Mapping the Ancient Movement of Humanity

This beautiful hand-woven aluminum wire sculpture, by Walter Oltmann, artistically maps our ancient hominin ancestors' movement out of Africa

Origins Centre

World Map (2006) by Walter OltmannOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Introduction to World Map
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The installation, at the entrance of Origins Centre museum, is an artistic impression of Gerardus Mercator’s projection of the earth. The artwork is created by South African sculptor, Walter Oltmann. 

World Map (2006) by Walter OltmannOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Originally presented in 1569, Mercator’s map became the standard map projection for navigation. It is unique in that north is always up and south down, while local directions and shapes are preserved.

World Map (2006) by Walter OltmannOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Africa is at the centre of the map and copper wires radiate from the southern part indicating the movement of humankind from Africa to all areas of the world. Archaeological and genetic evidence shows that these movements happened around 1.8 million years ago (Homo erectus),  and 70 000 years ago (Homo sapiens).

World Map (2006) by Walter OltmannOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

The continents, and human history, soar silently above.

World Map (2006) by Walter OltmannOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Walter Oltmann on World Map
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The ebb and flow of humans in time and space is expertly shown in the wave-like nature of the artwork.

World Map (2006) by Walter OltmannOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Aluminium (aluminum) wire is carefully woven and stiched together forming rippling silver sheets.

Eland and supernatural potency by San Hunter-GathererOriginal Source: Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand. www.sarada.co.za

The copper thread also echoes the thin red line found in many San paintings - the ‘threads of light’ that connect humans to the spirit world.

World Map (2006) by Walter OltmannOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

Walter Oltmann Method and Inspiration
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Walter Oltmann is a South African artist who is well-known as a sculptor and for his work with wire. He has installations in many public spaces, including South Africa's constitutional court.

World Map (2006) by Walter OltmannOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

While wire sculpture is a widespread media employed in South Africa today, Oltmann brings a new technique to working with wire in which he knits the strands together.

World Map (2006) by Walter OltmannOriginal Source: Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

The map relays how humans are interconnected and shows the centrality of Africa in human history. It is positioned at the entrance to the Origins Centre, standing as a marker of the museum's ethos.

Credits: Story

Walter Oltmann and team
Narrator: Gcina Mhlophe
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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