People, Plants, Animals, and Formlings in the Rock Art of Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, the term “rock art” refers mainly to prehistoric engravings and paintings that were executed on the walls of shallow caves, rock shelters, or faces of boulders across the country. Rock paintings were executed using pigments in a variety of colors and textures while engravings were etched into the rock using incisions, polishing, or pecking methods. The paintings dominate the corpus of rock art in the country. They are found within the granitic boulders that cover much of the country while rock engravings are confined to narrow belts in the eastern, southern, and southwestern parts where the sandstone is found. The spatial distribution of rock art in Zimbabwe helps to show that geology was the influential factor in choosing whether to paint or to engrave. In terms of subject matter, the rock art of Zimbabwe is mostly dominated by what is known as hunter-gatherer art, with a few sites having what has been termed “farmer art.” There is a possibility of some of the art having been made by herders but this requires further research and conformation. The hunter-gatherer art is made up of mostly animals and humans. Nevertheless, the occurrence of plants and geometric figures, especially the “formlings,” sets the rock art of Zimbabwe apart from that of other areas in southern Africa. Farmer art has animal and human figures, mostly in white kaolin and usually found superpositioned on top of the hunter-gatherer images. The color and superpositions led the art to be termed the Late Whites. The possibility of herder art has been raised due to the occurrence of depictions such as handprints and finger-painted dots. These images are associated with herders in neighboring countries such as South Africa and Botswana. Research in Zimbabwe has tended to favor the dominant aspects of rock art. As such, rock paintings have been extensively investigated at the expense of engravings. In the same vein, hunter-gatherer research art has been preponderant as compared to the study of farmer and possibly herder art. Nevertheless, it is important to note that although a lot of strides have been made in rock art research, fewer researchers, especially among the indigenous, have had an interest in these aspects of the Zimbabwean past. Rock art is often overshadowed by the archaeology of the farming communities, which has Zimbabwe culture and particularly Great Zimbabwe as its hallmark. However, it is encouraging to note that there has been an upsurge in students working on projects concerning rock art, which foretells good prospects for the uptake of rock art research in the future.

Publish DateJuly 13, 2021
Last UpdatedJuly 13, 2021
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