Dating and Context of Rock Engravings in Southern Africa

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Science  23 Mar 1979:
Vol. 203, Issue 4386, pp. 1201-1214
DOI: 10.1126/science.203.4386.1201


Rock art is seldom recovered from sealed archeological contexts and is therefore difficult to date or integrate with other artifactual assemblages. South African engravings, found on low rocks at open-air sites, exemplify the problem. Multiscale spatial study of technique, thematic variation, faunal content, geoarcheological paterning, settlement history, and ethno-archeological setting provides coherent information on environment, time, and group identity. The major periods of naturalistic animal engravings coincide with wetter and warmer climates abot 3200 to 2500 and 2250 to 1800 years before present, but the earliest engravings may be older than 4000 years. Geometric designs were favored after 1300 years before present, when climate was drier and when one identity-conscious population of Bushman engravers first encountered domesticated animals.