- Museum number
Digital photograph (colour); view of painted rock art showing the figure of a ship, upright and painted in red. The main portion of the ship figure is to the right of the image, with a horizontal line at the left emanating from the left side of the ship (bow?), with an upright cross formation at the left. The ship figure has a diagonal line jutting out at the left with a cross through it (bowsprit?) and what appear to be four masts bearing flags with horizontal line designs, the rightmost of which is topped by a circular ring (finial?). West Coast District Municipality, South Africa.
- Production date
May 1993 (original photograph)
4 July 2006 (date digitized)
File size: 120 megabytes
Resolution: 300 dots per inch
- Curator's comments
This image, which has been interpreted as a depiction of a seagoing ship, is from the mountains to the east of Porterville in the Western Cape. It appears to represent a wooden 17th or 18th century AD European vessel of the types that would have frequently been visible off the Cape coast at those time periods. Portuguese ships first rounded the Cape in the late 15th century, and from the 17th century French, Danish, Dutch and English ships regularly visited Table Bay on the trade route to the East Indies. The leftmost element in the image may represent a monumental cross or other marker visible on the shoreline. It has been suggested that the flags flying in different directions may indicate that the artist was unfamiliar with seagoing navigation; the apparent image of the tricolor indicates the painting to represent a Dutch vessel, indicating the painting to be perhaps mid-17th century.
There are over 2,500 known rock art sites in the Western Cape, with many more individual images within them. They appear for the most part to follow the same general artistic and cultural tradition as the paintings produced by San hunter-gatherer people and their ancestors elsewhere in South Africa. Paintings consist largely of human and animal figures, in particular the eland antelope. In addition, many sites include images of human tools and implements such as bows and arrows and others interpreted as bags and digging sticks. Several other types of image are found in San rock art which are less easily recognisable, including part-human, part-animal figures known by scholars as ‘therianthropes’, although these are not as common here as in the Drakensberg area. There are also animals of indeterminate species and non- figurative motifs such as lines, dots and other shapes.
There are certain regional characteristics of the art in the Western Cape, for example the emphasis on the human figure, with human figures more numerous than those of animals in the Cederberg area and a unique tradition of handprints near the west coast. There are some famous examples of so-called ‘contact art’ in the Western Cape, appearing to depict Europeans and their accoutrements such as wagons and horses or mules, although these images are rare. There are almost no images of cattle are found in the area, although there are several depictions of fat-tailed sheep. Sheep were introduced to the area around 2,000 years ago, with cattle appearing later, and it is thought that some Western Cape rock art may have been produced by Khoekhoe herder people.
In terms of direct dating, incised ochre from Blombos Cave on the southern coast has been dated to between 70 and 100,000 years ago, with some decorated ostrich eggshell fragments form Diepkloof have been dated to about 60,000 years ago. The earliest known rock painting dates in South Africa come from Steenbokfontein near the west coast where buried painted slabs were dated to about 3,600 years ago. It is thought that the majority of extant painted art in the area was made within the last 10,000 years, with some produced as late as the 19th Century AD or even later.
In the 1960s, Tim Maggs embarked on projects of quantitative study of images in the area. Western Cape rock art sites continue to be actively studied. Sites in the Cederberg Mountains, around 200km north of Cape Town, are particularly well-known.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2016 October 27 - 2017 February 27: 'South Africa: art of a nation' exhibition, British Museum
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Previous owner/ex-collection number: SOASWC0110006 (TARA number)