ROCK ART PETROGLYPHS IN GABON, AFRICA
The Kongo Boumba Sites
Photos Text by Richard Oslisly
Five new sites with a total of 280 petroglyphs were discovered in the Lope-Okanda Reserve, 40 km to the east of Elarmekora. The Kongo Boumba art occurs on numerous piled blocks of rock along the banks of the 0gooue river. Subspherical boulders of paragneiss very likely eroded by the combined processes of weathering and fluvial action of the river in the distant past. Groups of geometric figures are found on many of them. Nearly all motifs are circles, spirals, concentric circles, lines of circles arranged chain-like, and dissected circles. Chain arrangements predominate (35%), and they range in length from about 2 m to 5 m when diverging like the branches of a candelabrum. We also noted the presence of various meandering lines similar to snakes near the chains of small circles. As in Elarmekora, the rock art petroglyphs were made with metal tools, as demonstrated by the homogeneity and sharpness of individual peck marks on this very tough rock. Traces of surface flaking are evident, and exfoliation may lead to the loss of these petroglyphs which are an important testimony of the cultural past of the Ogooue valley.
Kongo Boumba I site
. On a savannah hill slope, three piles of ovoid boulders overlook a gallery forest, as in Epona. Sixteen of the blocks bear a total of about 130 petroglyphs. On one of them, an area of nearly 9 sq.m. presents a large composition made of circles and serpentine lines, combined with spirals and concentric circles.
Kongo Boumba 2 site
. On a flat paragneiss dome, this newly-found group of rock art petroglyphs comprising about 30 figures among which concentric circles predominate. We also discovered the first cruciform representation here, next to two lizard forms.
Kongo Boumba 3 site
. Three small rocks reveal some petroglyphs: roughly pecked circles, concentric circles, a lizard-like shape and probably a double-bladed throwing knife.
Kongo Boumba 4 site
. Overlooking a forest is a group of boulders bearing more than 30 pecked circle rock art etroglyphs, together with seven lizard-like figures.
Kongo Boumba 5 site
. Looking down upon a path, two enormous rocks present flat surfaces with rock art petroglyphs. On Rock A, two zoomorphs are found, one above a net-like maze, while Rock B bears two lizard-like figures and round pecked areas.
The Lindili Site
Photos Text by Richard Oslisly
Located 8 km south of the cultural area of Kongo Boumba, a rocky hillock rises above a marsh. More than 20 figures are engraved on its rock surfaces. They comprise, on the one hand, circles including a chain of 11 concentric circles, and on the other hand, pecked zones and meandering lines.
The Kaya Kaya Site
Photos Text by Richard Oslisly
This site was discovered in the course of uranium prospecting by the company Franceville (COMUF). Its existence was mentioned to us in order to determine its importance, and to record the rock art petroglyphs. It is located 15km downstream from Franceville in the upper Ogooue valley. On a small tributary, the Missitigui river, oblong blocks of sandstone bear about 30 motifs. Located under the network of plants of a narrow gallery forest, the site consists of vulva-like motifs engraved on phallus-shaped rocks. This association leads us to suggest that it may have served in rituals of initiation or fertility (below right). Concentrated on three rocks, the figures were engraved with metal tools such as chisels, as shown by the presence of fine rectilinear grinding tracks on one of the blocks.
Kaya Kaya Vulva-like Motif
Discussion of Gabon Rock Art Sites
Text by Richard Oslisly
At the present time, the Ogooue valley contains the major part of the sites, with the discovery of more than 1000 recorded petroglyphs, essentially on paragneiss rocks. This open air rock art seems closely related to its geological environment, being distributed in savannah enclave landscapes which occasionally abound with rock outcrops.
As is the case for the majority of open air rock art sites, the age of the art is not obvious. Various factors are relevant in considering the age of the petroglyphs: the condition of the rock surface and the natural weathering of the figures; the techniques used by the engravers; and the archaeological environment.
Pattern Symbol from the Elarmekora Site in Gabon
These approaches are limited, however, since oral tradition as well as history are silent about the petroglyphs, which are ignored by the contemporary local population. Thus it is difficult to determine the antiquity of the art. By considering the patina on the figures and the fact that they were certainly made with iron chisels (Oslisly 1989), and according to the chronology of the Iron Age which is well known in the middle Ogooue valley, we would expect the age of the petroglyphs to lie somewhere between 2500 and 1800 years BP.
The archaeological site closest to the Elarmekora Hill rock art petroglyphs is about 200 m from them. It consists of an occupation deposit of the Iron Age (Gif 8051: 1850 ± 60BP), with slags and ceramic fragments bearing decorations made of concentric circles like those found on the nearby rock outcrop. In addition, an accumulating body of radiocarbon dates (2300 - 1800 BP) around the beginning of the Christian Era indicates a flourishing Iron Age occupation of this region (Oslisly and Peyrot 1988, 1992).
Symbols from the Elarmekora Site in Gabon
The same can be said of the Kongo Boumba sites with their numerous concentric circles, motifs that can also be found in the decorations of the ceramics (see below) of the Okanda tradition (Oslisly 1986, 1992) in the same area, from the second century B.C. (Gif 7776: 2110± 70 BP) to the second century A.D. (Gif 7524: 1840 ± 60 BP) on the sites Okanda 2 and 5, and Lindili I.
Rim sherds with concentric circles decoration.
Early Iron Age, Okanda tradition (2300-1400 BP).
The age of the site of Kaya Kaya is more difficult to assess because the rock art petroglyphs visible on the very hard sandstone blocks show evidence of erosion; they are blunt and polished by the waters of the small Missitigui river. They were made with the help of metal tools and they may date to about the beginning of the Christian Era, because the entire region at the confluence of the Mpassa, Ogooue and Lebombi rivers has a very rich archaeological context with an Iron Age presence since the fifth century B.C. With 1700 known rock art petroglyphs, the 0gooue valley axis has emerged as a very important region of open air rock art in western central Africa.
Africa Rock Art Archive