The Leliekloof system is situated on the 1800m contour, 6 km due west of Jamestown in the Ukhahlamba District of the Eastern Cape Province, Republic of South Africa. The farm is sometimes also called ‘Delilah’, which is the name of the farmhouse. In the 1930’s Walter Wahl Battiss, the father of South African Impressionism and an artist deeply concerned with grounding his work in the texture and landscape of southern Africa, called Leliekloof the ‘Valley of Art’ on account of the many (over 20) San Bushmen and Khoekhoen rock art sites located there.

These sites concentrate on the Skulpspruit and environs. The river has chiseled a tortuous gorge through the sandstone and dolorite and the many shelters host remarkable sites of San Rock Art , many of the paintings of indeterminate age.

To visit and study all the sites will take 2 to 3 days, depending on visitors’ fitness and the degree of interest to find out about the art in each site. Dries and Minnie de Klerk, the owners of Leliekloof, are full reservoirs of information of images and their artists.


Doe and Fawn Shelter

Eland, Woman and Serpent Site

The Dome (Nguni) Shelter

Therianthrope (Slaughter) Shelter

People on the Move (Dog) Shelter

Fertility Shelter

Khoekhoen and Hippo Shelter

Tusked ‘Dassie’ & Rain Animal Shelter

Pigments, Paints and Implements

One of the most frequently asked questions we get from visitors is about pigments, paints and implements used by the San.

In creating his book ‘Rock Paintings of South Africa – Revealing a Legacy’, Stephen Townley Bassett did a lot of research and experimenting, and had interaction with people who still had some knowledge of what the San used to create the paintings.

Of particular interest to Stephen were the flow properties, mixing ability, colour density, durability and compatibility of the surface to which they were being applied, of the substances he used to make paints.

During his investigation there were three broad aspects he worked on.  These were the identification, procurement and processing of suitable ingredients for making paint.  Working with these natural substances on a regular basis, he began to believe that the link between the image painted and the ingredients used to paint is a powerful one.  ‘In other words, the power of the painting resides partly in its visual presence on the wall of the cave or shelter, and partly in its ingredients’.

He divided the composition of the paint into three constituents, namely Pigment, Carrying agent and Binding agent.


Black :   charcoal, manganese oxide

White :  raptor faeces, white clay or kaolin

Red :       haematite (red ochre).  Ochre is a generic term for any earth, clay, mineral or rock containing iron oxide (haematite).

Yellow : goethite of limonite (yellow ochre).   Yellow ochre permanently changes colour to red when heated.


Saliva, Gall, Egg, Plant sap, Water


Fat :  Animal fat was a prized commodity for ritual purposes.   For thousands of years fat has been mixed with earth pigments and smeared on the body for ritual, war, identification or medicinal reasons.  In addition among hunter-gatherers fat was nutritionally very important and greatly prized.  The use of fat in the paint mixture not only gave it great binding properties and resistance to weathering but also added a symbolic importance to the paint.

Egg, Blood and Plant resin

Experiments carried out by Stephen with combinations of some of the above carrying and binding agents showed interesting results.  Rapid deterioration occurred for instance when ochre, egg and blood were mixed, and the fastest deterioration occurred when ochre and water were mixed because it did not contain any binding agent.  Ochre and fat emulsified with egg, as well as ochre and fat emulsified by gall, showed the most resilience.   The tests suggest that both egg and gall best emulsified and mobilised the ochre and fat mixture on the rock, ensuring good coverage and adhesion.


Some clues to the implements used by the San artists have been recovered from a few archaeological excavations.  At a site in the Cederberg a bowl made from a tortoise carapace was found, stained with rich red ochre.  This wooden shafts with remnants of hair bound onto one end have been uncovered in the Drakensberg.  Grindstones covered with ochre have been found at several shelters in South Africa.

The organic nature of wood and hair, quill or feather brushes means that they quickly disintegrate and weather away.  The most interesting but poignant account of painting implements comes from the geologist George Stow, who in 1905 wrote :  ‘The last known Bushman artist of the Malutis was shot in the Witteberg Reserve, where he had been on a marauding expedition, …..   He had 10 small horn pots hanging from his belt, each of which contained a different coloured paint’. Sadly, due to the relentless desire by the colonists to rid the land of a people they regarded as vermin, we gain a small bit of knowledge bought at a very steep price.

Source :

Stephen Townley Bassett  ‘Rock Paintings of South Africa – Revealing a Legacy’ 

David Philip Publishers, Cape Town, 2001.

ISBN 0-86486-500-7


Rock Art is a finite and fragile resource and the National Heritage Resources Act 25 of 1999 protects all rock art sites. It is an offence to damage rock art or archaeological artifacts, punishable by 2 years imprisonment and a R1 000 000 fine.

Courtesy : Sven Ouzman – Former Director of Rock Art at the Free State Museum in Bloemfontein, South Africa

Recommended Reading

  • Basset, Stephen T. 2001. Rock paintings of southern Africa : revealing a legacy.

Cape Town : David Philip.

● Battis, W W. 1939. The amazing Bushman. Pretoria : Red Fawn Press.

  • Battis, W.W. 1948. The artists of the Rocks. Pretoria : Red Fawn Press.
  • Lewis-Williams, J D. 1990. Discovering southern African rock art.

Cape Town : David Philip.

  • Lewis-Williams, J D & Dowson, T A. 1989. Images of Power : understanding

Bushman rock art. Johannesburg : Southern Book Publishers.

  • Vinnicombe, P. 1976. People of the eland : rock paintings of the Drakensberg

Bushmen as a reflection of their life and thought. Pietermaritzburg : Natal

University Press

  • Smith, Noel 2000. San Visions and Values : An Interpretation of the Prehistoric Rock Art of southern Africa. Noel Smith Publications, Lammas Gardens, East Bridgford, Nottingham NG13 8LQ