Humans, megafauna and landscape structure – Rock engravings from Namibia encourage a comparative approach to central Europe and southern Africa

This paper deals with reflections that arose after observing prehistoric rock engravings at different locations in Namibia. These observations stimulated comparative considerations with focus on southern Africa and central Europe. Similar to the Aurignacian rock art of European origin, the most common motifs in the Namibian rock engravings are large animals. While in Europe, the species that served as a blueprint for the illustration of Aurignacian rock art have mostly disappeared, the megafauna illustrated on the rock engravings in Namibia can still be found in the immediate vicinity of the rock art. Against this background, we discuss and further
develop a comparative regional approach. We reconstruct and evaluate the suitability of African savannas and still-existing megafauna communities as an appropriate reference-frame for natural European grassland systems and extinct associated warm-adapted megafauna (Eemian Interglacial megafauna). Special attention is laid on the unique situation in Africa in the light of a global extinction wave of megafauna following increasing human activity in the Late Quaternary. This leads us to discuss the use of domesticated ungulates as surrogate taxa to fulfill ecosystem functions in Europe as part of concepts termed “rewilding” or “naturalistic grazing”.
After critically examining these concepts, we conclude that using domesticated forms as representatives of extinct or locally disappeared species in Europe has its justification to some extent. If, however, the naturally occurring megaherbivore community still exists (Africa), these naturally occurring species should be given priority due to their organismic abilities and limitations adapted to the harsh conditions in their specific environment. Finally, we discuss the application of (transboundary) protected areas as effective instruments to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts. A holistic approach, including nature conservation and preservation of cultural achievements (domesticated forms, grazing systems), appears promising for the effective protection of the natural African savanna ecosystems with their unique fauna elements, as illustrated in rock engravings that inspired us to write this paper.

Publish DateOctober 28, 2021
Last UpdatedOctober 28, 2021