Rock Art in the Brandberg National Monument Area

The rock art in the Brandberg National Monument Area of Namibia is an incredible sight to behold. The astounding detail in these refined petroglyphs easily rival those of the paintings in Machete, South Africa.

The Brandberg is a massive granite monolith located in Damaraland, and is Namibia’s highest mountain. The Brandberg National Monument Area covers about 450 square kilometers, and is rich in biodiversity. One of my favourite animals can be spotted here, typically hiding in the rocky hills. Behold, the mighty hyrax:

Isn’t he adorable? It’s hard to believe that their closest relative is the elephant! I don’t see a lot of resemblance myself, except maybe their little padded toes. Otherwise they kind of look like a cross between a koala and a gopher. I love these weird little creatures.

There were also a ton of lizards scurrying around. They’re tricky to photograph since they don’t sit still for long, but the colours on some of them were really impressive:

The Brandberg has a high concentration of prehistoric rock art. In fact, there are about 900 sites featuring over 43,000 paintings and engravings! Not much is known about who painted this rock art, but the most common theory is that bushmen painted them about 2,000 years ago. The most famous of these paintings is referred to as the “White Lady”, found in the Maack Shelter area. Here it is, in the center of this group of paintings. The White Lady appears to be holding a bow in one hand an a goblet in the other:

Initially, the White Lady painting was discovered in 1918 by a German topographer and explorer named Reinhard Maack. Originally he referred to this figure as a warrior in his notes. However, once the French anthropologist Henri Breuil read Maack’s notes years later, he saw similarities to this painting and those found in Crete, and gave the painting the moniker of the White Lady. His theory that there may have been contact between the bushmen and Mediterranean visitors was later discredited, and the painting of the White Lady is actually that of a male hunter or shaman.

Unfortunately the colours in the paintings have lost much of their vibrancy due to tourists throwing water on the rock wall to enhance the contrasts for their photos. It’s now a protected heritage site, and bags/bottles aren’t allowed at the far end of the trail.

But the White Lady isn’t the only impressive rock art painting here. Look at the striping detail on the animal here (a zebra, wildebeest or perhaps an antelope?):

Brandberg rock art

A painting depicting what looks to be a herd of cows, including a calf:

Brandberg rock art

A close-up of one of the human figures, with intricate decorative detail. Often the white dots of paint were used to indicate droplets of sweat on a medicine man as he danced during one of his rituals:

Brandberg hunting figure

Some of the paintings may go as far back as 5,000 years. These are monochromatic, using shades of red and brown. The polychromatic paintings, such as that of the White Lady, are more recent, around 2,000 years old.

brandberg rock shelter art

There’s a lot to explore in the Brandberg, and it’s definitely a worthwhile excursion. The rock art is just one draw, as the unique landscape is also enjoyable in its’ own right.

The Brandberg, Namibia

 

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