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digital photograph

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Digital photograph (colour); view of painted rock art showing an anthropomorphic figure, the figure of an eland antelope and an unidentified figure. The anthropomorphic figure is to the right, upright and face-on, infilled in white with red-brown markings. The figure has a schematic head with white downward protrusions on either side of the face (ears?), raised arms, a bulbous abdomen and splayed legs. The left leg is bent a the knee with the other outstretched. A wedge-shaped downward protrusion from the groin. The legs and protrusion are marked with red-brown stripes, with two kidney shapes infilled in red-brown on either side of the protrusion. The upper portion of the body is covered with red-brown flecks. The figure has two quivers filled with arrows strapped to its back and is holding a bow and two arrows in its left hand. The eland figure is to the left, depicted upside down with the head to the right, as if dead. The eland is bichrome with white head, neck, belly and legs, a brown body and a dark brown topline. The horns are not apparent. The unidentified figure is between the eland and the anthropomorphic figure, a faded rectangular shape infilled in white. Willcox’s Shelter, South Africa.


  • Producer name

  • Date

    • 13 March 2006 (date digitized)
    • March 1994 (original photograph)
  • Production place

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • File size: 118 megabytes
    • Resolution: 300 dots per inch
  • Curator's comments

    Detail of 2015.2034.18186.

    This shelter features a type of figure sometimes found in San rock art- a figure depicted face on with raised arms and spread legs, with a distended belly, bows and arrows and genital emissions.
    The Drakensberg forms the mountainous eastern edge of the Great Escarpment in South Africa. The Drakensberg’s southern portion extends north from the Eastern Cape province to form the province of KwaZulu-Natal’s borders with Lesotho and the Free State province. These mountains and foothills host many rock art sites, with several hundred rock shelters, containing many thousands of individual paintings, found throughout the area. Shelters are often found where the band of sandstone at the base of the high scarp has been weathered in, providing people from the San hunter-gatherer communities who formerly lived there with smooth painting surfaces.

    Paintings in the area made by San people and their ancestors largely depict human and animal figures, in particular the large eland antelope and smaller antelope such as rhebok. Animal depictions are often naturalistic and may include one or more colour combinations. Sometimes they are executed using a blending technique referred to as ‘shaded polychrome’. Animals other than antelope are sometimes depicted, including lions and birds, but the eland figure in particular predominates. In addition, many sites include images of human tools and implements such as bows and arrows. Several other types of image are found in Drakensberg rock art which are less easily recognisable, including part-human, part-animal figures known by scholars as 'therianthropes', animals of indeterminate species and non-figurative motifs such as lines and dots. There are also some images of horses and other domestic animals.

    The existence of rock art in this area has been known among communities there from before it stopped being produced (at some time in the late 19th century AD) and in the 1870s and 80s Mark and Graham Hutchinson made copies of some Drakensberg rock art. Interest in the sites from the perspective of archaeological and anthropological researchers was piqued in the early 20th century. In 1929 a portion of the team from an expedition mounted by German ethnologist and archaeologist Leo Frobenius recorded Drakensberg rock art sites and with the advent of colour photography several more recording expeditions and publications were made in the following decades, for example by Alexander Willcox, and Neil Lee and Bert Woodhouse. In the late 1950s and 60s respectively, Patricia Vinnicombe and Harald Pager began more rigorous and comprehensive exercises in surveying and copying from rock art sites in the area. In 1976, Vinnicombe published the seminal work "People of the Eland", an exploration of the composition and meaning of the rock art of a particular survey area. Following this came the work of David Lewis-Williams and many others, with much study of rock art in the area continuing.

    As with most rock art, dating is uncertain but work with AMS dating at Giant’s Castle Main Caves has tentatively dated some painting to as much as 2,900 years ago, though it is thought that much of Drakensberg rock art is more recent.


  • Location

    Not on display

  • Subjects

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • SOADRB0030002 (TARA number)

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Object reference number: EAF161497

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