Tsodilo Rock Art

The rock art of the Tsodilo Hills is at once sacred to the San and a stirring chronological record of the region’s natural history rendered in pictorial form. The paintings here are usually known as ‘finger paintings’, and most were executed in ochre or red (obtained from hematite extracted from the local rocks) and then filled in with the same (or a lighter) colour. Around half of the paintings represent animals (giraffes, elands, cattle and rhinoceroses are the most prevalent forms), with geometric patterns and human figures making up the rest. The older paintings, which are thought to date from the late Stone Age to the Iron Age, are generally attributed to the San. However, it’s fairly certain that the most recent works (usually rendered in white) were painted by ‘copycat’ Bantu artists. Interestingly, neither the San nor the Mbukushu accept responsibility for any of the works, maintaining that the paintings have been there longer than even legend can recall.

If you’re looking for more detailed information on the hills, look for Contested Images, which contains a chapter on the Tsodilo Hills by Alec Campbell. For more on rock art in general (although it has a small section on the Tsodilo Hills), try African Rock Art by David Coulson and Alec Campbell. You could also contact the Trust for African Rock Art (www.africanrockart.org).