Rock art reveals detailed human and animal tracks in Namibia

A team of researchers conducted the study by seeking help from indigenous tracking experts hailing from the Kalahari desert. 
Shubhangi Dua
Stone Age animal and human depictions in Doro! nawas mountains, Namibia.
Stone Age animal and human depictions in Doro! nawas mountains, Namibia.

Andreas Pastoors, CC-BY 4.0 / Eureka Alert 

In the Later Stone Age, rock artists in Namibia carved detailed engravings of animals and human prints. Current-day indigenous trackers were able to identify the types of animals illustrated, including their general age and sex, a new study uncovers.

They also studied the preferences of the engravers in depicting certain species, adult animals, and male footprints.

Indigenous trackers spot engravings in rock art

A team of researchers, including Andreas Pastoors of Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, conducted the study by seeking help from indigenous tracking experts hailing from the Kalahari desert. 

The trackers analyzed animal and human footprints in rock art in the Doro! Nawas Mountains, located in central Western Namibia. 

The engravings of animal tracks and human footprints were spotted in multiple prehistoric rock art illustrated in various traditions. While the tracks have been observed across parts of the world, Namibia was especially noted for being rich in hunter-gatherer art from the Later Stone Age. 

A statement by the archaeologists said that previous studies have often produced limited research due to rock art being considered under the geometric shapes category despite them being widespread globally.

The indigenous tracking experts successfully identified not just the sex and age group of the animal and human engravings but also the type of species and even the exact leg of the animal or human print in over 90 percent of the 513 engravings examined. 

Wide variety of animals illustrated

Upon analysis, scientists surmised that rock art depicted a wider variety of animals compared to the actual engravings of the animals.

Furthermore, the artists had a distinct liking for certain species and tended to portray adult animals more often than young ones. They also favored male footprints over female ones.

Researchers have discovered specific patterns in rock art that are significantly influenced by cultural preferences but they don’t fully understand the meanings of the patterns yet. 

In order to gain better insight, the researchers suggest working with Indigenous experts. However, despite the valuable insights Indigenous knowledge can provide, the exact meaning and context of the rock art may remain elusive in this case.

The authors stated: “Namibia's rock faces contain numerous Stone Age depictions of animals and humans, as well as human footprints and animal tracks. Until now, the latter has received little attention because researchers lacked the knowledge to interpret them.”

The statement further said that the team, along with indigenous trackers from the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in Tsumkwe, Namibia, have now examined several hundred of the tracks in more detail and discovered surprising details. 

According to the statement, they found that “the tracks cover a wider range of animal species than in conventional animal depictions and differentiated cultural patterns emerge in the representation of the various species.”

These findings were published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on September 13.

Study abstract:

Namibia is rich in hunter-gatherer rock art from the Later Stone Age (LSA); this is a tradition of which well-executed engravings of animal tracks in large numbers are characteristic. Research into rock art usually groups these motifs together with geometric signs; at best, therefore, it may provide summary lists of them. To date, the field has completely disregarded the fact that tracks and trackways are a rich medium of information for hunter-gatherers, alongside their deeper, culture-specific connotations. A recent research project, from which this article has emerged, has attempted to fill this research gap; it entailed indigenous tracking experts from the Kalahari analysing engraved animal tracks and human footprints in a rock art region in central Western Namibia, the Doro! nawas Mountains, which is the site of recently discovered rock art. The experts were able to define the species, sex, age group and exact leg of the specific animal or human depicted in more than 90% of the engravings they analysed (N = 513). Their work further demonstrates that the variety of fauna is much richer in engraved tracks than in depictions of animals in the same engraving tradition. The analyses reveal patterns that evidently arise from culturally determined preferences. The study represents further confirmation that indigenous knowledge, with its profound insights into a range of particular fields, has the capacity to considerably advance archaeological research.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board