Bushman Rock Art in the Free State, South Africa

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of staying with friends at a farmhouse near Memel, in the Free State, South Africa.

Farmhouse with "Bird Cloud"

For much of the time, we spent our days relaxing and enjoying the scenery.  On the last morning, before heading back home our host had GPS reference all the tracks on the farm.  Being in the civil engineering/road construction business, he was also interested in noting all the drainage systems that crossed over/under the tracks.  Many of them were in need of desperate repair.  I was tasked with taking photos at each site to save some time.  But that’s not what you are about to see here. Can you imagine – boring photo after boring photo of dilapidated concrete pipes?!

He kindly then went out of his way to show us a location on the farm where there was some rock art.

Tucked away in a thicket of scrubby trees and bushes, we spent a quick 5-10 minutes looking at the rock face of sandstone boulders that had long ago fallen down from the mighty cliffs above.

The bushy thicket in center of picture is where this rock art is preserved

Low down on these rock faces, mostly below waist-height, were several scenes painted on by the San People, otherwise known as the Bushman.

Not having much time to spare, I snapped a few shots with the hope that we shall return to explore these boulders in more detail.  There are apparently many more paintings higher up on the cliff faces above.

Tall, lean figures with some antelope

From my cursory investigations into Bushman Rock Art I have learned that had it not been for the arrival of the European Settlers in combination with the Zulu and Basotho hunters (who had a very different philosophy on cattle/livestock ownership) much of the art would not have been preserved.

Possible "European" figures with long coat and boots

This tragic irony comes about from the fact that the Bushmen, hunters and gatherers by tradition, were themselves hunted.  They were driven away from the plains where they lived and were forced to take refuge in the remote mountains of the Drakensburg and Maluti.  It is because of the remote location, that their art work survives.

Hunting with clubs and spears

Using ochres for reds, browns and yellows; silica, china-clay and gypsum for white; specularite and magnesium minerals for blacks, mixed with egg albumin or blood as binding agents, these paintings are a fragile reminder of the original South African inhabitants.

The Original South Africans

Most of the pictures at this location are of animals and hunting scenes.

Hunting party with bows and arrows, and a few unsuspecting antelope...

Must have been a fearsome beastie - if size and proportions are anything to go by!

The chase is on...

Elsewhere, Bushman Rock Art often contains very spiritual images including dancing figures of shamen (medicine men).

Grazing animals with possible two dancing figures bending over. No, it's not a monkey with a long tail - just a peeling/cracking layer of rock in a conspicuous position!

Photographing rock art is a challenging task. Having only 5-10 minutes was decidedly not enough time to do these images justice. I have also learnt that flash photography is not detrimental to the rock art, but it does result in flared light.  Using diffuse light would be a much better option.  I think it would be a good exercise for long exposures (and a tripod)!

I will also remember to take a ground-sheet.  Most of the images were low down, and would probably be best photographed whilst sitting on the ground.  It was quite muddy and there was plenty of animal droppings to dodge.  At this site, there was a barrier up to keep cattle from rubbing up against the wall – but a goat-sized animal would get through with no trouble at all.  Who knows how long these images will last…

For more information on South African Rock Art, I have found the following websites to be very interesting:

Rock Art Southern Africa – The University of the Witwatersrand

South African Tourism – South African Rock Art

Today's grazers: Black Wildebeest in the foreground; Blesbok behind


12 thoughts on “Bushman Rock Art in the Free State, South Africa

    1. Thanks Lisa, It’s a difficult one to say for certain… Yes there is less human traffic, but small animals use the rocks for scratching posts…. and some idiot had scribbled on the rocks with a stick of charred wood.. Grrr. Ignorant fools. That annoys me seriously. There is no-one here to “regulate” visitors and ensure that they don’t touch the paintings. At the public sites, one would hope that there are signs and information leaflets available that educates people on the protocols of viewing without touching etc. etc..

  1. Wow! How interesting that the art is still left there…
    Thanks for the beautiful photos 🙂 I think the rock photos were absolutely fine.

  2. Lu, I love the new look for this blog – think it suits the content perfectly. Just a question: I see that you have the posts marked as “gallery posts”. Did you have to manually edit each post, or is there some other way of changing them?

    1. Thanks Lisa – I unfortunately had to change each post individually to gallery.. couldn’t find a bulk-action option, which would have been super useful. With only 37 posts it took enough time as it was – if there were hundreds of posts, I might have thought twice about doing it!

      1. That sounds like a pain! Maybe something we could suggest to WordPress?

        I finally got around to publishing my themes post. Please do not change the theme of this blog soon – I gave you as one of my examples as a nice application of a theme I like! 🙂

      2. I like the idea of putting a suggestion forward indeed. – I’m now off to read your post, and thank you sincerely for the mention 🙂
        This theme is only the second one I’ve tried out for this blog 😉 and I agree that it does suit the content and so I shan’t be changing it anytime soon!

  3. You did a great job photographing this rock art, which is really stunning. I recently saw some rock art paintings in the Pafuri Triangle area of Kruger, but they were nowhere near as beautiful as these. I also had a very hard time photographing them and only wound up with one shot that was decent enough to use in my blog. Your blog is great, by the way!

    1. Hi 2Summers! Great to meet you – I have been meaning to check out your blog for some time now – and since Lisa has kindly nominated be for the 7 Links award – I went to check out your 7 Links post. I need to spend way more time on your site! I’m horribly busy at present, but be sure to know that I shall be crawling all over your blog in the coming couple of weeks!
      Rock art is a tricky thing to capture – I’ve since read up a little more on the best techniques to use. Flash light is not best – but a diffuse light apparently works well. Thanks for visiting 😉 – Keep well – Lu

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