Website Category: Rock-art and Pre-history
Area: 48 km2
Criteria: (i) creative masterpiece (iii) cultural tradition (vi) association with belief system
Location and Values: The Tsodilo Hills are a comparatively small group of quartzite inselbergs located on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in the extreme north-west of Botswana, close to the Namibian border. They are home to one of Africa’s densest collections of rock art, with some 4,500 paintings in an area of just 10 km2. Caves and shelters in the hills are thought to have been occupied – perhaps only occasionally – over a period of up to 100,000 years, and the area continues to have important symbolic and religious significance to local communities.
The rock art depicts a variety of subjects, including wild animals, people, cattle and other domestic animals, and various geometric symbols and designs. Most are painted in red, but there are also a number of groups of white images. In terms of style and content the art has much in common with paintings of similar age in Zambia and Angola rather than neighbouring Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Its age and origin is subject to speculation, but probably no more than 2,000 years old. Cattle were introduced to the area around the 6th century AD, and riders on horses – depicted in some of the white images – were first known here in the 1850s, thus establishing a maximum age for some of the paintings. The geometric images are thought to be about 1,000 years old, and oral evidence suggests that the latest paintings date to the 19th century.
Slideshow of Tsodilo: The slideshow features a series of photos provided by Bridget Goldsmith and David Trump, showing the landscape and rock art of the area. There are some striking images of wild animals painted in red hematite, including rhinos, giraffe, oryx and other species, as well as various stylised human figures, and symbolic images, some in white. The pictures give a very good sense of the harsh environment, and the excitement of scrambling through the dry bush and over rock scrambles to discover each group of paintings.
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of the Tsodilo Hills on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing.