The secrets in stone: How ancient Namibian rock art tells more than we thought

Detail of Stone Age depictions of human footprints and animal tracks in Doro Nawas Mountains, Namibia. Credit: Andreas Pastoors.

Have you ever doodled a footprint or an animal paw in the sand or on paper?

Imagine someone doing something similar, but on a rock, thousands of years ago in Namibia.

Well, you don’t have to imagine it because researchers have found that ancient artists from the Stone Age did just that!

These artists were so good at capturing details that experts today can tell which animals’ footprints they were drawing and even the age and gender of those animals.

In the Doro Nawas Mountains in Namibia, there’s ancient rock art with a lot of animal tracks and human footprints.

This art was made during the Later Stone Age, a period that happened a very long time ago.

Usually, when people study ancient art, they don’t pay much attention to these kinds of engravings. But a new study has shown that these drawings are more than just simple carvings; they tell a story.

What makes this study stand out is that the scientists teamed up with Indigenous trackers from the Kalahari desert to take a closer look at these engravings.

And guess what?

These trackers could identify the type of animal, its age, its gender, and even which leg made the footprint for more than 90% of the 513 engravings they checked. That’s incredible!

The study showed something interesting: the ancient artists preferred to draw certain kinds of animals and usually picked adult animals rather than young ones.

They also seemed to like drawing male footprints more than female ones. What does this mean? Researchers think that these choices could be because of the culture back then, but they aren’t exactly sure why.

More Than Just Art

According to Andreas Pastoors, a researcher from Germany involved in the study, the Indigenous experts have helped them understand the rock art in a new way.

Before, many thought these were just random tracks. But now, they see that these engravings are rich in details and can offer clues about the people who made them and the world they lived in.

What’s Still a Mystery?

While the study has uncovered a lot, some things remain a mystery. For example, we still don’t know the exact meaning behind these drawings. Researchers think that talking more with Indigenous experts might help uncover these secrets.

Namibia is home to rock art that’s been largely ignored until now.

Researchers from Germany and local Indigenous trackers have found that this art is surprisingly detailed and can tell us a lot about the kinds of animals that were around during the Later Stone Age.

While some questions still don’t have answers, this new study has opened up a new way of looking at this ancient art and the people who created it.

So, the next time you see a simple doodle of a footprint, think about how much it could tell us thousands of years from now!

The study can be found in  PLOS ONE.

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Source: Public Library of Science.