Rocks of ages

2011-10-25 00:00

ARCHAEOLOGY was far from Ndukuyakhe Ndlovu’s mind when he matriculated from Cacamezela High School in Osizweni in Newcastle in 1995. He wanted to be an engineer­. Life had other plans.

Ndlovu headed off to the University of Witwatersrand intending to study engineering, but an administrative glitch saw him doing a BA, majoring in geography and archaeology. Ndlovu graduated in 1999 and did his honours followed by a postgraduate diploma in science, then a masters in anthropology with a focus on rock art via Rhodes University. He is now a final-year doctoral candidate at the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies (ICCHS) at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.

When Ndlovu left Wits he was employed by Amafa, the KwaZulu-Natal heritage body, to be the first rock-art manager in the country. From Amafa he moved to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife as the Didima Rock Centre manager based at Cathedral Peak. He subsequently held posts at Heritage Western Cape and the South African Heritage Resource Agency in Johannesburg. He’s currently the Collections Manager­: Archaeology at Wits.

Ndlovu was briefly in Pietermaritzburg recently to give a talk titled Rock Art Rocks at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, under the banner of the Jive Media initiative Café Scientific.

Ndlovu’s doctoral study ranges over the rock art of southern Africa, including Namibia, Botswana­, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa­, while his talk concentrated on his research into the lesser-known rock art of KwaZulu-Natal, particularly in Zululand.

Mention rock art in KwaZulu-Natal and people automatically think of the art in the Drakensberg, but there are rock paintings all over the province from Utrecht to Vryheid, from Dundee down to Msinga and across to the eastern seaboard, and the Umfolozi and Hluhluwe reserves as well as further north.

“The paintings of eland in the Drakensberg are colourfully done but in northern KZN, in Zululand, they are not as colourful or highly decorated. Why is this the case?”

The first query would concern the date the paintings were done. “Are they the same or not? If not, what explains the differences?”

In the Maqonqo hills near Dundee, paintings have been found that have been dated as 3 640 years old before the present (BP). “There are some paintings in the Drakensberg dated 4 000 BP, but Aron Mazel dated the majority of the eland paintings at 2 000 BP. Generally, South African rock art is around 2 000 years BP, but in Zululand they are much older.”

Apart from their greater age another interesting variant is that in Zululand there are not as many paintings, even in places where they could have been painted. “Why is this the case?” asks Ndlovu. “In some shelters in Zululand there are just three paintings, though the surface could have carried more.”

“We need to explain the differences, why the paintings are different, why some shelters are not painted at all, and why there are not as many. So far, we have not been able to explain these variations.”

One reason for this, according to Ndlovu, is that research has focused on selected areas — the Drakensberg, the Western Cape, the ­Cedarberg; the Brandberg in Namibia, the Matopos in Zimbabwe. “And outside academic circles, there is a public perception that rock art is only found in these areas.”

While this is not the case, Ndlovu says, other areas featuring rock art, among them Zululand, despite being known about have simply not received the same attention. Some of the rock-art sites in Zululand were first recorded around 1949 and again in the seventies. “Even though the localities of a number of rock-art sites were known within this region, they have never formed part of any research.” Something that Ndlovu is now beginning to remedy.

Many of the Zululand sites are in communal areas, but Ndlovu does not see that as a threat to their preservation. “When it comes to rock-art conservation there’s a perception that within a protected area, such as a game reserve, it’s safe. Theoretically that makes sense, but practically it doesn’t.”

“The Drakensberg rock art faces many pressures, hikers for one. Not every hiker has the same passion for rock art. I can’t speak for the current situation but when I was with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, people were staying in shelters they were not supposed to and lighting fires. There is also pressure from Basothos coming down the passes, smuggling cattle and dagga.”

Ndlovu cited a case of rock art near eMazizini. “People passed them by daily, but they were fine. Research into rock art in communal areas shows that there are cases of graffiti, mainly charcoal, but it’s minimal compared to the Drakensberg.”

Ndlovu also raises issues around management and preservation of existing rock art. “At Mnweni, a tribal area, crosses and circles have been added, which are thought to represent the sun. Now these could be regarded as graffiti as they were not done by Bushmen.”

But, says Ndlovu, this raises two issues — physical management and spiritual ­management. “What exactly are you conserving? Just the ­physical ­appear- ance? Does the fact that the paintings are still as red as they were 20 years ago mean they are ­properly managed? And if they have been added on to, does that mean they are not properly ­managed? But from a spiritual point of view these sites that are in a communal area are much ­better managed. They are part of a living tradition.”

“We need to consider both the physical ­management and ­spiritual management of rock art, and look at how we manage the two.”

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