Twyfelfontein - A Survey into the Relationship between Animal-Engravings & Cupules



    2.2: Analogies of Cupule-Animal Combinations (Page 4)
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.
Engravings Rock Art Petroglyphs Petroglyph Twyfelfontein Namibia Africa
Figure 54 B
Click for Enlargement
Engravings Rock Art Petroglyphs Petroglyph Twyfelfontein Namibia Africa
Figure 54 A
Click for Enlargement
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.
Engravings Rock Art Petroglyphs Petroglyphs Twyfelfontein Namibia Africa
Figure 55
Click for Enlargement
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.
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.
A Survey into the Relationship between Animal-Engravings & Cupules
The Rock Art of Twyfelfontein
The Rock Art of Namibia
The African Rock Art Archive
Bradshaw Foundation
Like us on Facebook & Follow us on Twitter to receive news & updates:
Homepage About the Foundation Contact Us Facebook News Articles Twitter List of Research Papers Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Bibliographic Database Travel Index About the Expeditions Forthcoming Expeditions Bespoke Expeditions Enquire Practical Information History of Exploration Welcome to the iShop Film Downloads DVD's Sculpture Prints Clothing Messenger Bag eBooks INORA Downloads About iLecture Films Shipping & Handling iLectures In Conversation Video Stories Travel Films Read the reviews Privacy Policy Bradshaw Foundation Facebook Friends of the Foundation Archive Index World's Oldest Rock Art Africa Documentary Films South Africa RARI Giraffe Carvings Niger Namibia Western Central Africa Africa Paintings Gallery Tanzania The Tuareg People Tuareg Salt Caravans Gilf Kebir Birnin Kudu Rock Art Center Archive Index San Rock Art Paintings San Bushman San Rock Art Film Origins Centre Johannesburg Archive Index Arizona Baja California Baja California Film Coso Range Talking Stone Film Nevada Oregon Territory Moab, Utah Clovis First Australia Archive Index Introduction Bradshaw Paintings Kimberley Region The Unambal Hugh Brown Leif Thiele Gallery Dan Clark Grahame Walsh Bradshaws / Gwion Gwion Archive Index Introduction Origins of the British Avebury Stonehenge Sounds of Stonehenge The British Museum British Isles Megaliths Gower Peninsula Rock Art Mendip Hills Prehistory Northumberland Rock Art Red Lady of Paviland Stone Age Mammoth Abattoir Archive Index Introduction Peterborough Petroglyphs Western Canadian Rock Art Writing-On-Stone Wuikinuxv Territory Dinosaur Provincial Park Archive Index Huashan Rock Art Yinchuan Museum Rock Art Festival Field Trip Gallery Itinerant Creeds Inner Mongolia & Ningxia Vanishing Civilization Life in Rock Art (PDF) Tibet Tibet Photographs Dazu Rock Carvings Tiger Motif Archive Index Chauvet Cave Lascaux Cave Niaux Cave Cosquer Cave Rouffignac Cave Portable Art Defining Rock Art Tuc d'Audoubert Bison Dr. Jean Clottes Index UNESCO World Heritage Introduction Cave Paintings Gallery Visiting the Chauvet Cave Return to Chauvet Cave Investigating the Cave Venus & Sorcerer Werner Herzog Film Chauvet Publications India Archive Index Rock Art Central India Pachmarhi Hills India Rock Art Gallery Preservation & Education Dr. V. S. Wakankar Articles on India Rock Art Contemporary Art Sri Lanka Archive Index Rock Paintings & Engravings Sri Lanka Rock Art Gallery Middle East Archive Index Middle East Inroduction Rock Art of Iran Rock Art of Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates Rock Art Ancient Geometry Middle East Colonisation Scandinavian Rock Art Archive Scandinavian Introduction Alta Rock Art Norway Rock Art in Finland Tanum Rock Art Sweden Thor Heyerdahl Archive Index Introduction America's Oldest Art? Pedra Furada Bolivian Rock Art Campeche Island - Brazil Checta Petroglyphs - Peru Cueva de las Manos Santa Catarina Island - Brazil Rock Art in Britain Campeche Rock Art Petroglyphs El Salvador - Corinto Cave Hand Rock Art Paintings Tibetan Rock Art United Arab Emirates Uzbekistan Yinchuan Rock Art Museum Introduction Ice Age Art Gallery Claire Artemyz Jill Cook Interview Cycladic Introduction Cycladic Gallery A Cultural Memory Izzy Wisher Biography Deer-tooth necklace Cave Art Introduction Geometric Signs Chart Research Methodology Geometric Signs in France Sign Types/Countries/Regions Bibliography Ancient Symbols in Rock Art Newsletter Archive Download Issues Introduction Genetic Map Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Further Reading Origins of the British BBC Documentary Origins Index Origins Overview 13 Big Questions Stanley Ambrose Homo Floresiensis Herto Skulls Homo Dmanisi Liujiang Skull Introduction Sentinels in Stone Easter Island Rock Art Birdman Cult / Motif Sea & Marine Creatures Design & Motifs Dr Georgia Lee Easter Island Map Contemporary Art Glossary Conclusion Thor Heyerdahl Introduction When & Who Built It? How Was It Built? The Area Sounds of Stonehenge Meaning of a Pyramid Pyramid Studies Pyramid Superstructure Pyramid Substructure Pyramid Preparations Pyramid Building Saqqara Nabil Swelim Temples of Malta and Gozo Research in the Caucasus The Keselo Foundation Homo Dmanisi Ancient Toolmakers Index Introduction Descent into the Cave The Decorated Caves Shamanistic Experience Spring Initiation Rites Summary Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Professor John P. Miller Motif: Eternal Index Banksy Han Meilin Bruce Radke Christian Tuki Gordon Ellis-Brown Site Map Search the Website Glossary of Terms & Definition Podcast on iTunes Other Websites Contact the Foundation