Drakensberg Rock Art

South Africa

South Africa is home to a spectacular mountain range called the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park (UDP). Originally called Khahlamba by the Bantu-speakers, the name means "the row of upward-pointing spears." These mountains contain a wealth of rock paintings depicting the beliefs and traditions of the San hunter gatherers who first inhabited South Africa. The paintings are the only tangible record left of the San who for the past 100 years have been considered an extinct people and culture. The sites are outstanding in their quality, diversity of subject and their exquisite depiction of animals and human beings. The rock art greatly contributed to the Park being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

Game Pass Shelter is located in the Kamberg Nature Reserve and is one of the best preserved sites in southern Africa. It was first brought to the world’s attention in 1915 when a photograph of the main panel was published in Scientific American. The main frieze features a magnificent herd of eland with smaller human figures in running postures. However, this site is most famous for a mysterious painting of a partly transformed shaman (medicine man) holding the tail of a dying eland. The animal’s head is lowered and its hairs are standing up suggesting that the eland is near death. The man has hoofed legs which are crossed to imitate the eland's legs. On the right, another shaman with erect hair is also partly transformed into an antelope, and near him is a cloaked figure with an antelope head. This site is commonly referred to as the "Rosetta Stone" of southern African rock art because it was in these iconic paintings that archaeologists first uncovered a significant key to understanding the symbolism of San rock art. First thought to be simple reproductions of everyday life and hunting by a primitive people, many of the mystical images are now seen as "therianthropic," or images seen by shamans (healers) while in dance-induced trances.

CyArk has partnered with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the African Conservation Trust (ACT) to form a new chapter, CyArk South Africa. UKZN has just completed a 3 year project to document rock art sites in the UDP and CyArk has provided on-going support and training in the 3D documentation of these fragile heritage sites. CyArk's archive also contains a phototextured 3D model of the Game Pass Shelter contributed by the University of Cape Town's Zamani Project. Additional partners in this project include the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, Heritage Kwazulu-Natal, and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

Check out the African Conservation Trust's YouTube video to learn more about the project!


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