As the recent expedition in 2003 to further document the sites by Fidelis Massao and Peter and Annabel Sykes shows, significant deterioration, man made or natural, is continuing and in some cases accelerating.
Looking for Gold
Looking for Gold : A typical hole in Guwe made by locals looking for gold. The digging not only disturbs potentially vital archaeological deposits but also significantly weakens the rock face.
Graffiti : Many of the sites are spectacular both by the size of the rock face and the extensive view of the surrounding landscape. This has made them a natural place of interest where children and local people gather causing damage through fires and graffiti.
Hornets’ Nests : Hornets’ nests are often found on the rock sites, causing serious degradation to the rock face and paintings. Bird colonies also affect the paintings.
Honey : A number of rock paintings indicate drawings that resemble a ladder. We found a number of ladders at or near the sites that are used to collect honey. Bee hives are also a natural source of degradation.
Local population : The explosion in the size of the local population has certainly been one of the most dramatic causes of destruction of the rock art. Paintings hidden for hundreds of years have now been exposed to the elements because of the clearing of thick protective vegetation to make land available for farming.
Honey : Many of the sites still maintain a religious significance for the local people. Evidence of recent rituals could still be observed. Local rituals or celebrations often include making fires, which significantly degrade the paintings.
The most effective conservation measures have not yet been discovered and even with the appropriate knowledge, Tanzania may lack the resources and technology to implement them. Alternatively, it should be possible and relatively cheap to stop or reduce vandalism. Little has been done to include the local people in any conservation effort and this has distanced them from these sites, which form an integral part of their heritage. Due to the visits by governmental officials and scientists, the sites are often shrouded in an aura of mysticism. While this raises curiosity it does little to help their preservation.
It is vital that the local people be fully involved in any management programmes of these prehistoric rock art sites. Much can be done to raise awareness about the importance and historical significance of the rock paintings. By doing so it should be possible to instil a sense of pride and ownership in the paintings, which would go much further to protecting them than metal bars and wiring. More importantly it is critical to pursue further research and use the new photographic technology now available to record this vanishing patrimony. In particular, the use of some of the latest digital photography and three-dimensional laser modelling should be investigated.