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Rock Art

The rock art of the Soutpansberg is not as well known as the rock art from the Drakensberg and other areas, and consequently was never researched professionally until 1991. The majority of known sites are found in the western part of the mountains, but this disparity may be a result of the limited research done to date in the eastern sector. To date 41 sites have been documented in the Soutpansberg. The art is of great value, not only from an aesthetic view, but also for the insight it gives, in particular into the world view and religion of the San, as well as information about types of animals occurring in the environment in earlier times.

The surveys that have been done in the western and central mountains, have documented rock art that displays a surprising range of imagery whose authorship is attributed to San hunter-gatherers, Khoekhoe herders and Northern Sotho artists.
The Soutpansberg rock art cannot be divorced from that of the broader Central Limpopo Basin, which extends from the Soutpansberg through to the Limpopo Valley, and includes the BloubergMakgabeng area, as well as the Pafuri area of the Kruger National Park. To date over 700 rock art sites have been documented in this basin. Many more will still be discovered in the future, as only a small part of the area has been covered.

There are two styles of rock art in the area, namely engravings and paintings.

Engravings
There are a number of sites in the Central Limpopo Basin that have rock engravings, but only two sites are known from the mountains. This area is one of the few regions where engravings and paintings co-occur, sometimes on the same site.

Paintings
Three painting traditions occur, each linked to a specific cultural group. There are several sites where the traditions are found together, but were produced at different times. San paintings are distinctive because of technique. They are defined by fineline techniqueapplication by brush, pigment consistency and subject matter. The other two traditions are applied by finger.

San Paintings
San paintings can be generally identified by their finer quality. Images include males, females and indeterminate humans, a variety of animals, some being indeterminate, others again being species specific. Various abstract shapes also occur, some of which might relate to particular religious activities. Approximately two thirds of all sites relate to this tradition. It overlaps timewise for about 800 years with the early Bantu-speaking agro-pastoralists. Khoekhoe paintings (Geometric Tradition Paintings) these consist mainly of geometric images, dots, lines, representational forms and handprints. These paintings are usually red in colour, but white ones occur, and sometimes a combination.

Northern Sotho Paintings
These are made by Bantu-speaking Agro-pastoralists, and comprise white finger paintings with anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and geometric designs. Many of the paintings relate to contact with early colonialists, and depict men on horseback, wagons, trains and motor vehicles.

Because of the sensitivity of these rock art sites full details as to their location are not given.

To date 41 sites have been documented in the Soutpansberg. The art is of great value, not only from an aesthetic view, but also for the insight it gives, in particular into the world view and religion of the San, as well as information about types of animals occurring in the environment in earlier times.

NORTHERN LIMPOPO PROVINCE ROCK ART SITES OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
Several rock art sites in the Limpopo Province are open to the public but it is advisable to phone in advance if you want to visit a particular site. Some of the rock art sites that are accessible to the public are listed below:
Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site
  • Sites will be open for public visits by early 2007. They include hunter-gatherer engravings of animals, and some fine examples of San and Khoekhoe paintings.
  • Information: tel (015) 534 2014, www.sanparks.org
Machete, Mapungubwe area
  • Kaoxa's Shelter contains San depictions of sixteen species of animal, including rare images of locusts as well as Khoekhoe geometric images.
  • Frans Venter: tel (015) 575 1102; Duncan & Haxel MacWhirter: tel: (015) 575 1416.
  • By appointment only.
  • www.kaoxacamp.com
Bergpan Eco-resort, Soutpansberg
  • San, Khoekhoe, and Northern Sotho paintings occur together in the magnificent Zoutpan Shelter.
  • The manager: tel (015) 593 0127, e-mail bergpan@mweb.co.za
  • By appointment only.
Lajuma Mountain Retreat, Soutpansberg
  • Several San painting sites can be visited in this part of the western Soutpansberg.
  • Ian and Rita Gaigher: tel (015) 593 0352, cell 083 308 7027.
  • By appointment only.
  • www.leopard@lejuma.com
Lesheba Wilderness, Soutpansberg
  • Visiting the San and Khoekhoe paintings in this hill area is combined with game-viewing drives.
  • The manager: tel/fax (015) 593 0076, cell 082 315 9930/083 444 0456, email magic@lesheba.co.za
  • By appointment only.
  • www.lesheba.co.za
Medike Mountain Reserve, Soutpansberg
  • There are fine examples of Khoekhoe and San Paintings at the Sand River Shelter.
  • Hannes and Marietjie Underhay: tel (015) 516 0481, cell 082 893 2958, email medike@mwebe.co.za
  • By appointment only.
  • www.wheretostay.co.za/medike
Maremani Nature Reserve, Eastern Vhembe
  • Hunter-gatherer engravings of spoor, and San and Khoekhoe paintings may be seen in this area of arid Mopani Bushveld rich in the larger game animals.
  • Office: tel (015) 534 2785/0452.
  • By appointment only.
  • www.manangasafaris.com
Makgabeng plateau area
  • A guide can be employed to take visitors to see shelters on the Makgabeng plateau, and a specialist rock art guide is available at Thabananthlana village, where Northern Sotho, Khoekhoe, and San paintings may be seen.
  • Booking at Ivory Route Camp at Blouberg: tel (015) 295 3025, email infoair@mweb.co.za
  • By appointment only.