Therianthrope (Slaughter) Shelter

Associated Archaeology

The site’s floor is extensive, soft and ashy. There has been some stock trampling but the floor seems to be largely intact and may contain pockets of deposit in excess of 1 meter deep. There are some grit-tempered pottery fragments. Hornfels, silcrete and crypto-crystalline silicate tools of all descriptions occur within the site and on the talus slope, as does bone, suggesting that this was a good residential space in Bushmen times.

Meaning of the rock paintings

There are approximately 175 individual rock paintings discontinuously spread across the shelter’s back wall. The strong presence of Medicine Dances and therianthropic figures – shamans that have partially been transformed into their animal personas and sources of potency – suggest that this site was an important spiritual node on the landscape. An example of this transformation is a large white, red, orange, black and yellow therianthrope shaman painted on the upper curving slope of the ceiling. Wearing a karos and with a clearly human form and posture, carrying a bow, quiver and stick; this figure nonetheless has an antelope (?hartbeest) head and clear antelope hooves. Fine white dots are placed on this figure’s chest region. There are also two red line apparently falling from the figure’s mouth. A place where Spirit and Ordinary Worlds were separated only by the thinnest veneer of rock, if at all.

The unusual body postures such as bending forward, holding arms behind one’s back and so forth are part of a series of such postures that are unequivocally diagnostic of trance performance. The trance state was most comprehensively reached in an interlinked social context where even non-shamans were vital in providing the auditory and rhythmic atmosphere necessary for the shaman to launch himself into a trance where communication with the Spirit World, God and Beings could take place. This is clearly illustrated by the paintings where people are shown seated and clapping while others dance, trance and bleed from the nose, wear eared caps and adopt a range of unusual body postures.

Entering trance / Spirit World was likened to ‘death’ – a pervasive metaphor for altering one’s state of being. For this reason we have the upside down animal (hippo) – a visual convention that signifies both death and also the quantity of supernatural potency that was released by dying animals – especially powerful ones – and which shamans could harvest to aid them in their out-of-body travels.

The use of unpainted rock in the interior of rhebuck and human figure’s bodies is and interesting variation intended perhaps to show the integration of the imagery with the world that was believed to exist behind the rock face.