadrart of Algeria there is a large boulder engraved with a herd of running elephants. The last elephant in line (but engraved on an adjoining panel and representing a later addition according to Huard & Leclant 1980a: 227) shows six small circles below the tail and is said to defecate while running (Coulson & Campbell 2001: 181). Also in the Messak area of Libya, several defecating elephant engravings (with, however, also circles for droppings) have been reported (Ulrich Hallier 2002: pers. comm.). And in the Little Karoo of South Africa a painting of an elephant defecating has been reported (Townley Johnson & Maggs 1979: 59). Possibly also the tail-cupule depicts animals defecating, and just possibly the row of cupules in Figure 47 B also represent droppings. If so, it is more likely that such tail-cupules relate to beliefs concerning fertility. The same may be true for a rather exceptional engraving from La Silla, Chile, where a human figure seems to be catching or leading a clearly male camelid (Figure 52 C) that has a dot (probably not a cupule) between its legs (Ballereau 1981: Fig. 30.a). The dot might represent a dropping but the whole configuration may equally symbolise dual-gender, as a dot between the legs often indicates female sex
.

rock art cupules namibia africaFigure 54 A
Click for Enlargement
rock art cupules namibia africaFigure 54 B
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Another "tradition" is represented by cupules that clearly have been superimposed upon or added to existing animal engravings. In general, the result may be either a purposeful addition to the animal imagery, like the eye-cupules or skin patterns discussed above, or it may constitute an apparently haphazard accretion to the rock panel without any direct or apparent relation to the animal engravings or the rock panel itself.

Although rare in global perspective, there are rock-art regions where cupules clearly superimpose animal engravings. Interesting instances occur at Rapa Nui (Easter Island), where we find several rows of small cupules superimposing engravings of birdmen (Figure 54 A), canoes, fish and turtle. Recently I argued that the mass-execution of especially those small cupules possibly was an expression of the distress that followed the rather abrupt disintegration of the traditional Polynesian society on the island around AD 1550. In first instance rows of small cupules were executed in an attempt to connect with the old symbolism by linking several earlier engravings, especially on the north coast of the island (the mythical and probably actual initial landing place). Later, rows of small cupules were executed indiscriminately across earlier engravings, perhaps to nullify the power of the site and to extract the mana (supernatural potency in the Polynesian culture) of the rocks (Van Hoek 2000b).

But more often isolated examples occur, each with probably completely different explanations. For instance, a row of about 80 cupules, roughly 30m in length, connects (and superimposes?) several large engraved figures on an enormous sandstone outcrop at Devil's Rock, just north of Sydney, Australia (part of the ensemble is illustrated in Figure 54 B). The way this row of cupules is laid out much resembles the "connecting of earlier symbols" at Rapa Nui. Although the actual reason to connect the images at Devil's Rock is still most enigmatic, Stanbury & Clegg (1990: 129), referring to earlier ethnographic accounts, suggest that "It is very easy to imagine a group of blindfolded initiates being led along the line of pits and stopped occasionally to examine the various engravings and witness performances of dances, songs and stories". The suggested ritual may offer an explanation, but it does not clarify why this site is the only one (?) in the area (with many rock engravings) that has its large iconic figures connected by cupules.

Cupules and rows of small cupules, similar to those on Rapa Nui, superimpose several llama engravings at the Cueva de la Damiana, Rio Loa, northern Chile (Figure 55), but the reason for this exceptional practice is not explained (Berenguer 1999: 13). Obviously there was no informed knowledge available.

This general lack of (especially informed, but also formal) knowledge also sets the tone for many examples where cupules superimpose animal imagery. There simply is not enough information available. For instance, in this paper I have argued that cupules below the tail of an animal might relate to fertility beliefs.

Cupules and rows of small cupules, similar to those on Rapa Nui, superimpose several llama engravings at the Cueva de la Damiana, Rio Loa, northern Chile (Figure 55), but the reason for this exceptional practice is not explained (Berenguer 1999: 13). Obviously there was no informed knowledge available.

This general lack of (especially informed, but also formal) knowledge also sets the tone for many examples where cupules superimpose animal imagery.
rock art cupules namibia africaFigure 55
Click for Enlargement

There simply is not enough information available. For instance, in this paper I have argued that cupules below the tail of an animal might relate to fertility beliefs.

But what to think of the large cupule that clearly and deliberately superimposes (and destroys, to our western minds) the rear end of a camelid engraving at Punta del Pueblo, Argentina (Figure 56 A)? Also in the harsh and often extremely arid Andean Mountains people had a deep concern for fertility (and still have; see Querejazu Lewis 1998: 51, for an example of recent ritual use of cupules in Bolivia in order to evoke rain). Although the cupule is far too large and moreover in a wrong position to represent a dropping, it still may relate to fertility rituals. It may notably be significant that the large cupule is placed over that part of the body where the womb is located. Was this large cupule indeed executed and re-worked and enlarged during several (private/public?) intermittent fertility rituals?

A remarkable analogy, possibly relating to fertility as well, is found at an engraving of a crocodile from Wadi Imrawen, Libya (Figure 39 Site 10). A crocodile engraving (of a set of two) is depicted probably from above with all four legs in a splayed position. Interestingly, a large cupule is most prominently placed between its hind legs (Figure 57 B). Thus, a most specific configuration originated, comprising the large cupule and the splayed hind legs. That combination much resembles depictions of the so called "femmes ouvertes". "Femmes ouvertes" are depictions of female humans with splayed legs having their genitals clearly indicated, either by natural depressions or by anthropic markings and therefore clearly relate to sexuality and/or fertility (Allard-Huard 2000: 343). Universally, cupules are often said to have sexual and/or fertility connotations and for instance Cervicek (1998: 110) suggests that "cup-like petroglyphs schematically represent the womb".

If indeed the cupule was intended to depict a genital opening or a symbol of fertility and if indeed the crocodile has been depicted from above, it did not matter that it was placed at the back of the crocodile, an anatomically incorrect place. This illogical position may indicate however, that the cupule could have been added to an already existing crocodile engraving and possibly expresses a later emerging concern of fertility.

Wanke (2000: 65) argues that also cupules were executed during the Palaeolithic of Europe in relation with the procreation of animals. He illustrates this hypothesis with an engraving from La Ferrassie, France, where several (rows of) cupules are associated with an apparent animal engraving and a possible vulva design. Departing from this point of view, any combination of an animal and cupules could be associated with fertility rituals, like the bovine (Figure 46 G) from Gira-Gira, Chad (Figure 39 Site 19), but such a relation is always very hard or impossible to prove.


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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 |
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