Etched with meaning

Replica of the Driekopseiland river bed rock engravings, Northern Cape, South Africa

Origins Centre

Geometric engravings
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Driekopseiland, Northern Cape, South Africa

Geometric rock art

Replica Engraved floor from Driekopseiland, west of Kimberley, Northern Cape, South Africa. (2006) by UnknownOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Mysterious

Rather than only focusing on the motifs, recent research has looked into the site’s physical setting on a glacial pavement in the bed of the seasonal Riet River, and considered this in terms of the beliefs and practices of indigenous Khoe and San people.

Replica Engraved floor from Driekopseiland, west of Kimberley, Northern Cape, South Africa. (2006) by UnknownOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Coming-of-age rituals

Research suggests that the Dreikopseiland site may have been a powerful place where rituals were practiced. 

The images may relate to markings and patterns on the faces, bodies or clothing of young women, and may have expressed concepts and beliefs linked to girls' initiation.

Beliefs of the |Xam San

|Xam San beliefs and taboos around rain (and the making of rain) were linked closely with girls and women, and they feature strongly in relation to puberty rites.

Replica Engraved floor from Driekopseiland, west of Kimberley, Northern Cape, South Africa. (2006) by UnknownOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Amongst the |Xam San, pools or rivers and rain were frequently related to the coming-of-age rites of young women and to the powerful, mythical, Watersnake called !Khwa, or the rain animal !Khwa-ka-goro.

Replica Engraved floor from Driekopseiland, west of Kimberley, Northern Cape, South Africa. (2006) by UnknownOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

The Geometric Rock Art Tradition

Geometric tradition art is found widely in northern South Africa mostly along the major water courses and sources of the central interior.  

This rock art is painted with the finger or engraved in thick lines.

At the end of a period of seclusion, initiates were ritually cleansed, given new clothing, beads, and ornaments, and had patterns painted on her face/head/body. There followed a traditional dance in which she was guided by older women to the water source or river.

Redan Geometric Engraving (2006) by UnknownOriginal Source: Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand

Redan engraving

This original engraving, was removed from the Redan rock engraving site, near Vereeniging, South Africa in the early 1900s. 

This fragment, showing a beautiful sun motif, is curated by the Rock Art Research Institute, Wits, and is on display at Origins Centre. 

Replica Engraved floor from Driekopseiland, west of Kimberley, Northern Cape, South Africa. (2006) by UnknownOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

At the river, the rites took place including offerings to !Khwa (the water, synonymous with the snake), to appease or ‘tame’ the Watersnake. 

The research at Driekopseiland and Redan, and other rock engraving sites like these, suggests that the sites may have been a powerful ritual place where these rituals were practiced.

Credits: Story

The San and Khoe peoples of southern Africa
David Morris
Jeremy Hollmann
The Rock Art Research Institute
Online Exhibition Curator: Tammy Hodgskiss

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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