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NAMIBIA HISTORY TWYFELFONTEIN BUSHMAN ROCK ENGRAVINGS NAMIBIA. The single largest collection of Bushman rock engravings on the African Continent.

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Twyfelfontein Bushmen Rock-Engravings Namibia

The single largest collection of Bushman rock engravings on the African continent.

National Heritage Plaque


A National Heritage Site

Twyfelfontein Bushman etching mural of animals 1 Twyfelfontein Bushman etching mural of animals 2


Twyfelfontein is home to the single largest collection of Bushmen rock engravings on the African continent. There are more than 2,500 pictograms on over 200 sandstone blocks. There is a natural rock shelf that runs along the cliff face about 50 metres from ground level. The shelf floor is littered with erosion debris in the form of large sandstone blocks. The sandstone at Twyfelfontein contains high Felspar content that is rich in iron, which when exposed to air the surface oxidizes and forma hard red crust. The ancient bushman artists would cut through this layer with tools made from harder rock, Granites and quartz, exposing the underlying rock that is of a yellow shade. Over time the engraved patterns also oxidized giving the artwork a sealed covering.


Giraffe and Footprints

Giraffe and footprints

Elephant with antelope

Elephant with antelope

Seal and Penguin

Seal and penguin

Domestic cattle

Domestic cattle




Twyfelfontein The People Who Lived There.

The majority of the artwork is thought to have been engraved in a period from about 6,000 to 2,000 years ago by the Bushmen hunter gatherers. Then there appears a second group of etchings aged between 2,000 to 1,000 years ago having been made by the Khoekhoen people who were pastoral nomads moving their herds of goats and sheep with, about 1,000 years ago, the introduction of cattle as depicted on the later engravings the ancient artists have left us with a somewhat kaleidoscopic view into their world. We see the variety and abundance of the animals that they lived amongst and hunted. The engravings include Antelope, Eland, Elephant, Kudu, Giraffe, Lion, Oryx, Ostrich, Penguin, Seal and Zebra along with depictions of animal spoors (tracks). The above centre is of a seal and a penguin which 'tells' us that the Bushmen would journey to the coast where they would hunt the seals for the meat, pelts and fats to produce seal oil. Some of the tablets show human hand or footprints which could be could be the signatures of some of the artists, but rarely do we see a complete human form.  The strange glyphs have not yet been interpreted, and could well be just some form of artistic expression by one or more of the artists.


The Lion- Man

The Lion-Man

The dacing- kudu

The Dancing-Kudu



Antelope with glyphs

Antelope with glyphs

Cracked rhinoceros

Cracked Rhinoceros


Beliefs and Rituals: As with most ancient peoples their interrelationship with their environment played an important part in the group's belief system and culture. The sweet water spring was of great significance to the comfort and well-being of the dwellers at the 'Twyfelfontein', and the site would have held a considerable amount of religious potency. There is even a remaining rock-segment of map of the area with directions of water springs and holes clearly marked. As with the Bushmen of the Brandberg the dwellers at Twyfelfontein believed that certain animals possessed mystical powers. The giraffe, being the tallest was thought to be able to reach into the heavens and help to bring the rains. Other hoofed animals e.g. the Eland, Kudu, Oryx, Springbok and Wildebeest were also revered for they had powers to find and even dig for water. The felines - Lion, Leopard and Cheetah were thought to have the powers of dispelling evil and also healing sickness. The Desert Elephant could find water, survive for 3 days without drinking and was capable of traveling up to 70kms in one day, and the Rhinoceros with its' horn were also 'rain animals'.


The ritual dances performed by the shamans would last for many hours. The effort required was so great that it caused profuse sweating and sometimes bleeding from the nose. A state of frenzy and trance would be entered during which the shamans would 'take on' the spirit of the particular animal that was critical to the ritual being performed. For example an Oryx for rain, or a lion for healing or dispelling evil. It was believed that while in a state of trance the medicine men could transfer the sickness from an individual into themselves and then sweat it out.  The Stork was associated with travel and the Shaman would take upon the spirit of the bird when 'traveling in spirit' to far off places. The reminder of the group, mainly females would sit around in a circle chanting and clapping.


The Lion Man has five toed feet, with a hand at the end of its tail. The ancient Bushmen believed that if they killed a Lion they could transfer some of the powers of the animal's spirit to mingle with their own spirit thus making them even more braver and fearless hunters. When at the site try to remember to look for a giraffe that has five protrusions from the top of its head. This means that they are not two ears along with two horns, but the hand of a Bushman Shaman. It is thought that in one particular rain ritual dance the Shaman would take upon the spirit of a Giraffe, for this was a most revered animal. It was the tallest animal that G-d made, and it could stretch its neck up into the heavens to bring down the rains.


The Dancing Kudu engraving is representative of a shaman who, in a state of ritual  trance,  has taken on the spirit of the animal.


It was about 1,000 years ago that the Bushman hunter gatherer communities in this part of Namibia began to acquire goats, sheep and then cattle and adopted a nomadic pastoral lifestyle. The engraving depicting Domestic cattel is thought to be about 800 years old and one of the youngest at the site. Note the large curved horns of the cattle are those seen in central and east Africa.


The Rhinoceros was also connected with the rains. The above right image has its horn reaching up into the heavens to open the clouds. It is possible that temperature weathering contributed to the cracking of this work panel. It is an ongoing natural process. We are fortunate to live in a time when we can still enjoy these art works in their natural surroundings.


Acknowledgements and further reading:  GV1, GV4, H12, R6, R7, P1, W12


Twyfelfontein Site | Twyfelfontein Paintings

The site is operated under the supervision of the National Heritage Council of Namibia and trained local guides will take you around the site also showing you the points of interest

Khorixas / Twyfelfontein Area Attractions

Burnt Mountain

Petrified Forest


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Organ Pipes


White Lady of Brandberg

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