Witwatersrand University - Rock Art Research Institute


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San Rock Art South Africa
Figures painted in the bending forward
In San rock paintings throughout South Africa human figures dominate numerically over animal subjects. In this painting from the Western Cape many human figures are painted in the bending forward position, a common trance posture. Note that the second black figure from the left has an animal head.
To the left a painting of a dancing, transformed shaman. The figure is dancing in the bending-forward, arms-back posture that shamans adopt when they ask god to put more n/om in their bodies. The figure has a hoof and what are probably feathers.
San Shaman
It is looking back over its shoulder. The wide emanation from the top of its head probably represents the shaman's spirit leaving his body. KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Below are 2 paintings from the Western Cape. The left is of San art women, In San art women are depicted less frequently than men. The reason for this is still debated. It seems likely to be a product of the dominant male role in negotiations with the spirit realm. Four times more men than women are regular trancers.
The right painting from the Western Cape of South Africa, depicts a bird diving down the rock face. It has been identified as an Ethiopian Snipe. This species is active at dawn and dusk. Its big eyes are a reminder that the shaman was able to see in the darkness, far beyond the ordinary limits of human sight. The dots surrounding the bird's body are not naturalistic and may represent potency. If this bird is a transformed shaman then the dots may also represent the tingling sensation that is experienced during trance.
San Rock Art South Africa
Bird diving down the rock face
San Rock Art South Africa
San women in rock art
San Rock Art South Africa
Elephant engravings
San Rock Art South Africa
Engraved by scratching away the rock patina
Whereas paintings tend to be found in the more mountainous areas, engravings are found in the boulder strewn plains of the South African interior. The igneous landscapes of the interior often convey the impression of an otherworldly place. Below, in the Northern Cape, an animal has been engraved by scratching away the rock patina. Against the dark rock, engravings such as these three elephants, stand out very clearly. In spite of such a striking visual presence, engravings are destroyed every year during dam, pipeline and other construction projects.
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