This web page gives you but a taste of the Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre outside Kimberley in the Northern Cape, South Africa. Visit it as soon as you can!
Your gate-way to Wildebeest Kuil's rock art is a visitors' centre where displays and a 25-minute film introduce you to the site. Our community-based guides are trained to take you over the site or choose to go on an audio tour of the site (you will receive a small portable audio player), and you will enjoy equally fascinating commentary at each of 10 marked "stations".
On your return, the N//aoh Djao shop at the Centre is the premier outlet for art and craftwork made by the !Xun and Khwe San community, the owners of the surrounding farms. Rock Art books also available; and refreshments. Facilities (auditorium, fully equipped kitchen etc.) can be hired for small conferences, end-of-year functions and the like.
Join the Friends of Wildebeest Kuil to receive a regular newsletter and take part in our activities:
Rock engravings form part of South Africa's national estate. The Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre was developed and is run by the Northern Cape Rock Art Trust and, with the site itself, is situated within a servitude held by the Trust for public access. The farm belongs to the !Xun and Khwe Communal Property Association. The !Xun and Khwe CPA is a principal partner in the management of the site. Staff at the site are employed with the provincial funding through the McGregor Museum which managed the site on a daily basis.
ROCK ART – BACKGROUND
In South Africa, there are 15,000 recorded rock art sites and probably as many as yet unrecorded. The art occurs in two forms: engravings and paintings. Engravings are found mostly on the dry inland plateau of South Africa, while paintings occur mostly in the mountainous areas, such as the Drakensberg and the Cederberg.
WHO MADE THE ENGRAVINGS ?
Most of the rock art in Southern Africa was made by Later Stone Age people, ancestors of the historical San. People who called themselves /Xam from the northern Karoo and the Postmasburg District, who were interviewed in the 1870s, said their fathers had made engravings of animals. Some of South Africa’s rock art has been linked with Khoekhoe herders and with Bantu-speaking farmers.
HOW WERE THE ENGRAVINGS MADE?
The engravings at Wildebeest Kuil were made by the 'pecking' technique: a hard, pointed stone was used to chip away the outer crust of the rock, exposing the lighter coloured rock beneath. With time, the exposed portions become as dark as the outer crust through weathering and the build-up of desert varnish.
HOW OLD ARE THE ENGRAVINGS?
It is not known exactly how old the engravings at Wildebeest Kuil are, but it is estimated they were made between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago. Engraved stones have been found at Wonderwerk Cave near Kuruman in levels dating between 2,000 and 10,000 years ago and rock paintings have been dated in southern Namibia to about 27 000 years ago, indicating that the tradition of Southern African art is an exceptionally long one. An engraved piece of ochre from Blombos Cave on the south Cape coast is dated to 77 000 years ago.
WHAT DO THE ENGRAVINGS MEAN?
Research indicates that the engravings are not products of idle doodling, nor are they straightforward narratives, but comprise a sophisticated religious art associated with rituals in San society mediated by medicine people or shamans. It was believed that power received through controlled use of trance could harnessed to heal the sick, control animals, and make rain. It is suggested that many of the engravings were inspired by visions experienced during trance, and were depicted on the rocks so that others could share and draw inspiration from them. They may relate particularly to rain-making rituals.
Sites chosen by the artists for their engravings were probably significant places in local beliefs. The andesite rock surfaces at Wildebeest Kuil may have been, to the artists, a kind of interface with the spirit world. A number of curious “unfinished” images of animals at Wildebeest Kuil may represent the “luring” of the power of these animals from the spirit world behind the rock. The magical expanses of smooth, glaciated rock surface at Driekopseiland and Nooitgedacht may similarly have been marked with rock art because they were in some way special places in local religious belief.
DID YOU KNOW?
Some engravings from Wildebeest Kuil were removed and exhibited at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886, and are currently in the collection of the British Museum. Early removals of the art were often rationalised in terms of preserving the art in museum contexts. We now know that placement of the art within a site was significant, and removal thus destroys part of its meaning.