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History of Exploration
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Exploring the continent of Africa
The explorers of Africa are as varied as the terrain of Africa, and the purpose of exploration equally diverse. However, a common thread running through all early accounts of voyage through this great continent was the observation of rock art, which led to its recording and rather awkward early interpretation.
In 1777 the explorer Robert Gordon studied the rock paintings as he travelled through the Cape Province of South Africa. By the the mid-nineteenth century other Europeans travelling in the Cape were referring to the art simply as 'Bushmen art'. Gradually, however, a greater understanding and appreciation developed. In 1849 Alfred Dolman was studying the paintings in Kuruman, South Africa. In 1877 A. A. Anderson was recording the engravings near the Limpopo River. In the 1860's George Stow and Joseph Orpen made a significant leap forward with the paintings and engravings in South Africa by sending their documentation to Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd whose ethnological interpretations revealed Bushmen religious beliefs. In the Sahara, the rock art was being studied by Heinrich Barth and Dr. G. Nachtigal.
In Libya in the late twenties and early thirties, most of the unknown was traversed and mapped by a handful of explorers - Ralph Bagnold, Kennedy Shaw, László Almásy, and Sir Robert Clayton East-Clayton. In 1932 Almásy and Clayton organised a major expedition to survey the unknown western side of the Gilf Kebir, and for the first time the surveying kit included an aeroplane, a Gypsy Moth. This expedition glimpsed three hidden valleys with vegetation from the air in the northern Gilf Kebir; a magnificent series of paintings were discovered in the caves, including the now famous figures of the 'swimmers'.
In the years leading up to World War II there was an upsurge in European interest in African rock art with visits by prominent scholars such as Abbe Henri Breuil of France; 1947 Namibia, the 'White Lady' of the Brandberg. The 'White Lady' was first discovered in 1918 by German explorer and topographer Reinhard Maack as he was surveying the Brandberg. Maack was impressed by the main figure of the painting, which he described as "a warrior".
Dr Leo Frobenius, the German explorer and ethnologist, was travelling in the Sahara and southern Africa, and Henri Lhote in the 1950's was inspiring a new investigative approach to African rock art with his work in Algeria's Tassili n'Ajjer. Lhote later wrote that he had never seen anything "so extraordinary, so original, so beautiful" as the art at Tassili n'Ajjer. Working with the support of the MusÈe de l'Homme, Lhote and his associates discovered over 800 paintings.
1955 saw Fabrizio Mori working in the Akakus Mountains in Libya, which went on to form 'La Sapienza' group at the University of Rome. A list of worthy explorers and researchers followed, including Fred Wendorf in Eastern Sahara, Alfred Muzzolini in the Sahara, Cran Cooke in Zimbabwe, Alex Willcox in the Drakensberg, Bert Woodhouse, Neil Lee, Ernest Scherz, Gerhard & Dora Fock, all contributing greatly to a far better understanding of the rock art of Africa.
In the 1970's Harald Pager was working on one of the most comprehensive documentations of any rock art site in the world - Brandberg. Born in Romerstadt, in the former Czechoslovakia in 1923, Pager grew up in Austria and qualified as a graphic designer. He later immigrated to South Africa and turned his attention to rock art in the late 1970s when he documented the rock paintings of Ndedema Gorge in the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg, South Africa. Pager used a novel technique of in situ oil paint colouring of natural-sized black and white photos to reproduce the Ndedema rock art and also did a detailed analysis of the paintings. Two years of field work followed by two years of processing culminated in the publication of his monumental work - Ndedema.
And the exploration goes on today, with exemplary research being carried out by the Rock Art Research Institute and the Trust for African Rock Art, among others. But now, the Bradshaw Foundation is offering you the chance to join the exclusive club of explorers, and help discover and record the rock art of Africa in the quest to further our understanding of humankind's artistic legacy.