African rock art

Some of my articles from my time as communications co-ordinator for the Trust for African Rock Art in Nairobi (Click on title to read full article)

African rock art stamps: square inches of heritage

“Despite their small size, stamps have a more concentrated ideological density per square centimetre than any other cultural form” David Scott states in a book on European stamp design. And stamps have been a cultural form of choice for African countries from Algeria to Namibia, who have chosen this way to showcase and popularise their rock art heritage. In some cases where a country’s idea of itself has had rock art at its root, such as in South Africa, rock art images have not only appeared on postal stamps but also on currency and state insignia, all of which are public imagery.

A selection of African rock art stamps. Click here to see a video of the original rock art they come from plus more stamps

Fashionably prehistoric? Fashion in African rock art

“Speaking of headgear, my favourite is from this Algerian painting. Two figures, possibly women, sit facing each other, both of them wearing outsized hats on their heads. I like to imagine what might be happening in this scene: a tea party perhaps? Maybe one of the ladies dropped in at her friend’s homestead for a chat. And what is one of the ladies pointing out to the other?”

Algerian rock painting. Image c/o David Coulson/TARA. Click here to check out more images of fashion in African rock art

Using new technologies to preserve ancient pasts

I invited Michelle Dye of the African Conservation Trust to write a post about the different technologies they are using to document, share and preserve rock art in South Africa. The image is courtesy of the ACC.

This rock art painting is known as the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of South African ‘San’ rock art. Image c/o ACC

19 images that prove there were trees in ancient art

“But trees, even though rare, are most certainly present in prehistoric art. In going through our African rock art archive, I came across leaves, branches, whole trees, palm fronds and even, wait for it, an animal “nuzzling a leafy thing”. So here’s 19 images that show that botanical imagery was not uninteresting or out of mind for ancient artists.”

Rock painting in Zimbabwe. Image c/o David Coulson/TARA

Walking out of heaven? Footprints in African rock art

“One explanation for footprints such as these is that they depict places where healers or other spiritual leaders (shamans) walked in and out of the earth. Such prints are frequently found next to or inside tunnels and fissures as if to indicate a path or entrance into the spirit world. In this way the rock face was not merely a canvas but a kind of veil leading to a spiritual world.”

Footprint rock art in Namibia. Images c/o David Coulson/TARA

Reading ‘Termites of the Gods’

“‘Termites of the Gods’ is a careful peeling away at the depiction and significance of the so-named ‘formlings’ in southern African rock art. Wits Press calls it the narration of the author’s ‘personal journey, over many years, to discover the significance of a hitherto enigmatic theme in San rock paintings.’ Here’s 4 reasons why I enjoyed the book”

Cattle in African rock art and traditions

“So there are many reasons why cattle were, and still are, prized and cared for in many African societies: beauty, hardiness, religio-spiritual use, social and political value – and food. Explore the slideshow … showing some of these values as represented in prehistoric art around Africa.”

Nguni cattle. Left ‘inala’ abundance and right ‘imatshoNgoye’ stones of the Ngoye forest. Images c/o SA Online

Cultural Mediation and Rock Art: 5 Questions with Hamidou Moussa

I interviewed my friend, Hamidou Moussa, who was interning at the Trust for African Rock Art on the practice of ‘cultural mediation’ using works of art and in this case, rock art.

Moussa: “In my course at the university we studied the history of culture from Ancient Greece to now. We studied architecture, painting… and it was a lot of knowledge.

When I discovered rock art, I learnt that we have to learn again. Of everything we learnt in art history, there was nothing more beautiful or more interesting than rock art. I think I will focus my research on rock art now when I go back.”

Hamidou Moussa leading a cultural mediation session at the Alliance Francaise in Nairobi

Homo naledi and reflections on Open Access in a still closed world

“But the discovery of H. naledi has shaken up the world in more than one way- lead researcher, Lee Berger’s methods are changing the paradigms of research as science knows them. How? It’s all open access. From the excavating, to the analysis, to the announcement, to the published research, one could even say from the sourcing of the ‘underground astronauts’ which happened through a Facebook announcement. Images and video of the find are available on the Wits website, anyone can download and print 3D casts of the bones, and by the first weekend after the announcement there were 124,000 page views and 14,000 downloads of the H. naledi research papers on eLife.”

Homo naledi, by palaeoartist John Gurche. Image credit: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

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