The Dome (Nguni) Shelter

Associated Archaeology

The site floor is very soft and may contain some depth – perhaps up to 1.5 m – of archaeological deposit, though periodic flooding will leach the deposit and possibly cause disturbance. There are visible surface scatter of stone tools that are volcanic in origin and which are brought to the lowlands by mountain streams and rivers. Every stage of stone tool manufacture is present here. There are cores – large lumps of rock from which stone tools are made, There are flukes – generally cutting tools. Adzes are present and were used for woodworking. End and side-scrapers, often in the shape of a thumbnail were used to prepare leather. There are also rare burins and awls – used to pierce. This was a residential site and the quantity of rock paintings show that it was also of considerable spiritual importance to the Bushmen.

Meaning of the rock paintings

As a social centre, this site’s imagery covers a range of common societal and spiritual concerns and the metaphors expressed by the paintings would have been readily understandable to most Bushmen. Rain-making was one such concern.

The Bushmen believed that the rain was an animal that lived deep in pools of water. It was the task of the rain shamans to dive into these deep pools of water and find the rain-animal – which was dangerous – and pacify it with aromatic herbs known as buchu. Once calm, the rain animal would be tied up with leather thongs and pulled out of the waterhole either to the top of a hill or to be dragged across the sky. Here the rain-shamans would slaughter the rain-animal and its milk and blood would fall as rain, renewing the veld, attracting the game and allowing the people to gather abundant plant food and hunt game and be happy. The strange ass-like animal in orange and white with fine red markings along its belly, surrounded by 6 red and white animal-headed human figures, is typical of many paintings of rain animals – all of which are highly individualistic and species-indeterminate. The rain animal is in fact, an hallucination by Western logic and the act of diving into the pool of water is a metaphor for entering an altered state of consciousness, where people experience feelings of weightlessness as though they are under water.

The enigmatic rib-and-head designs require further research. Castellated motifs are known fork the Northern Eastern Cape and they may represent a form of deep visual hallucinations, When in an altered state, people often feel dissociated from their bodies or that parts of their body is fragmented, This may be what is depicted here. Part of this panel was removed in the 1940’s by the Historical Monuments Commission. This was Walter Battiss’ initiatives and the paintings so removed are now in the collection of the Rock Art Research Institute at Wits.

Other imagery at the site such as the part-animal (praying mantis heads, hoof-like feet), part-human figures called therianthropes, represent the fusion of the shaman and his or her animal source of supernatural potency. The Bushmen believed that in order to use the potency of a certain animal or thing, you had to physically transform into that animal or thing.

The Nguni cow painting is interesting as it shows us that the Bushmen rock art was also concerned with earthly matters – in this case the arrival of Black farmers from the North onto the landscape in the last 500 years or so.

This site also have a number of Medicine dances with people shown seated, clapping, dancing and trancing. Many of the figures adopt strange body postures such as bending forward at the waist, holding their arms out behind their backs and holding sticks while bending – typical of trance dancing.