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McAll's Cave: characterising the rock art of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa


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The Groot Winterhoek Mountains northwest of Port Elizabeth contain a body of largely unexplored rock art. McAll’s Cave, one of 38 recorded sites, contains exceptionally rich and well-preserved imagery. The range of images found in this shelter is representative of the rock art of the larger area. The content of the art places it firmly within the pan-San worldview. The presence and absence of specific imagery, quantitative analysis and manner of depiction of images show that although this art zone lies almost equidistant between the Cederberg and the Maloti-Drakensberg it shares many more similarities with that of the Cederberg and Western Cape art.
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Southern African Humanities 30: 145–83 December 2017 KwaZulu-Natal Museum
ISSN 2305-2791 (online); 1681-5564 (print)
McAll’s Cave: characterising the rock art of the Groot Winterhoek
Mountains, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
Ghilraen Laue
KwaZulu-Natal Museum, Private Bag 9070, Pietermaritzburg, 3200 South Africa &
Rock Art Research Institute, School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies,
University of Witwatersrand, South Africa;
The Groot Winterhoek Mountains northwest of Port Elizabeth contain a body of largely unexplored
rock art. McAll’s Cave, one of 38 recorded sites, contains exceptionally rich and well-preserved imagery.
The range of images found in this shelter is representative of the rock art of the larger area. The content
of the art places it rmly within the pan-San worldview. The presence and absence of specic imagery,
quantitative analysis and manner of depiction of images show that although this art zone lies almost
equidistant between the Cederberg and the Maloti-Drakensberg it shares many more similarities with that
of the Cederberg and Western Cape art.
KEY WORDS: rock art, regional difference, shamanism, southern Cape.
McAll’s Cave is situated in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains, at the far eastern
extremity of the Cape Fold Belt, northeast of Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape
Province of South Africa (Fig. 1). The Groot Winterhoek Mountains lie in the
transition zone between summer and winter rainfall (Lubke 1988: 6). Rainfall is
generally low with a slight peak during winter (Stone 1988: 21). The main vegetation
of this area is Kouga Sandstone Fynbos (on the mountain tops) and Kouga Grassy
Sandstone Fynbos around the shelters (Rebelo et al. 2006: 125–7). The fynbos
environments of the Cape Floristic Kingdom are famously speciose (Manning
2007: 14), and historical records (Skead 2007: 23–3) document the former presence
of a diverse fauna. The rock art sites occur in shallow shelters and overhangs that
were formed during the orogenic folding that gave rise to the mountains (Fig. 2;
Truswell 1970: 107; Coetzee 1998: 77; Newton et al. 2006: 521). Members of the
Eastern Province Section of the Mountain Club of South Africa have visited the
area regularly since the 1950s, and identied over 131 rock art sites in the Groot
Winterhoek Mountains (Coetzee 1998: 84). Although photographs of three of these
sites have been published (Willcox 1963: 50, 1984: 240–1; Woodhouse 1984: 103,
1992: g. 74; Coetzee 1998: 80, 81, 85), this area has not hitherto featured prominently
in southern African rock art scholarship. Since 2012, I have documented 38 sites,
including at least three previously unrecorded sites in the mountain range. Here I
present an analysis of the Groot Winterhoek rock art imagery, focusing especially on
McAll’s Cave which is situated in a small tributary valley off Upper Chase’s Kloof
in the Groot Winterhoek mountain range.
McAll’s Cave is important because it preserves complex panels of San (Bushman)1
art, stretching over 7.5 metres, as well as paintings on the ceiling and under the low
overhang. The paintings comprise over 220 well-preserved images, making this site
one of the richest rock art sites in the area.
Fig. 1. Map of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains and surrounds showing the Groendal Nature Reserve
and the approximate location of McAll’s Cave.
While no archaeological excavations or surveys have been carried out in the Groot
Winterhoek Mountains prior to this publication, there are many excavated sites within
a 200 km radius, ranging in age from the Earlier Stone Age to recent times (Hall 1988:
373). Much of the archaeological work done in the southern Cape was undertaken in the
1960s and 1970s (J. Deacon 1972, 1974, 1984; H. Deacon 1976, 1979, 1983; H. Deacon
et al. 1978, 1984), and was crucial in dening the Wilton techno-complex of the Later
Stone Age. One theme in the southern Cape has been the investigation of population
movements and boundaries. H. Deacon (1976: 170) suggests a correspondence between
divisions in ecological zones (fynbos versus Karoo) and archaeological assemblages.
Binneman (2006–07), working in the Baviaanskloof/Kouga region, identies distinct
boundaries on the basis of stone tool assemblages. This proposition is supported by
Sealy’s (2006: 582) isotopic analysis of human remains from the Plettenberg Bay area
and surroundings; these reveal distinct dietary communities (marine vs terrestrial)
between assemblages separated by as little as 14 km.
Hall (1990) and Binneman (1995) argue that stylistic information encoded in stone
tools can be read as markers of identity, at least for the last 5000 years. Hall (1990)
proposes that, in the southern Cape, hunter-gatherer population densities increased
over this period as populations abandoned an increasingly arid interior; groups began to
use new strategies (such as food storage) to exploit their environments more intensively
(Hall 1990: 8). Hall suggests that this landscape of intensive foraging led to stone
tools (specically raw-material procurement) becoming valorised as indices of group
membership, and that an increase in shelter burials indicates increased territoriality (Hall
2000: 137). This interpretation nds some support in isotopic proles in southern Cape
populations over the last 3500 years (Sealy & Pfeiffer 2000: 654; cf. Hall 2000: 144).
Owing to the lack of reliable rock art dates for the area, the Groot Winterhoek rock
art is temporally disjointed from the archaeological record. A general sense of timing can
be inferred from other areas, such as the Maloti-Drakensberg images (2900 BP onwards),
Botswana (4500 BP) and painted stones from burials in the Southern Cape (6000 BP
onwards), although these should only be seen as a guide (Pearce 2005: 48; Bonneau et
al. 2016: 16, 2017). It seems unlikely that paintings exposed in shallow shelters would
be older than these dates, so it is probable that the area’s rock art landscape reects the
relatively intensive hunter-gatherer occupation in the later Holocene.
The absence of ‘contact imagery’ (i.e. domestic stock, farmer peoples or Europeans)
(e.g. Hall 1986; Campbell 1987; Pinto 2014) indicates a lack of positive evidence for
the continuation of image-making traditions into the more recent past (c. last 1000
years), although San communities persisted in the region until the 19th century (Stow
1905: 204; H. Deacon 1976: 154–5). Faunal assemblages from rock shelters in the
southern Cape conrm the presence of sheep from at least the early rst millennium
AD (Derricourt 1977: 55; Deacon et al. 1978: 57) and images of domestic livestock
are known from sites in the wider southern Cape (Deacon et al. 1978: 41; Hall 1986;
Laue 1999: 37–8). It is, however, impossible to conrm whether the absence of sheep
and/or cattle in the Groot Winterhoek rock art reects the total abandonment of
image-making traditions prior to the arrival of livestock, or alternatively, that, for
reasons unknown, these communities chose not to represent these animals.
Fig. 2. Folds in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains create shallow shelters (photo: G. Laue).
Despite the studies of ancient boundaries and territoriality cited here, rock art
scholarship pertaining to the southern Cape has placed relatively little emphasis on
questions of regionality (for exceptions, see Laue 1999, 2016). Much of the earlier
work on rock art regionality in southern Africa applied cultural-historical explanations
linking paintings to stone tool ‘traditions’ (Burkitt 1928; Van Riet Lowe 1956; Malan
1965; Rudner & Rudner 1970; Willcox 1984), a view that is widely discredited today
(Stahl 2009: 249). Certain elements of earlier works persist, however, notably that
a distinctive southern group of paintings exists. This southern variation is said to
gradually diminish in the vicinity of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains. It is typically
characterised by a predominance of bright red pigments (Burkitt 1928: 128; Van Riet
Lowe 1956: 8; Rudner & Rudner 1970: 179), the presence of ‘smudged’ backgrounds
(Burkitt 1928: 128), a large number of handprints (Burkitt 1928: 128), generally poor
preservation (Willcox 1984: 183), and a ‘hook’- or ‘sickle’-shaped head for many of the
human gures (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 179). Certain scholars considered this corpus
of paintings to be ‘inferior’ to rock paintings in the Maloti-Drakensberg (Burkitt 1928:
152; Willcox 1984: 181).
Shifts away from investigations into regional difference and towards the use of
ethnography in attempts to understand the ‘meaning’ of rock art (e.g. Vinnicombe
1976; Lewis-Williams 1980, 1981a) led to claims that the art is essentially (perhaps
entirely) shamanistic in nature (Lewis-Williams 1980, 1981a, b, 1983a, b, 1984, 1986,
1988; Lewis-Williams & Dowson 1988, 1989; Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2004a). Lewis-
Williams identied a series of motifs (appearing in isolation and in combination) that
indicate a ‘pan-San’ conceptual unity for this rock art tradition (Lewis-Williams 1984:
227; see also Guenther 1999: 33) that spans thousands of years, and which occurs from
Zimbabwe to the Cape. The concept of a pan-San cognitive system is still relevant to
contemporary research, despite concerns over its appropriateness (Lewis-Williams &
Dowson 1994: 207). It is invoked as an effective interpretative paradigm for imagery
as varied as formlings in Zimbabwe (Mguni 2005, 2015) and swift-tailed images in the
southern Cape (Hollmann 2005a, b). Research in this vein considers variation in the art
as idiosyncratic manifestations of a broader underlying motivation for its production
rather than evidence for regional difference in its own right.
In southern Africa, many researchers work in specic areas and forge connections
between previously unexplored iconography or themes and our overall knowledge of
San rock art, generally under the rubric of ‘shamanism’ (e.g. Mallen 2005; Eastwood
& Eastwood 2006; Pinto 2014). Presentation of descriptive data is uncommon (cf.
Pager 1989) and therefore subcontinent-wide regional comparisons cannot be made.
The ‘shamanistic paradigm’ developed from an investigation of themes within the rock
art of a particular geographical region—the southeastern mountains of South Africa.
Researchers then linked these painted themes to Bushman/San ethnographic data
(Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2008: 428). The subsequent expansion of the shamanistic
paradigm to other parts of the subcontinent has led to the generalisation of the motifs
and conventions of the art of the southeastern mountains to other geographical areas
(Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2008: 428; Hampson 2013: 363). However, it is only through
tackling individual panels at specic sites that new questions can be asked (Hollmann
2001; Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2008: 428).
I therefore pay particular attention to a single, large panel of images at McAll’s Cave. I
tease out similarities and differences in this imagery with motifs found at other, specic
rock art sites, locally and regionally. The regions chosen are the greater Western and
southern Cape (Fig. 3) as dened by Van Riet Lowe (1956), the Rudners (1970) and
Willcox (1984), and, further aeld, the Maloti-Drakensberg. In the process I consider
how the paintings at McAll’s Cave ‘t’ with the notion of a pan-San cosmology in
southern African hunter-gatherer art.
My surveys commenced in 2012, guided by a map made by Peter Heugh and Lew Knight
in the 1960s2 that depicts 19 painted sites in the Groendal Nature Reserve, accompanied
by brief notes.3 Of these 19 sites, the 18 that fall within the reserve boundary were
recorded; six additional sites were located within the reserve and 14 further sites were
recorded outside the reserve, bringing the total to 38.
GPS location data were recorded for each site and all sites were photographed in
ambient light and with a ash. Sites were recorded using standard Rock Art Research
Institute (University of the Witwatersrand) site report forms; detailed site reports and
quantitative studies were made at 28 of the sites, recording the numbers, characteristics
and colours of animal, human, geometric, abstract and handprints or nger painted
Fig. 3. Map showing the research area in relation to the rock art region previously dened (Van Riet Lowe
1956; Rudner & Rudner 1970; Willcox 1984) western and southern Cape region and that of the
images (Table 1). Animal species were recorded where possible, while others could only
be assigned to a more general category, such as antelope (Table 2). Note was also made
of the head type (Table 3) and sex of the human gures (Table 4). Field sketches were
made of selected images at all sites. Detailed tracings were made of selected images
at 16 of the shelters: these were chosen on the basis of quality of preservation (i.e.
visibility in photographs) and whether they were representative of the art as a whole
(both common and notably unusual features were chosen). McAll’s Cave was recorded
in its entirety.
Painted shelters in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains are rather widely scattered,
often with only one or two in a valley. Scarcity of available rock overhangs may
be an issue, but there are numerous localities that would apparently have made
equally good places in which to paint. Painted shelters range from the large (which
could comfortably sleep more than 10 people) to small overhangs. Larger shelters
contain evidence of Later Stone Age occupation, including stone artefacts, ostrich
eggshell beads and thin-walled pottery in surface scatters or eroding from the talus
slope.4 Aspect does not appear to be strongly correlated with painting prevalence;
despite a slight preferential bias towards north-facing shelters, sites were oriented
in all directions (Fig. 4). There does seem to be a preference for shelters with
tunnels or deep crevices going into the rock face, with at least 70 % of the shelters
displaying either one or both of these features (see Ouzman 1997: 232; Hollmann
2005a: 31).
I focus here on McAll’s Cave because of the unusually large number of images it
contains. It is in a sense a ‘microcosm’ of the imagery in the area and contains examples
of a wide range of imagery (in terms of the way the images are depicted, colours
used and subject matter) found throughout the area. Therefore, rather than showing
isolated images from a number of sites, I analyse the full site composition at McAll’s
Cave (see Blundell & Lewis-Williams 2001; Hollmann 2001; Lewis-Williams & Pearce
2004b, 2008, 2009; Hollmann & Lewis-Williams 2006; Pinto 2014 for similar studies
of individual sites).
McAll’s Cave is west-facing and measures approximately 10 × 6 m at its widest and
deepest; most of the shelter is less than 3 m deep. In the centre of the shelter there is
a 1 m2 opening leading into a low, dark chamber. All the paintings occur in areas where
natural light is available, the majority being found on the southeast wall of the shelter;
none are currently visible in the recessed ‘cave’. The shelter contains paintings in dark
red, red, yellow, white and black; with the majority of paint being red and yellow (Fig. 5,
Table 1). This palette of colours is consistent with other sites in the Groot Winterhoek
Mountains, as well as the greater southern Cape (see Bassett 2001; Hollmann 2001;
Rust & Van der Poll 2011); earlier researchers have posited bright red paintings (along
with smudgy red backgrounds) as diagnostic for the region as a whole (Burkitt 1928;
Van Riet Lowe 1956; Rudner & Rudner 1970; Willcox 1984).
The shelter was divided into four sections or panels, based on geological structure
and painting position. The largest contiguous painted area, which I call the main panel
(Figs 6–10), contains 183 images and covers a total of approximately 7.5 m. It has
been further subdivided into 13 clusters (A–M) to aid in discussion. A second panel
(Fig. 11) comprises six small (8–13 cm) yellow gures with red capes/cloaks. The rock
on which the main panel is painted forms a slight overhang, under which the third
panel, a small scene painted in dark red containing at least 19 human images is located
(Fig. 12). The fourth panel is on the low ceiling (ca 2 m inside the shelter) and comprises
at least 17 crawling human gures painted in red, yellow or red and yellow with the
occasional detail in white, and two antelope in yellow and white (Fig. 13).
The main panel includes more than 100 human gures, for the most part painted in
yellow or a light orange-red with striped markings on their bodies (Figs 5–10). Due to
Fig. 4. Aspect of sites recorded in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains.
Fig 5. Procession of the gures from the main panel in McAll’s Cave (photo: G. Laue).
Section 2
Fig. 6. Section 1 of the main panel at McAll’s Cave. This section is in the furthest recesses of the shelter and shows the poorest preservation at the site. Solid
black = red, stipple = yellow/light orange.
Section 1 Section 3
Fig. 7. Section 2 of the main panel at McAll’s Cave. Solid black = red, stipple = yellow/light orange, outlined white space = white, dense stipple = black.
Fig. 8. Section 3 of the main panel at McAll’s Cave. Solid black = red, stipple = yellow/light orange, outlined white space = white.
Section 2 Section 4
Fig. 9. Section 4 of the main panel at McAll’s Cave. Solid black = red, stipple = yellow/light orange, outlined white space = white.
Section 3 Section 5
Section 4
Fig. 10. Section 5 of the main panel at McAll’s Cave. Solid black = red, stipple = yellow/light orange,
outlined white space = white.
Fig. 11. Panel 2 is located on a step above the handprint in Fig. 9. Stipple = yellow, dense stipple = black.
poor preservation, these marks are only preserved on parts of their bodies: it seems
likely, however, that when the images were painted, the stripes were more extensive.
Where these details are preserved, their skin cloaks and karosses worn show a cross-
hatched design. Many gures are, however, either unclothed or wear only a skin cloak
(see Figs 7C, 11): Parkington and Manhire (1997: 303) suggest that cloaks may denote
initiated men. This patterning on bodies and clothing is seen in other parts of the Groot
Winterhoek, for example at Brommer Cave (Fig. 14), approximately 15 km to the west
of McAll’s Cave. Other types of body decoration have been recorded in the Groot
Winterhoek Mountains (Fig. 15), but the majority of human images are monochrome
(in some cases this may be due to differential preservation) (Table 1).
There are only two gures with unequivocal sexual characteristics: one female
(denoted by breasts; Fig. 7C) and one male with an inbulated penis (Fig. 9I). Some argue
Fig. 12. Panel 3 is located in the step below the part of the main panel shown in Fig. 9. Solid black =
dark red.
Fig. 13. Panel 4 is located on the low ceiling of McAll’s Cave. Solid black = red, stipple = yellow, outlined white space = white.
Fig. 14. Figures from a site about 15 km west of McAll’s Cave with similar decorations to those at McAll’s
Cave on their karosses (photo: G. Laue).
Fig. 15. Elongated gure with microdots around the waist, and
stripes and crosses on the legs. This image is from another site
in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains. Solid black = red, outlined
white space = white.
that certain items of material culture acted as tertiary sexual characteristics, suggesting
that gures carrying bows and arrows were almost certainly male (e.g. Maggs 1967:
101; Humphreys 1996: 32), though this is not universally so (see Solomon 1994: 345;
Stevenson 1995: 109; Thorp 2015: 182–3). My sex determinations were based upon
breast/penis presence; many of the gures carry items of material culture that may
reference gender, being associated with men and masculinity (Draper 1975: 80; Lee
1979: 205). Primary and secondary sexual characteristics are less frequently depicted in
the Groot Winterhoek (Table 4) than in the Maloti-Drakensberg (but see Vinnicombe
1976) and the Cederberg (Fig. 16).
The human gures have hook-heads, a stylistic characteristic that has been used to
dene the art of the southern Cape region (Rudner & Rudner 1970: 179); in this study,
they form just over 50 % of the discernible heads in the area (Table 3).5 Some of the
hook-headed gures have the remains of a pigment ll in the hook (e.g. Fig. 7i) which
suggests that many of the hook-heads may once have been lled with pigment, most
probably white or black which often does not survive as well as the reds and yellows.
Yates et al. (1985: 70) estimate that only 15 % of hook heads in the Cederberg survive in
their original bichrome state; this pattern seems to be repeated in the Groot Winterhoek
Mountains. Many of the gures have thongs or hair painted hanging down from the
back of the head, comparable with Vinnicombe’s (1967: 140) “hairstyles and headgear
type 5”: hair, thongs or aps hanging down. Some of the gures (Figs 7C, 8G) have
unusual crescent shapes on top of their heads. Hollmann (2001: 63) interprets similar
shapes as possible head ornaments; in McAll’s Cave, they do not touch the heads of
the gures. They may have held a symbolic signicance, perhaps as a regional idiom
for depicting the spirit leaving the head during trance (see Lewis-Williams 1983b: 7).
Most of the gures on the main panel have at least one kind of bag: either a round
carrying bag used by both sexes, a men’s conical hunting bag (Lewis-Williams & Dowson
1989: 114; Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2008: 429), or sometimes both (Figs 6–10). The
hunting bags are shown with a bow and large numbers of arrows, the painting of
which follows a local stylistic convention: black tips and white shafts, with a red dot
indicating the groove cut for the bowstring (Figs 8H, 17). When painted protruding
from hunting bags, all that can be seen of the arrow is the end of the shaft, the red
dot, and (in some cases) a red line indicating the ends (Fig. 8H). Since white pigments
seems to be more fugitive, depictions of arrows in bags are not always preserved; where
they are, the bags seem to contain more arrows than would usually carried by a San
hunter (one of the better preserved images, Fig. 7Ei contains 39 arrows) (Steyn 1971:
Fig. 16. Comparison of the percentage of females, males and indeterminate gures in the Groot Winterhoek
Mountains with published data from the Maloti-Drakensberg and the Western Cape (Maggs 1967;
Pager 1971a, b; Vinnicombe 1976; Lewis-Williams 1972; 1981a; Hollmann 1993).
300; Marshall 1976: 144; Wiessner 1983: 263). Arrows are not simply weapons, but are
(and were) integrated into all aspects of ritual and belief (Deacon 1992: 17; see also
Lewis-Williams & Biesele 1978; Eastwood 1999). Just as paintings showing multiple
y-whisks are thought to show the non-reality of the image (Lewis-Williams 2002: 152),
multiple arrows likely denote the power or potency of the individual carrying the bag.
Rounded carrying bags are commonly painted in the area, both in isolation and in
association with human gures. Such bags probably referenced trance and visits to
the spirit realm (Lewis-Williams & Dowson 1989: 116–7; Lewis-Williams & Pearce
2008: 429), as symbols of transformation and the transition between realms (Lewis-
Williams & Pearce 2004a: 120, 126–8; Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2012: 81); depictions
of full hunting bags may have “connoted good luck and well being” (Hollmann 2001:
66). Note the bag in Figure 13 from which an antelope head seems to be protruding
(see also Fig. 18); these images are unlikely to reect reality, rather they point to the
transformative qualities of bags.
The bags are often painted with tassels or cords hanging from them, still
frequently seen on animal skin bags made by the San (Lewis-Williams & Pearce
Fig. 17. Note the arrows and antelope eared cap on this gure from another site in the Groendal Nature
Reserve, Groot Winterhoek Mountains. Solid black = black, stipple = red, outlined white space
= white.
2008: 429). In the case of the central image in Figure 8Hiii and in Figures 13iv
and 13v, cordiforms are attached to these cords. Cordiforms occur at a number of
sites in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg (e.g. Pager 1975: 10–11, 25, 55, 61) and
Lewis-Williams (2012: 27) suggests that these might represent small antelope hooves.
The tassels in McAll’s Cave and the Groot Winterhoek Mountains in general are
painted in a similar way to the underarm emanations associated with some gures
(Figs 6B, 7C, 14). I interpret these lines from under the arm as sweat, which echoes
the ethnographic belief that sweat—especially from the armpits—was a particularly
potent substance (Lewis-Williams 1980: 471, 1981a: 77, 81). The association between
sweat and tassels suggests that the latter were depicted for reasons beyond the
Fig. 18. Note the antelope head sticking out of the bag from a site a few kms from McAll’s Cave. Solid
black = black, ne stipple = red, coarse stipple = yellow, outlined white space = white.
Many of the human images in Figures 7–9 show coherence in size (ranging from
180 mm to 320 mm high), body decoration and colour. They form a procession
(cf. Parkington & Manhire 1997: 307) moving in a single direction (right to left) across
the rock face, comprising at least 34 human gures painted over 4.7 m of the shelter
(Figs 7F, 8G, 8H, 9I, 9K, 11L). Parkington and Manhire (1997: 307; see also Parkington
et al. 1996: 223) suggest that these processions refer to initiation ceremonies, while
groups of images suggest trance dance scenes. Their interpretation relies heavily
on Schapera’s (1930: 122–8) and Bleek’s (1928: 23–5) descriptions of boys and girls
initiation ceremonies, both of which include dances; I, however, believe that the
procession at McAll’s Cave relates to the trance dance: the area of activity (Fig. 7C)
towards which the procession is moving—along with associated imagery—is redolent
with trance dance motifs discussed further below.
The trance or healing dance is recorded in a number of historical and ethnographic
accounts (e.g. Arbousset & Daumas 1846: 353–4; Stow 1905: 119; Katz 1982; Katz 1997: 17–27; Marshall 1999: 63–90); all descriptions suggest a similar pattern,
usually that women sat around the re singing and clapping, while men danced in a
circle to activate their n|um (supernatural power) and enter trance (Katz 1982: 35).
The depiction of a trance dance in McAll’s Cave (Fig. 12), under the ledge of the
main panel, is one of at least three recorded in the research area. It is small, less than
20 × 20 cm, and painted entirely in dark red; if any other colour was used it has now
entirely disappeared. To the left there are nine gures, at least seven of which have their
arms stretched out in a classic clapping posture (Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2004a: 83,
g. 5.1); on the right are at least 19 gures which appear to be dancing. Figure 19
shows a dance scene from a neighbouring shelter. On the left there are 11 small gures
bending forwards slightly with their arms outstretched in a clapping position. On the
right are ve gures in the bending forward dancing posture; one seems to be holding
dancing sticks and one (possibly two) seem to be wearing an antelope-eared cap.
More common than entire dance scenes are what Lewis-Williams calls “fragments
of the dance” (Lewis-Williams 1998: 87; Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2004a: 99–100).
These fragments—the arms-back posture, ywhisks, bleeding from the nose and
bending forward postures—stand in for depictions of the rituals connected with
accessing the spirit world (Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2004a: 99). The depiction of
bleeding from the nose and ywhisks is rare in the rock art of the Groot Winterhoek
Mountains, but other fragments of the dance occur. In Figure 7C there are at least
three gures bending forward (and one of these gures has arms in a backward
position); the distorted antelope on the right is also reminiscent of the bending
forward position, strongly associated with the trance dance (e.g. Katz 1982: 98;
Huffman 1983: 50; Lewis-Williams 1981a: 78, 1984: 236). Many of the human
images in Figure 13 are in the bending forward posture, while others are depicted
either crawling or kneeling.
The arms back posture is adopted when n|um is entering the body or when one is
asking god for n|um (Lewis-Williams 1981a: 88). This is seen most clearly in the dance
scene in Figure 12. Many of the ‘dancers’ are painted with only one arm (also see the
group scene in Fig. 7C), which could be an attempt to show this posture. The hand-
to-nose gesture is another posture that recurs in many of the rock paintings of the
Maloti-Drakensberg (Lewis-Williams 1983b: 7) and the Cederberg (Yates et al. 1985:
Fig. 19. Trance dance scene from another site in the Groendal Nature Reserve. This is a false colour image
produced using Dstretch. The smudging on the rock makes the gures difcult to distinguish in
an unenhanced picture (photo: G. Laue).
74); it is believed to represent the dance. Although this posture is not common in the
Groot Winterhoek Mountains, it occurs twice in Figure 7C.
Other possible trance motifs also occur, including two depictions of gures with
‘ears’ or ‘antelope-eared’ caps (Figs 7C, 7E; see also one of the crawling gures in
Figs 13 and 17). Lewis-Williams (2002: 66) suggests that the Maloti-Drakensberg
antelope eared caps represent the relationship between shamans and animals.
Alternatively, they may represent the control of the power of certain antelope (Lewis-
Williams 1980: 447, 1981a:77; 1981b: 7), a concept that is taken to extremes in the
depiction of therianthropes. The associated images of these two ‘antelope-eared capped’
gures at McAll’s Cave and the rarity of antelope therianthropes conrms work by
Yates et al. (1985: 72) that antelope eared caps are “to some extent equivalent to the
therianthrope concept”.
Both of the antelope-eared gures are associated with non-real features. Figure 20
(close-up of Fig. 7C), the centre of much activity, is bending forward and has a long-necked
antelope head extending out from the neck. This image is unlike the antelope therianthrope
depictions of the Maloti-Drakensberg (e.g. Vinnicombe 1976; Lewis-Williams 1981a) and
it is clear that the gure does have a human head, albeit with antelope ears. The antelope
neck seems to be emanating from the n||ao spot at the base of the neck, an area from
which Kalahari shamans believed they would expel the arrows of sickness during the
healing process (Marshall 1969: 370; Biesele 1993: 109; Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2004a:
148; see Lewis-Williams 1981a: 94–5 for evidence of a |Xam belief in a similar spot).
There are very few antelope-headed therianthropes in Western and southern Cape art
traditions (Yates et al. 1985: 73), and this is echoed in the current area, with only two
exemplars observed (Fig. 21). Figure 20 may represent the feeling of transformation
experienced during a trance state, which is expressed by paintings of therianthropes in
other regions of southern Africa (Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2004a: 44).
The second gure with antelope ears (Fig. 22, close-up of Fig. 7E) is bending
forward and holding a red line fringed with white dots. DStretch manipulation
(Harman 2006) indicates that the dots extend at least down to the second hand
and possibly beyond. This line curves and disappears into a step in the rock below,
and is thus unlikely to represent a bow, stick or spear. Similar images occur in the
Maloti-Drakensberg area, and are thought to represent lines of potency or the
threads of light that shamans travel along to enter the spirit world (Lewis-Williams
1981b; 1984: 227–8; Lewis-Williams et al. 2000). Lines connecting gures in the
southern and Western Cape have been likened to the “thin red line” found in the
Fig. 20. Close up of an antelope eared gure from Fig. 7 C. Solid black = red, stipple = yellow, outlined
white space = white.
Fig. 21. Antelope therianthropes from two different sites in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains. Solid
black = red.
Fig. 22. Close up of an antelope eared gure holding a ‘thin red line’ from Fig. 7 E. Solid black = red,
outlined white space = white.
Maloti-Drakensberg area (Yates et al. 1985: 76; Hollmann 2001: 65), but a major
difference is that the lines mentioned by these authors are not fringed with dots. The
red-line/white-dots depiction at McAll’s Cave is the only example I know of outside
the Maloti-Drakensberg region, and it may thus be the most southerly and westerly
known example of this motif. Further non-real imagery at the shelter includes two
sh6 (Fig. 7Cii), painted as if they are swimming around the heads of two gures.
Lewis-Williams and Dowson (1989: 54–5; see also Challis et al. 2008: 210) have
argued that ‘underwater’ is a metaphor for trance, given that a trance state may include
sensations of weightlessness and breathing difculties, akin to the feeling of being
underwater (Lewis-Williams & Dowson 1988; 1990: 11). There are other depictions
of ‘underwater’ imagery in the survey area, as well as metaphors of trance such as
ight (Laue 2016) and death (indicated by animals painted upside down).
There are 27 T-shaped images in the main panel (Figs 7D, 7Ei, 8Hiii). The images
are uniform, measuring approximately 10 mm across and 5–7 mm high. These may
represent insects, which are a widespread—albeit uncommon—component of southern
African rock art (Vinnicombe 1972: 196; Pager 1973; Lewis-Williams & Dowson 1992:
52–3; Mguni 2005, 2013; Hollmann 2007, 2015). Ethnographic accounts describe insects
as a viable food source (McGranaghan 2014), although the transformative qualities
they display during their life cycle may have been seen as representing the “symbolic
embodiments of healers, or even their spirits” (Mguni 2013: 171). Neuropsychological
reports of a buzzing noise accompanying altered states of consciousness may have been
connected to insects (Lewis-Williams & Dowson 1989: 62, 1992: 52–3). The fact that
the ‘insects’ are in such close association with certain gures in the procession tends
to suggest that there is something special about these gures, possibly a heightened
trance state.
Figure 8H shows a gure shooting an arrow directly into a step in the rock face
(Fig. 23). Exploiting topographical features of the rock surface is also seen elsewhere
in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains (Fig. 24), in the Maloti-Drakensberg (e.g.
Vinnicombe 1976: 228; Lewis-Williams 1981: 85; Lewis-Williams & Dowson 1990)
and the southern Cape (Laue 1999: 58–9). Lewis-Williams and Dowson (1990)
argue that the rock surface was perceived to be a veil suspended between the spirit
world and this world; therefore, the deliberate incorporation of natural rock features
into paintings provides an additional shamanistic context for Groot Winterhoek
Mountain art.
Human gures outnumber animals throughout the rock paintings of southern Africa.
This trend is particularly visible in the survey area (77 % human to 23 % animal; Table
1) and is even more exaggerated at McAll’s Cave (86 % human to 14 % animal). In
this respect, the Groot Winterhoek Mountains group with other sites in the Western
and southern Cape region rather than the Maloti-Drakensberg, where humans only
slightly outnumber animals in rock art (Fig. 25).
At 61 %, by far the largest category of identiable animals in the Groot Winterhoek
Mountains is antelope (Table 2), but preservation makes identication to species difcult,
except in the case of eland. Eland are more likely to be painted as bichromes with the
head and lower legs painted in white. Percentages of eland, out of the total antelope,
are much lower in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains at 14.3 % compared to between
45.8 % (Vinnicombe 1976 364) and 61.7 % (Lewis-Williams 1981a: 135) in the Maloti-
Drakensberg, and 25 % in the Koebee area of Western Cape (Hollmann 1993: 20). Only
one shaded polychrome eland has been identied in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains
so far (Laue 2016: g. 10). The rarity of this style of painting in the Groot Winterhoek
contrasts markedly to the Maloti-Drakensberg where samples show that 20 % or more of
the animals were shaded (Lewis-Williams 1972: 51; Vinnicombe 1976: 362). In this respect
Fig. 23. Colour photograph of an arrow being shot into a crack (see Fig. 8 H for context) (photo:
G. Laue).
the art of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains is more similar to that of the Western and
southern Cape region where only three shelters with shaded polychrome antelope have
been identied (Mazel 2009: 111; Bassett 2001: 48; J. Deacon pers. comm., October 2017).
Although no eland are found in McAll’s Cave, individual faded animals are scattered
throughout the panel, with a concentration of 14 antelope in Figure 7D. While only two
of these can be positively identied as hartebeest (horn shape), the body shape—back
sloping down from the shoulder hump to the hindquarters—of the others suggest that
they too are hartebeest. Like the majority of animal images in the Groot Winterhoek
Mountains (Table 1), the hartebeest bodies are painted in monochrome red (where
horns are visible they are black). Bichrome animals, such as those in Figure 13, make
up the next highest percentage.
The mammal images in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains are painted from a lateral
(side-on) viewpoint. This is the most common way of depicting antelope in southern
Fig. 24. Human gure walking out of a crack in the rock from a nearby shelter (photo: G. Laue).
Africa and in other parts of the world (Deregowski 1995: 4). How people draw is
culturally constrained, but it is also conditioned by the object being drawn (Clegg 1995:
11). But there is evidence that there are certain ways of drawing images that are more
common or “certain views of a bottle are more bottle-like than others” (Deregowski
1995: 3). Similarly, it can also be said certain views of antelope are more antelope-like
than others. The lateral view, in the case of an antelope, is the one which includes a
large number of features that make it identiable (Smith 1998: 215) and thus is it not
surprising that this is the most usual method of depiction. The rare front and back
views of antelope seen in the Drakensberg (see Pager 1971a: 330) are a regional variation
seldom if ever seen in the rest of the sub-continent and have not been noted in the
Groot Winterhoek Mountains.
The hartebeest in Figure 7D seem to have been intentionally superimposed on each
other, something that has been noted in the Maloti-Drakensberg (Smits 1971: 17–8;
Pager 1971a: 327; Vinnicombe 1976: 204; Lewis-Williams 2002: 151). The bipedal stance
of several quadrupedal animal images may represent the transformative process during
trance—from animal to human and back—and the altered state of consciousness in
which “a single form (gure, object) may be duplicated or multiplied, that is its size
may change or its shape may be altered or distorted” (Kluver 1966: 72).
This area’s relative lack of superimposition compared with the paintings of
the Maloti-Drakensberg suggests similarities with the corpus of paintings in the
Western and southern Cape, where superpositioning is also rare (Manhire 1981:
19). In the Maloti-Drakensberg, by contrast, it commonly occurs, in up to seven
layers (Russell 2000: 68). While superimposition has been used to compile relative
regional chronologies (see Thackeray 1983; Russell 2000; Swart 2004; Flett & Letley
2013), these could be problematic, since superimposed sequences are an “active
Fig. 25. A comparison of animal vs human gures from the Groot Winterhoek Mountains as compared
to other studies in the Western Cape and Maloti-Drakensberg (Maggs 1967; Pager 1971a, b;
Vinnicombe 1976; Lewis-Williams 1972; 1981a; Hollmann 1993).
product of meaning construction” (Blundell et al. 2010: 3); superpositioning is not
random—rather it is purposeful and conveyed meaning (Lewis-Williams 1974; Pager
1976; Loubser 1993).
The smudging and touching of images in the Western and southern Cape region,
as well as the presence of handprints and nger dots, may have—in a similar way to
superpositioning—been a means of accessing the potency stored in the pigment of
the lower rock art images (Yates & Manhire 1991); this form of interaction with the
art is rare in the Drakensberg-Maloti area (cf. Pearce & George 2011; Lewis-Williams
& Dowson 1990), but is a feature of the Groot Winterhoek sites (Fig. 26). Both
practices reect engagements that consumed or ‘used’ extant rock art, incorporating
the potency of the underlying image and transferring it through subsequent rock art
Handprints are common in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains and occur at 54 %
of the sites in the survey area, with up to 96 prints per site. In this respect, the art
resembles that of the Western and southern Cape (e.g. Willcox 1959; Maggs 1967:
103; Hollmann 1993: 22; Manhire 1998: 99). Handprints are very rare in the Maloti-
Drakensberg area: Pager (1971a: 337) found only four handprints in the whole of
his research area, and none were recorded by Vinnicombe (1976) or Lewis-Williams
(1981a). According to Lewis-Williams and Blundell (1997), handprints combined
three important conceptual elements: the human hand, paint and the rock surface.
Touching the rock may have served as touching of the veil argued to separate the
‘ordinary world’ from the spiritual realm, assisted by the potency of the paint itself
(Lewis-Williams & Blundell 1997: 53). To these researchers the creation of a handprint
is secondary in signicance to the actual process of making the handprint in the
context of a multi-component ritual (Lewis-Williams & Blundell 1997). The paint
was made from powerful substances such as eland blood (How 1962), and was then
placed on the hand and sometimes patterned with shapes (nested U-shapes most
commonly): the hand was then placed on the rock face or ‘veil’ (Lewis-Williams
& Blundell 1997), xing potency to the walls of the shelter or drawing it from the
spirit world.
The authorship of handprints is much debated (e.g. Willcox 1959; Van Rijssen 1994;
Manhire 1998; Smith & Ouzman 2004), with some researchers arguing they were made
by herder people rather than San hunter-gatherers. This debate is beyond the scope
of this paper, but in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains, I suggest that handprints exist
rmly within the San art tradition.
The rock art of McAll’s Cave and the Groot Winterhoek Mountains in general
(Table 5) ts well within the shamanistic paradigm of interpretation: trance postures
and trance metaphors abound in the form of the antelope-eared images (Figs 20, 22);
there is an emphasis on transformation (e.g. the hartebeest in Fig. 7D), and there is
underwater imagery, amongst others. Figure 12 contains one of only three depictions
of a full trance dance in the research area, suggesting that McAll’s Cave may have held
special signicance. The unusually large and varied amount of art may be due to the
location, in this case a shelter that is different from the others in the area, having an
especially deep cavity at the back and large relatively unbroken surfaces available for
painting (see Morris 2016: 269).
Fig. 26. A group of gures that have been smudged and rubbed from a nearby shelter in the Groot
Winterhoek Mountains (photo: G. Laue).
This paper introduces the art of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains and gives a general
overview of the art of the research area. In addition it identies similarities and
differences between it and the better-studied art of the Western and southern Cape
and the Maloti-Drakensberg. It is therefore also a starting point for a more thorough
investigation into regional differences.
I have shown that the art of McAll’s Cave and the greater Groot Winterhoek
Mountains ts within the pan-San shamanistic framework and shows similarities with
both the Western and southern Cape and the Maloti-Drakensberg (Table 5). Despite
being physically closer in distance to much of the art in the Maloti-Drakensberg, the
rock art of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains has much more in common with the art of
the Cederberg in particular, and, more generally, with that of the Western and southern
Cape in terms of content, pigment colour and manner of depiction (Laue 2016).
The presence of the thin red line (red line fringed with white dots) nevertheless
suggests that there may have been knowledge exchange between Groot Winterhoek
and Maloti-Drakensberg painters. The very specic way these lines are painted makes
it unlikely that the concept was individually conceived by different artists (Lewis-
Williams 1981b: 12). It is more likely that this idea was conceived in one place and
then spread. Another possible indicator of a connection is the presence of a single
shaded polychrome eland (Laue 2016: g. 10), an image seldom seen outside the
Maloti-Drakensberg. Major differences to the Maloti-Drakensberg include the apparent
paucity of human gures bleeding from the nose, in the arms-back position, in the
hand-to-nose posture and the lack of therianthropes.
The presence of handprints and scarcity of therianthropic images are two
characteristics that the art of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains shares with imagery
in the Western and southern Cape. Unlike the Maloti-Drakensburg, very little
superpositioning is found in the paintings in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains and
the Western and southern Cape.
The variability of modes of expression between the research area, the Western
and southern Cape, and the Maloti-Drakensberg means that style must be considered
when investigating regional difference, as very common elements—human gures, for
example—are present all over southern Africa but the manner or ‘style’ in which they
are depicted varies widely. Human gures have a high proportion of ‘hook-heads’,
reminiscent of this feature in human gure depictions in the Western and southern
Cape, and the equipment, in terms of bags and hunting gear, is similar to both that of
the Western and southern Cape as well as the Maloti-Drakensberg. Colour is something
that strongly contributes to the ‘look’ of an image. Early studies note the bright red
colour in the Western and southern Cape paintings (e.g. Burkitt 1928; Van Riet Lowe
1952) and which differs from the darker red more commonly used in the Maloti-
Drakensburg. A predominance of bright red is also a characteristic of the art in the
Groot Winterhoek Mountains, as is the more frequent use of yellow pigment. Another
distinctive feature of the Western and southern Cape paintings, noted by earlier regional
studies, is the seemingly less sophisticated way that the images are formed (e.g. Burkitt
1928: 152; Willcox 1984: 181) relative to those in the Maloti-Drakensberg. The lack of
shaded polychromes has been noted, as well as the nearly ubiquitous use of the lateral
prole for animal images, which suggests a contrast with the Maloti-Drakensberg rock
art where front and back views are seen.
1 Both terms, San and Bushman, have carried pejorative connotations in the past. I use the term San in
this article but reject any negative associations the word may have. I also note that the ethnographically
described San hunter-gatherers are not Stone Age relics and there are problems with projecting these
names far back in time (see Pargeter et al. 2016).
2 Werner Illenberger 2016, pers. comm.; this map is now in possession of the Eastern Cape Division of
the Mountain Club of South Africa.
3 For example, McAll’s Cave has the following description: “PRINCIPAL PAINTINGS: procession of
gures, STATE: good”.
4 No subsurface excavations were performed as part of this project.
5 Compare with only 0.4 % in Ndedema Gorge (Pager 1971a: 333) and 18.3 % in the Barkly East area
(Lewis-Williams 1981a: 135).
6 There are possibly two additional fish in the panel, but they are too faded to make a positive
This work is based on research supported by the South African National Research Foundation (NRF).
Any opinion, nding, conclusion or recommendation expressed here is that of the author and the NRF
does not accept any responsibility for them. Keegan Blazey, Geoff Blundell, Werner Illenberger, Alhyrian
Laue, Tegan Sampson, Brent Sinclair-Thomson and Aedhyn Sherman assisted with eldwork. I would
like to thank Mark McGranaghan, Lawrence Owens, Law Pinto, Carolyn Thorp and Gavin Whitelaw for
useful discussions and for commenting on drafts of this paper. The referees Janette Deacon and David
Morris made comments that helped strengthen the paper.
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Subject Anthropomorphs Animal Miscellaneous Hand/Finger Marks Total
No. of
representations 1201 43.48 % 362 13.11 % 497 17.99 % 702 25.42 % 2762 100 %
Monochrome 1007 83.85 % 277 76.52 % 459 92.35 % 702 100.00 % 2445 88.52 %
Bichrome 131 10.91 % 81 22.38 % 32 6.44 % 0 0 % 244 8.83 %
Poychrome 63 5.25 % 3 0.83 % 6 1.21 % 0 0 % 72 2.61 %
Shaded 0 0 % 1 0.28 % 0 0 % 0 0 % 1 0.04 %
Total 1201 100 % 362 100 % 497 100 % 702 100 % 2762 100 %
Black 101 7.05 % 26 5.79 % 52 9.35 % 66 9.43 % 245 7.81 %
White 99 6.91 % 69 15.37 % 77 13.85 % 2 0.29 % 247 7.87 %
Red 1048 73.18 % 307 68.37 % 380 68.35 % 600 85.71 % 2335 74.43 %
Yellow 182 12.71 % 47 10.47 % 43 7.73 % 32 4.57 % 304 9.69 %
Other 2 0.14 % 0 0 % 4 0.72 % 0 0 % 6 0.19 %
Total 1432 100 % 449 100 % 556 100 % 700 100 % 3137 100 %
Percentages from a sample of 28 sites in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains including McAll’s Cave.
Animal Number Percentage
Indeterminate animal 884 23.20 %
Antelope 222 61.33 %
Buffalo 88180.28 %
Lizard 88180.28 %
Fish 88581.38 %
Baboon 819 85.25 %
Elephant 88982.49 %
Bird 820 85.52 %
Snake 88180.28 %
Total 362 100 %
Breakdown of animals seen in the art in sample of 28 sites in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains
including McAll’s Cave.
Head type Number Percentage
Concave 819 82.70 %
Round 307 43.55 %
Hook 359 50.92 %
Other 820 2.84 %
Total 705 100 %
Percentage of different head types from sample of 28 sites in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains
including McAll’s Cave.
Subject Number of images Percentage
Male 8114 89.49 %
Female 888980.75 %
Indeterminate sex 1066 88.76 %
Therianthrope 8812 81.00 %
Total 1201 100 %
Sex of anthropomorphic gures from sample of 28 sites in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains
including McAll’s Cave.
Shamanic imagery Maloti-Drakensberg Wester n Cape McAll’s Cave
Groot Winterhoek
Mountains Sites
Excess of equipment
suggesting potency and
Excess of y whisks (Lewis-
Williams 2002: 152)
Found (e.g. Bassett 2001:49;
Deacon Oct 2017)
Excess of arrows Figure 7 F
and 8G and H)
Large hunting bags are seen
at other sites but preservation
is poor and the number of
arrows cannot be seen.
Rounded carrying bags:
possible symbols of trance
and visits to the spirit
Bags as symbols of
transformation and the
transition between realms
(Lewis-Williams & Pearce
2004: 120, 126-128; Lewis-
Williams & Pearce 2012: 81)
Full hunting bags may have
“connoted good luck and well
being” (Hollmann 2001: 66)
Many of the human gure
carry large rounded bags with
Rounded carrying bags are
seen at a number of sites
both carried and alone
Sweat from the armpits Sweat from the armpits
is used in healing (Lewis-
Williams 1980:471, 1981a: 81)
Sweat representing trance
potency (Yates et al. 1985: 74;
Hollmann 1993:18)
Found (Figure 7 C) Found
Procession Commonly found (e.g.
Dowson 1994: 338).
Commonly seen (e.g.
Parkington & Manhire 1997)
This procession is the largest
so far found in the Groot
Winterhoek Mountains
(Figures 7-10).
Most processions contain
between 5 and 14 human
Trance or Healing Dance Such depictions are rare but
examples are known (e.g.
Lewis-Williams & Pearce
2004: 83)
Not common but such scenes
are seen (Yates et al. 1985: 76)
One clear depiction including
clapping gures and dancers
(Figure 12)
At least two other examples
are present at other sites.
Bleeding from the nose Seen at a number of sites (e.g.
Lewis-Williams 1981a: 80-81)
Found although not as
common as in the Maloti-
Drakensberg (Yates et al.
1985: 71-72)
No examples No unequivocal examples.
Arms back posture Found (e.g. Lewis-Williams &
Dowson 1989: 44)
Found (Yates et al. 1985:
No unequivocal examples,
but possible variations on this
idea are shown in Figure 12
and 13.
Summary of shamanistic imagery at McAll’s Cave and the Groot Winterhoek Mountains in general compared to the Maloti-Drakensberg and the Cederberg.
Shamanic imagery Maloti-Drakensberg Wester n Cape McAll’s Cave
Groot Winterhoek
Mountains Sites
Bending forward posture Found (e.g. Lewis-Williams &
Dowson 1989: 40)
Found (Yates et al. 1985: 72) Found (Figure 7 G and gure
11 and possibly Figure 13)
Found (e.g. Figure 20)
Hand to nose posture Found (e.g. Lewis-Williams
1983b: 7-8)
Found (Yates et al. 1985: 72) Found (Figure 7C) Very rare
Therianthropes Found (e.g. Lewis-Williams
1981a: 83-85)
Less common that the
Maloti-Drakensberg, but
found(e.g. Maggs & Sealy
1983:45; Yates et al. 1985: 73)
none Antelope headed
therianthropes are rare (only
two examples), but bird
therianthropes are see at
other sites (e.g. Laue 2016:
Antelope eared caps Found (e.g. Vinnicombe
1976:337; Lewis-Williams
2002: 65)
Found and is thought to
possibly be equivalent to the
therianthrope concept (Yates
et al. 1985: 72)
Found (Figures 7 E and C) Found (e.g. Figure 18)
Metaphors of trance:
Fight, ight, underwater
and death
All four are found (e.g. Lewis-
Williams & Dowson1989:50-
Fight & death imagery (Yates
et al. 1985: 72,78) and ight
metaphors (Hollmann 2005a,
Underwater metaphor (Figure
7 C)
Flight, death images are
found at other sites (e.g. Laue
2016: 269)
Insect imagery Found (e.g. Lewis-Williams
& Dowson 1992: 52-53;
Hollmann 2015b)
Found (e.g. Mguni 2013) Found (Figures 7 D and F
and Figure 8 H)
Found at a number of other
Use of the rock surface Found (e.g. Lewis-Williams &
Dowson 1990)
Found (e.g. Laue 1998: 58-59) Found (Figure 7 E, Figure 8
H and Figure 25)
Found (e.g. Laue 2016:267)
Handprints Very rare (Pager 1971a: 337) Common (e.g. Willcox 1959;
Maggs 1967: 103; Manhire
1998: 99)
Only one handprint (Figure
9 I)
More than half the sites
contain handprints with one
containing at least 96.
Thin red line Found (Lewis-Williams
1981b; 1984a; 227-8; Lewis-
Williams et al. 2000)
A variation on this, a plain
red line is found (Yates et al.
1985: 76 ; Hollmann 2001:
Found (gure 7 E and Figure
23; Laue 2016: 270)
No other examples have been
found in the research area
so far.
TABLE 5 (continued)
Summary of shamanistic imagery at McAll’s Cave and the Groot Winterhoek Mountains in general compared to the Maloti-Drakensberg and the Cederberg.
... shamanic world view' (Laue 2017). Although imagery that relates to trance, such as 'bleeding from the nose', arms-back-posture, 'hand to nose' posture and therianthropes (Lewis-Williams 1998: 87; Lewis-Williams and Pearce 2004: 99-100) is rare or not present at all, there are many other image categories which place the images from this area firmly within the 'shamanic' arena (Laue 2017: Table 5). ...
... The predominance of bright red pigment used in the western/southern Cape images has been commented on (Burkitt 1928;van Riet Lowe 1956;Rudner and Rudner 1970;Willcox 1984). Although red is the predominant colour in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains and the Cederberg (Laue 2017) as well as the Maloti-Drakensberg (e.g. Lewis-Williams 1981), the latter is more often a deeper maroon red com- ...
... Until recently (Laue 2017), little research had been undertaken in this area. The mountain range lies almost equidistant between the two well studied areas of the Maloti-Drakensberg and the Cederberg in the Western Cape ( Fig. 3) but seems to have more similarities with the latter (Laue 2016(Laue , 2017. ...
The identification of regional differences and stylistic boundaries has long been a topic of interest for rock art researchers. However, understandings of the social processes that underpin concepts of regionality and regional difference have been elusive. This paper approaches the problem by examining aspects of the San ethnographic material related to learning, territorial behaviour, and exchange networks to identify the possible processes through which rock art zones arise. Three spatially distinct rock art zones — the Groot Winterhoek Mountains (Eastern Cape, South Africa), the Maloti-Drakensberg (Lesotho and South Africa), and the Cederberg (Western Cape, South Africa) — are examined as a case study. Drawing on the ethnographic data, suggestions are given on how social processes may account for similarities and differences in motif selection and image production between widely separated bodies of rock art. Strong similarities in the rock art of the Groot Winterhoek and the Cederberg and corresponding differences between these two zones and the rock art of the Maloti-Drakensberg were identified. The concept of communities of practice, informed by the ethnographic data, indicates possible information exchange mechanisms across vast distances that help explain both the similarities between certain areas and differences between others.
... The Groot Winterhoek Mountains lie at the eastern end of the Cape Fold Belt ( Figure 1). Over the last four years, I have identified 36 previously undocumented San rock art sites in this region (Laue 2016;Laue 2017). At five of these sites, at least 13 bird-therianthrope motifs have been found. ...
... Figures 4b-d, and Figures 5b and 5d). Although heads are not always clear or present on the therianthropes, where they are found, they are hook-heads ( Figure 5), consistent with depictions of human heads elsewhere in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains (Laue 2017). The bird-therianthrope images are predominantly red or yellow in colour, with black details. Figure 4c shows two or three bird-therianthropes 'flying' towards a step in the rock. ...
Differences in southern African San rock art have long been noted, but defining these regions has met with little success. The interpretative approach that has dominated research in the last three decades focuses on similarities across space and through time rather than emphasizing difference. This paper considers the question of regionality in rock art and explores the how concepts of communities and constellations of practice offer tools to reconceptualise regional differences. These two concepts are applied to motifs of flight and transformation in three areas of rock art to interrogate difference and regional variation in the art.
... Before the interpretative approach to San rock art in the 1970s (Lewis-Williams 2002: xiv), a significant interest of amateurs and rock art specialists was the regional differences seen across the southern African subcontinent. After a long hiatus, there has been a renewed interest in regionality (e.g., Hampson et al. 2002;Hampson 2015;Laue 2017). There are three distinct art traditions in southern Africa, the geometric art of the Khoekhoen pastoralists, finger painted art of Bantu-speaking farmers, and the fine line art tradition of the San (Bushman) hunter-gatherers. ...
Recent work on a well-known San rock art panel from South Africa shows that continued movement between, on the one hand, San beliefs and rituals and, on the other, the images themselves allows us to move from general statements about San rock art to specific understandings. We demonstrate that continuing field research, combined with the revisiting of painted panels, is uncovering diverse ways in which San rock painters deployed and, at the same time, individually transmuted abstract ideas and experiences into material images, often in easily missed details. One of these instances, hitherto unknown, is described. By following-up the heuristic potential of this approach researchers are able to explore the ways in which San imagery played a social role at different times and in different places in San history.
Full-text available
The last 40 years have seen little research into regionality in southern African rock art and consequently its potential as a means of exploring pre-colonial territoriality and identity has been neglected. Recent surveys in the Uitenhage District, Eastern Cape, South Africa, have identified thirty previously undocumented sites, and ongoing research is sure to bring more to light. The current paper uses this previously unexplored area as a case study to look further at ideas of territoriality and if it can been seen in regional differences in southern African rock art. Uitenhage lies at the eastern extremity of the western/southern Cape art tradition and has many similarities with this region. To the north and north-east lies the well documented area of the north-Eastern Cape Drakensberg. This paper explores several themes found in the art of the area. First, the meanings of the images are investigated using current understandings of San cosmology. Secondly, themes are compared and contrasted with the better researched regions of southern Africa. This research has pushed the range in which swift-tailed and bird-tailed therianthropes occur over 150 km east along the southern Cape coast, and also describes the first example of a ‘thin red line’ (relatively common in the north-eastern Cape Drakensberg some 500 km distant) ever to be published from the southern Cape. This paper works towards the meaning of territoriality, if it may be seen in the rock art, and will also propose some ideas about what regional differences in the rock art of southern Africa may mean and if they can be seen as markers of cultural identity.
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Seen by all who visit Wonderwerk Cave, the rock paintings that adorn its walls have attracted less attention than many other aspects of the site. The paper gives a brief account of their history and significance and of factors that have constrained their study. Graffiti damage and restoration added layers through which researchers would need to delve in order to understand them archaeologically. Pointing to directions for future work, the paper concludes with discussion on a currently debated category of southern African rock art, the “non-entoptic” geometric rock art tradition, to which the Wonderwerk Cave rock paintings would belong. A shift in theoretical focus is advocated for comprehending local contingencies in the formation of rock art “traditions” rather than simply assuming the prior existence of such constructs.
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Frogs feature in three major aspects of |Xam ideological belief and ritual practice, namely rain, hunting and girls' puberty. The notion of the potency of body fluids, particularly menstrual blood, is central to understanding the significance of the link between frogs and human reproductive potency. The potency of menarcheal girls reflects their potential power to attract new hunters through bride service, to create advantageous alliances that enable access to new resources through marriage, and to reproduce. Both |Xam and Ju|'hoan beliefs and practices surrounding body fluids point to an underlying concern with ensuring that socially acceptable sexual relationships are established in order to regulate the productivity of fertile women and to ensure that men provide for their wives and families. Frogs symbolise the dangers of uncontrolled reproductive potency, which can potentially disrupt established relationships and threaten future alliances.
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This paper explores the possible meanings of uncommon hunter-gatherer rock paintings at Eland Cave in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and at Raiders 1 in Raiders Gorge, Brandberg/Daureb, Erongo Region, Omaruru District, Namibia, that have been identified as moths. The paintings are interpreted in terms of vertical bar Xam Bushman beliefs in which the appearance of a moth at the family fire heralds the killing of an animal on the hunting ground. These beliefs are part of a more general 'code'of hunting practices aimed to ensure successful kills of game animals 'owned' and protected by vertical bar Kaggen, the vertical bar Xam Bushman trickster deity. Central to this interpretation is the hypothesis that hunter-gatherer rock paintings may have been perceived as supernaturally potent images. According to this scenario, the painters modelled the moth paintings on aspects of the appearance and behaviour of certain moths and positioned these on the rock face in certain ways in an attempt to create an ambience in which the balance, usually loaded in the hunted animal's favour, is in the direction of the hunters instead.
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Most rock art researchers accept that southern African hunter-gatherer (Bushman/San) painters used animal imagery to model beliefs and concepts central to their cosmology. The eland is probably the best-known model, but species choice varies according to geographical area. Previous studies have tended to focus on morphology in order to identify painted and engraved animal depictions that the painters used as natural models. Morphology, however, is not always sufficient to positively identify a motif's zoological affinities. This is the case with the subjects of this paper, therianthropic images from the Western Cape Province and adjacent parts of the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, popularly known as 'mermaids'. Behavioural details are crucial to the identification of these images and to understanding their symbolic significance. This study highlights the significance and practical application of animal morphology and behaviour in rock art research and therefore has implications for understanding animal groupings and behavioural postures in animal depictions elsewhere in southern Africa.
Rock art worldwide has proved extremely difficult to date directly. Here, the first radiocarbon dates for rock paintings in Botswana and Lesotho are presented, along with additional dates for Later Stone Age rock art in South Africa. The samples selected for dating were identified as carbon-blacks from short-lived organic materials, meaning that the sampled pigments and the paintings that they were used to produce must be of similar age. The results reveal that southern African hunter-gatherers were creating paintings on rockshelter walls as long ago as 5723–4420 cal BP in south-eastern Botswana: the oldest such evidence yet found in southern Africa.