Tsodilo Rock Art, Botswana

Rock art animals.
Rock art animals.

5. Description and History

The Tsodilo Rock Art is located in the Tsodilo Hills in the Ngamiland District in the country of Botswana in Africa. The Tsodilo Hills is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Tsodilo Hills area consists of four chief hills, of which three are known as the Male Hill, Female Hill, Child and Hill. The other hill does not have a name. The Tsodilo Hills is made up of rock shelters, caves and depressions, but what makes it a World Heritage Sites and an important locations is the ancient rock art located in the area. The ancient rock art paintings in the area are mostly in the caves, although some are out in the open air. The paintings are either done in white or red, the white paintings are attributed to the Bantu people, while the red paintings are attributed to the San people. The notable cave locations at the site for tourists to see and archaeologists to study are the Rhino Cave, the White Paintings Rock Shelter and the Depression Rock Shelter Site. Archaeologists have also excavated charcoal. shell fragments, stone artifacts made mostly from quartz or jasper, prepared projectile points, bone samples, jewelry and other objects that date from either the African Iron Age, Later Stone Age and Middle Stone Age. There has also been more recent objects from the last few centuries found at the site, like nylon buttons and European glass beads.

4. Tourism

About 40 kilometers (24 miles) away from the Tsodilo Hills site is the small town of Shakawe, which is usually used as a staging point for tourists who want to visit the Tsodilo Hills. The Tsodilo Hills can be reached via car from the town of Shakawe or via small airplane as the managed campsite that sits between the the tallest hills has a airstrip for planes to land. The campsite at the area as a small museum for tourists to go through and learned about the history of the site, as well as showers and toilets for the tourists to use. The major draw for tourists to visit the site is that the Tsodilo hills has some of the highest concentrations of rock art on planet Earth. In the 10 square kilometer area (3.86 square miles) there are over 4,500 rock paintings that span the vast history of humanity.

3. Uniqueness

One of the important reasons that the Tsodilo Hills are unique in Botswana is that they are only one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in all of Botswana, along with the Okavango Delta. The Male Hill at the site is also one of the tallest hills in all of Botswana, standing at a height of 1,400 meters (4,593 feet) above sea level. The Tsodilo Hills area holds a great cultural and spiritual importance to the San people who live in the Kalahari Desert. The site at Tsodilo Hills is believed to have been used as a location that people have lived, painted and performed rituals for thousands of years. UNESCO even estimates the hills have about 500 different individual sites that represent the thousands of years of humans living in the area. Some of the rock art paintings at the site have been date to possibly be about 24,000 years old, while others are as recent as the mid 1800s. The area is also unique for having uncovered the oldest mongongo nuts that have ever been found in archaeologically, which were discovered in the Rock Shelter Depression site. At two of the archaeological sites at the Tsodilo Hills, called Nqoma and Divuyu, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of Early Iron Age metal artifacts. This had led archaeologists to concludes that these two sites might have been iron smelting areas and the sites are one of the few in southern Africa where evidence of metal working from the Early Iron Age has been found.

2. Nature, Sights, and Sounds

In the Rhino Cave on Female Hill the cave is named after the notable white rhino paining on the wall, since it is the only white painting in this cave. Next to the rhino painting is a painting of a red giraffe and around the giraffe and the rhino are varied paintings of geometric shapes that are in red. Across from these paintings is a number of depressions and grooves that archaeologists believe where ground into the rock using hammer stones from the Later Stone Age period since hammer stones have been found in the area. Also on Female Hill is the Depression Rock Shelter Site which is named after the man-made depressions on the sites walls. The site also has red paintings of cattle and more geometric shapes. On Male Hill is where the White Paintings Rock Shelter, which true to its name is the location where most of the white paintings and a few red paintings are located at the Tsodilo Hills site. The white paintings in these cave show domestic and wild animals, as well as humans. Some of the human in the paintings are on horseback, which indicates that these are newer, since horses were not introduced to the region until the middle of the 19th century.

1. Threats and Conservation

Due to the Tsodilo Hills remote location, lack of humans in the general area and the quartzitic rock that has a great resistance to erosion that area is in a great state of preservation. The archaeological work at the site must be done in accordance with the national legislation of Botswana and any hole done during archaeological work are made sure to be refilled once the work is completed so that the strata and deposits are intact for the future, Over the years the amount of visitors and tourists to the Tsodilo Hills has increased, but since there are mandatory guided tours in place there have been a limited number of incidents of graffiti or vandalism at the site. The largest challenge for the site to deal with currently in handling the threat of increased litter that comes with the increasing number of tourists to the site.


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