THE ROCK ART OF WESTERN CENTRAL AFRICA

ROCK ART PETROGLYPHS IN GABON, AFRICA

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Rock Art Petroglyphs in the Ogooue River Valley
Photos Text by Richard Oslisly
 
Rock art was first discovered in Gabon in 1987 when the site of Elarmekora was found. Since then, a systematic search for rock art petroglyphs on the numerous rock outcrops along the valley of the Ogooue river has resulted in the discovery of numerous new sites. Preliminary studies suggest that these petroglyphs are contemporary with the Iron Age, being chronologically close to the beginning of the Christian Era.
 
This paper reports the discovery of a form of open air rock art in the upper and middle stretches of the Ogooue valley, Gabon, where it is found engraved on ovoid boulders and flat outcrops. Previously this form of art was only known from the borders of the Congo Basin: the Bidzar petroglyphs in Cameroun (Mariiac 1981:212), the Calola, Bambala and Capelo rock art assemblages in the upper valley of the Zambezi in Angola (Ervedosa 1980:445), the engraved rocks of Kwilu site in Lower Congo (Nenquin 1959), together with Mpatou, Lengo, Bambari and Bangassou sites in the Central African Republic (Bayle des Hermens 1975: 343). The Elarmekora site, Gabon, was discovered in 1987 (Oslisly 1987), at the end of a long research program on Iron Age sites in the Otoumbi region. In central Africa, a Copper Age is unknown and the Neolithic period is immediately followed by the Iron Age, about 2400-2300 years BP. Thanks to a systematic search of the paragneiss outcrops in the Ogooue river valley, many further sites have been found (see below): Epona in the Otoumbi region, Kongo Boumba and Lindili in the Lope-Okanda Reserve. We heard of the Kaya Kaya site on the upper Ogooue only twenty years after its discovery.
 
 
The Ogooue has been used as a route for trade and the movement of cultural products since the distant prehistoric past, by Stone Age hunter-gatherers, Neolithic peoples and Iron Age populations living on the river's banks (Oslisly and Peyrot 1987). Our research from 1982 to 1992 has shown that the middle stretches of the 0gooue valley were an important archaeological centre.
 
The Epona Site
Photos Text by Richard Oslisly
 
Adjacent to a gallery forest, 3 km south of Elarmekora, are ovoid rocks bearing more than 410 rock art petroglyphs on their surfaces. These blocks of paragneiss occur in three groups on the gentle slopes of a savannah hill. Once again, single or concentric circles are the most abundant motifs (98%). Small circles appear arranged around a large circle, and sometimes concentric circles are arranged in the fashion of flower petals. Five lizard-like forms contrast with the predominant circle motifs and there is a figure resembling a throwing knife. In central Africa, the throwing knife. In central Africa, the throwing knife (single or double bladed) is the specific weapon of the Bantu populations.
 
The Elarmekora Site
Photos Text by Richard Oslisly
 
Rock Art Africa
Elarmekora Site
The site is located on the pavements of outcrops of paragneiss above the river and consists of about 240 petroglyphs. Each figure has been first roughed out with barely visible, fine rectangular lines, followed by the probable use of metal chisels. This was subsequently pecked to produce thousands of small, homogeneous, cup-shaped depressions of great sharpness which exclude the use of stone tools.
 
The apparent animal motifs convey an impression of an art of hunting symbolism. Most of them are associated with triangular motifs resembling projectile heads of assegai. Although no intentional layout is apparent in the location of the figures, they are grouped into five topographic zones (Oslisly 1988):
 
Zone A. This is the main concentration, in which more than 120 motifs have been found. Some of them occur in isolation but most belong to one of eight distinctive groups. The triangular form is the most frequent (60%), both with and without shaft (see diagram below). Animal motifs (21%) depict small quadruped animals and probably lizards. They are sometimes closely associated with triangular motifs which is suggestive of a hunting symbolism.
 
Zone B. This group is about 15m to the west of zone A. It consists of about 30 figures of which 53% are triangles. A dozen small lines, probably sharpening grooves, seem to support the hypothesis of the use of iron chisels. About 6 m lower, five triangular forms are arranged around a small motif we interpret as a hoe, which would make it the only known depiction of a non-hunting implement at this site.
 
Zone C. On a 250 m-high summit, there are 23 well-made concentric circles (85%) and a unique seven-petal rose motif, together with a figure evoking interpretation as an insect with a giant head. About 10m to the east, three figures. stand out among others of a group. Two are of lizard form, the third is reminiscent of a tortoise carapace.
 
Zone D. Located on a large pavement on the north-east slope of the spur occur 42 pecked motifs, almost all of which are circles.
 
Zone E. A group of seven figures, including two animal motifs.
 
Rock Art Africa Rock Art Africa Rock Art Africa
Elarmekora Patterns
Elarmekora Patterns
Elarmekora Symbol
Rock Art Africa
Fish
Rock Art Africa
Elarmekora Pecked
Rock Art Africa
Pecked Lizard
Rock Art Africa
Elarmekora Circles
 
 
Africa Rock Art Archive
 
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