Rock Art Distribution in Africa
Africa has the greatest variety and some of the oldest rock art on earth. Africa has far more rock art than any other continent, with at least 10 million images spread across more than 30 countries. Africa’s rock paintings and engravings, some of them many thousands of years old, are our heritage, a heritage that informs us how our ancestors thought and perceived their world. They are the earliest remaining evidence of spiritual/religious beliefs; they speak of Africa’s rich history and culture, and a time long before writing was invented. Across Africa today, researchers record and study the art, seeking its age, meaning and original purposes. Aware of emerging conservation problems, African governments are creating management plans and encouraging local communities to become involved in the art’s protection.
It has so far proven difficult to establish accurate dates for rock art. Scientists use radiometric techniques to date organic components such as charcoal and to date binders such as blood, egg-white and urine. In some parts of Africa, experts have been able to develop chronologies based upon the existence of ancient species such as the crocodile, now extinct in the Sahara, or the introduction of exotic new species like the horse, camel or dog.
Because Africa’s rock art was created in exposed places, much has now disappeared. What we see today was probably created during the last 12,000 years, while much of it is less than 6,000 years old. Researchers however believe that Africa’s now-vanished art may have been contemporary with Europe’s great Palaeolithic cave art – between 15,000 and 33,000 years old. Isolated examples of older art have, however survived to the present e.g. aurochs engravings in the Nile Valley dated at 17,000 years before present, roughly the same age as Lascaux in France.
Some rock paintings and engravings in Africa are themselves magnificent art, comparable to some of the finest works found in the World’s art galleries. Therein, African rock art is a world heritage.