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Twyfelfontein rock engravings - A view from our expert author
The rock art at Twfelfontein is unusual as it contains both paintings and engravings © Jan-Dirk Hansen Shutterstock
The boulders that litter these slopes are dotted with thousands of paintings and ancient engravings, only a fraction of which have been recorded.
Twyfelfontein was named ‘doubtful spring’ by the first European farmer to occupy the land – a reference to the failings of a perennial spring of water which wells up near the base of the valley. Formerly the valley was known as Uri-Ais, and seems to have been occupied for thousands of years. Then its spring, on the desert’s margins, would have attracted huge herds of game from the sparse plains around, making this uninviting valley an excellent base for early hunters. This probably explains why the slopes of Twyfelfontein, amid flat-topped mountains typical of Damaraland, conceal one of the continent’s greatest concentrations of rock art. When you first arrive, they seem like any other hillsides strewn with rocks. But the boulders that litter these slopes are dotted with thousands of paintings and ancient engravings, only a fraction of which have been recorded.
Declared a World Heritage Site in 2007, Twyfelfontein was unusual amongst African rock art sites in having both engravings and paintings, though today only engravings can be seen. Many are of animals and their spoor, or geometric motifs – which have been suggested as maps to water sources. Why they were made, nobody knows. Perhaps they were part of the people’s spiritual ceremonies, perhaps it was an ancient nursery to teach their children, or perhaps they were simply doodling.