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Twyfelfontein

Twyfelfontein means Doubtful Spring. On the rocky sandstone slopes one finds the largest
known collection of rock engravings in Africa. There are many hundreds of these petroglyphs all crowded together on the huge slabs of sandstone that cover the hillside - giraffe, elephant, ostrich, antelope, rhinos and zebra.

There are also a few depictions of some humans, engravings of human footprints and animal spoors, as well as some abstract designs.

The art has been executed in a variety of techniques, including incised outlines, pecked outlines and whole figures pecked into the rock. Other farms in the area also have rock engravings but there is nowhere else like Twyfelfontein.

In Namibia the rock engravings are generally thought to be older than the paintings. The engravings are more crudely done than the paintings but there is no problem identifying any figure. There are no discerable domesticated animals present in the assemblage of engraved motifs at Twyfelfontein therefore presumably it is a purely a hunter-gather art.

The very earliest rock engravings in Namibia, perhaps dating back to the Middle Stone Age
consist almost entirely of abstract symbols and animal spoors.

 

Brandberg, Namibia, Africa
Adam and Eve
Rock skelter with paintings
Photo: Daniel Seglie, CeSMAP

 

WHO WERE THE ARTISTS?

Since the Europeans came to Namibia there has often been claims that the rock art is too
sophisticated for mere savages to have done. In the 1950s the Abbé Breuil came to Namibia, especially to see the "White Lady", in fact it was the Abbé who had given the figure its name.

He was of the opinion that it was a depiction of a young girl from Crete and the other figures in the processions were her guardians. His Eurocentric views soon took hold. The fact that the central figure on the panel is not a lady but a man had quite escaped his notice.

There are female figures in the procession and they are quite elaborately decorated but his attention was focussed entirely on the figure that he imagined was a European girl. Other people have also favoured the European origin of the rock paintings but there is no archaeological evidence to support this view.

Excavations in Namibia have brought to light only stone tools and implements from the Early to Late Stone ages, as well as remnents of the Iron Age. Hundreds of ostrich eggshell beads have been found at all levels and in late assemblages a few glass beads have been recovered that were most likely items of trade. Pottery appears about 2000 B.P., but again it is typically African.

The question often asked is who were the artists? It is commonly thought that the San/Bushmen were the artists and they are given the credit for the art in the Brandberg, the Erongo Mountains and other areas. They may indeed have been the artists but the fact remains that we don't know who the artists were. We can't know who lived in this part of Namibia 5000 - 2000 years ago, which is the time span indicated for most of the paintings. Archaeological evidence indicates that the stone age, hunter-gatherer people of Namibia were the artists and they disappeared some 2 000 years ago.

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