Twyfelfontein - A Survey into the Relationship between Animal-Engravings & Cupules



At Twyfelfontein there are a number of instances of ‘graffiti’ – unauthorised marks – made by non-Bushman visitors, usually in the 20th and 21st centuries. Though destructive and usually disrespectful of the rock-art already at Twyfelfontein, graffiti is nonetheless a human artefact and it is able to inform us about the profiles, attitudes and behaviour of visitors to Heritage Sites. For this reason, even when it is removed, graffiti should also be recorded. At times, even the graffiti may be older than 100 years and thus an archaeological artefact, according to current heritage legislation.
Landscape and rock art
The one thing that binds all of these disparate rock-art traditions is the landscape. This one should not only study the imagery and rock-art sites in isolation, but consider the wider physical landscape too. The Bushman rock engravings of spoor, for example, tell of the importance of journey – even quests and pilgrimages – in times past. Twyfelfontein was clearly a long-term focus for Bushman and Khoekhoen communities and its imagery and Archaeology built up over a long time. It is important that as many different strands of evidence – ecological, hydrological, cultural and so forth, be woven together in a coherent narrative to tell the story of Twyfelfontein, it’s immediate surroundings as well as its important place in Southern African Archaeology and world history.
Management Recommendations
It should universally be accepted that the Archaeological & Cultural Heritage represented at Twyfelfontein is of outstanding value to humanity. Thus, all of our interventions at this site should be of similarly outstanding quality and pay homage to the intellectual and spiritual status of the people who lived at and marked this place before us. Second-best simply will not do. In order to ensure that visitors to Twyfelfontein get the best possible experience, we need properly to understand both the Heritage Site and the profile of the visitors who come to this site.
Baseline Recording: Before any site is opened to visitation it is essential that there is a comprehensive recording of the site. Such recording is not just restricted to the rock-art – number of images, colour, condition, position, technique, type and potential threats – but also to the associated archaeology. A holistic approach should take note of the site type, geology, vegetation, climate and natural, human and future threats to the site. The comprehensive site recording needs to comply with legal requirements and should be undertaken by a person trained in archaeology; consulting with specialists where required. The comprehensive site recording must also be socially sensitive and be governed by the role a rock-art site or region plays in the lives of people who have spiritual and emotional ties to a site. Fortunately, Dr. Scherz’s work largely satisfies this requirement and Archaeologist Goodman Gwasira’s current documentation of the graffiti sites will help complete this important developmental phase.
Site Management Plan: To ensure that the site has a long-term future as a cultural attraction, a sustainable management plan needs to be drawn up and implemented. This step will involve talks with site custodians, landowners, heritage authorities, local communities, politicians and rock-art specialists. Management plans should be simple and practical, including such considerations as when and if to cut back encroaching vegetation, maintaining paths, constructing walkways, updating site information, regular training updates for site custodians, rubbish removal, having pens and paper for visitor’s books and so on. Access control is vital. Ideally, guides should accompany and inform visitors, thereby earning at least an occasional income. Fences are less satisfactory as they are costly, age badly and they create an authoritarian structure around the site. Fences are, however, sometimes necessary to keep animals out of sites and so on. Publicity and marketing are also important parts of any management plan, as are regular revisions of the management plan. The management plan needs to be administered by a nominated individual who is supported by a structure such as a museum, heritage authority, town council or the like.
Current Status: The physical condition of the rock engravings, cupules and Archaeology at Twyfelfontein varies from bad – excellent. Visible human damage is relatively slight with the exception of the grossly insensitive ‘Twyfelfontein Country Lodge’ that has severely disrupted the Archaeological integrity and aesthetic of the Zeremonienplatz (Site 2) and the northern end of the valley. No future such developments should be permitted without adequate consultation and impact assessments, in accordance with Namibian Heritage legislation. There is no use now complaining about the Lodge’s Archaeological insensitivity – not to mention the insult to Bushman culture by displaying metal sculptures of Bushmen in the garden. Rather, the Lodge can perhaps be used as an infrastructural node at which information on proper visitor behaviour & etiquette and the meaning and special-ness of Twyfelfontein can be provided. Also the training of local people could potentially take place here.
Hiking Trail: The hiking trail is also a potential problem as it allows visitors unsupervised access to many of the rock-art sites. Though most visitors are sensitive to proper visitor etiquette, some damage has occurred. For example, the cross-like motif recently pecked at Die sieben Tafeln (Site 3) and the numerous instances of graffiti at this and the main site complex. Visitors should be guided to these sites by competent and trained guides and/or the hiking trail should not pass so close to the Heritage Sites.
Paths & Platforms: In general the paths at Twyfelfontein are not in a good condition. Especially at the main Site Complex many of the paths are severely eroded and will need to be rehabilitated. The impact of the existing paths as well as any new paths should first be carefully considered before implementation. Paths should not always go directly to rock-art sites, but also take in interesting geological features as well as views up and down the valley. Also, the glue used to cement markers in place at the Main Site Complex has been messily applied and should be removed. Occasional benches where people can rest would also be a good idea, preferably where people can contemplate a view or good rock-art imagery. It would also be a good idea to construct viewing platforms at some of the better-known, more visited and famous image clusters such as the Löwenplatte. This will help to keep physical contact with the engravings and their immediate surroundings top a minimum while allowing the visitor the best possible vantage point of the engravings. In this regard, visitors should be informed when are the best times of day to view and photograph certain engraved imagery, as the images face different directions. On these platforms and elsewhere there could be information boards with data on how to behave, what certain images are thought to mean, the names of interesting plants and so forth.
Visitor’s Centre: The information boards currently on-site are good an informative. But the guide’s ‘home’ – the ruined Levin farmhouse is not satisfactory. Perhaps a more modern facility, with even more information, a shop and restaurant could be constructed off-site at the entrance to the valley. This would reduce the physical and aesthetic impact on the site. Visitors could then be bussed into the site. It should be remembered that dust from the road can cause damage to the rock-art. Levin’shomestead should be restored to show the recent colonial history of the valley.
Training & Outreach: The Twyfelfontein guides are generally helpful and friendly, though they lack certain critical areas of knowledge about the age, meaning and identification of many of the engravings. Also, their knowledge of the area’s ecology and local history requires strengthening. For example, the well-intentioned but disastrous attempt to cover up graffiti on the Riesenblock and Carstenplatte clearly stems from goodwill, but in such matter a trained conservator is essential. Furthermore, the image of the guides is important and perhaps they could be issued with uniforms. The guide’s task would also be made easier if each visitor was given an information pamphlet with both textual and visual information on Twyfelfontein. Audio tours are also a possibility worth investigating. Also, as Twyfelfontein represents a node of infrastructure in a generally underdeveloped area every effort should be made to ensure that local and neighbouring communities are made to have a sense of ownership of this place and the powerful history and spirituality that it represents. The site should operate so as to be of immediate benefit to these people.
Recommended reading
Dowson, T.A. 1992. The rock engravings of Southern Africa. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.
Lewis-Williams, J.D. 1990. Discovering southern African rock-art. Cape Town: David Philip.
Ouzman, S. G. 2001. The problems and potentials of developing and managing public rock-art sites in southern Africa. Pictogram 12: 4-13.
Scherz, E. R. 1975. Felsbilder in Südwest-Afrika. Teil II: Die Gravierungen im Nordwesten- Südwest-Afrikas. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag.
Responsible visitor behaviour at rock art sites
·    Archaeo-tourism is a growing field in which rock-art plays a prominent role.
·    Always ask permission to visit sites - most are on private land.
·    All visits to rock-art sites are at one’s own risk.
·    Take as many photographs as you like. Use natural light for best results.
·    Move carefully so as not to generate dust or disturb the special atmosphere.
·    Visit rock-art sites with an informed person.
·    Never touch or wet rock-art – it is damaging and illegal.
·    Leave all archaeological artefacts as they are – don’t take them away.
·    Report vandalism or new sites to us on:
·    Damage to rock-art sites in South Africa carries afine andprison sentence.
A Survey into the Relationship between Animal-Engravings & Cupules
The Rock Art of Twyfelfontein
The Rock Art of Namibia
The African Rock Art Archive
Bradshaw Foundation
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