Herodotus Returns

San bushmen paintings Inanke Cave, Zimbabwe
January 26, 2010, 11:56 am
Filed under: Cave Paintings | Tags: , ,

Check out this Wall Street Journal article from art historian Michael Fitzgerald on the 5,000-10,000-year-old San paintings in the Inanke Cave in Zimbabwe. Unlike the cave paintings in Europe which will never be understood beyond conjecture, scholars can actually interpret the San paintings with considerable accuracy. In the 19th century, linguists learned the ‘click’ language of the San Bushmen, enabling them to record a culture that has changed very little across millennia. The paintings, they discovered, depict spiritual rituals, in which a shaman enters a trance state and travels to the spirit world. The shaman is often depicted in anthropomorphic states. There’s a lot of literature on these paintings; the book I’ve read is Mind in the Cave, by David Lewis-Williams, which I recommend without reservation.

Unlike the dark, underground caves of Lascaux or Altamira in Europe, those in Matobo are located high up granite slopes in shelves scooped from the sides of the hills. They are shelters filled with light and open to surrounding vistas. Beneath Inanke’s encompassing dome, herds of giraffe, eland, kudu, ostrich and duiker, among others, fill a broad painted band running the length of the back wall just above eye level. They offer a celebration of life equal to any of the mural cycles of the Renaissance. Generally rendered in silhouettes of ochre ranging from tan to mulberry in tone, this dense profusion of wildlife includes a giraffe so subtly modeled in yellow and white that one of the leading experts on African rock art, Peter Garlake, has called it the finest animal painting in the country. Next to this vivid creature, seven stick-figure men march in file with weapons on their shoulders, and many other human figures are scattered among the animals. But these are far from simple hunting scenes.

Rest of the article here.


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