By Sarah Wild
Scientists have directly dated Stone Age rock paintings in southern Africa reliably for the first time. Their work reveals that early hunter-gatherer peoples created art at three sites in the region, some 5,700 years ago (A. Bonneau et al. Antiquity 91, 322–333; 2017). And the findings open the door for archaeologists and other researchers to date thousands more rock paintings in this part of Africa — and so piece together the lives and development of ancient people there.
The study focused on paintings in present-day Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho created by the San people, whose direct descendants still live in the area. The San have been much studied, but many mysteries remain about how they lived, and how they interacted with other groups — such as early farmers.
“If we are able to date depictions of livestock and material goods associated with incoming groups, we may be able to start unravelling the nature of interactions between groups in this early contact,” says David Pearce, an archaeologist and director of the Rock Art Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and a co-author of the latest study.
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