Where we work

Research is conducted in Namibia, in the Erongo Mountains and Spitzkoppe area, and in South Africa, around Kimberley

To test the cosmopolitical approach, two case studies have been selected and are at the heart of the implementation of COSMO-ART: rock art sites located in the Kimberley area (Northern Cape, South Africa) and in the Erongo and Spitzkoppe mountain ranges (Erongo, Namibia).

In the ≠Gaingu Conservancy, the sites were selected for several reasons:

  • they are National Monuments;
  • they scientifically studied (existence of a corpus);
  • there are different kinds of ownership (private farms vs community);
  • tourism development has reach different stages (punctual vs codified visits);
  • The sites are differently perceived, by traditional authorities and farmers.

Existing contacts (HNHP) and the involvement of Namibian researchers working in the area (Martha Akawa, Kaarina Efraim, Emma Haitengi & Alma Nankela), provide excellent conditions for fieldwork there.


The Erongo Mountains (historically named ǃOeǂgabKlicklaut in Khoekhoegowab), is a mountain formation of volcanic-plutonic origin in Namibia. It is situated in Damaraland, southwest of the town of Omaruru, south of the river of the same name and east of the Damara communal area.

The Erongo Mountains host thousands of rock paintings (and some engravings), most of which are estimated to be older than 2000 years. In the year 1998 a number of landowners met to create a cross-border private nature reserve. This idea was initiated and is still supported by hunters, who use their land by sustainably utilizing the naturally occurring game. Most of the twenty large-scale farms in these mountains are now gathered within the private nature reserve Erongo Mountain Nature Sanctuary. This reserve aims at protecting the indigenous fauna and flora of the region, as well as reintroducing species that were part of the natural biodiversity historically. The creation of this reserve has led to the unprecedented situation that almost all inner fences and individual border fences have been removed, to allow the game animals freedom of movement. A large area – encompassing almost 180 000 hectares – is now almost completely “fence-free” and is therefore wholly available for the protection and conservation of the occurring animal and plant species. Within these 180 000 ha the game can move freely. There is merely a fence on the borders of the Sanctuary at places where there are no mountains, to prevent the reintroduced Black rhinoceros from leaving the area into neighbouring farmland.

Erongo Mountains have become a popular tourism destination in recent years. While previous generations of landowners made their living through livestock, most of them now work in the tourism economy. This can be nature tourism, rock art tourism or hunting tourism.


The Spitzkoppe (locally know as ≠Gaingu which means ‘the last large mountains on the way north’) stands 700m above the surrounding plains. It lies approximatively 100 km from the Atlantic Coast and is surrounded by a dry endless plain. It consists of two major hills; the big dome of Gross Spitzkoppe and the multi-domed Pondok Mountains. The Gross Spitzkoppe (or ‘Big Spitzkoppe’), also known as the “Matterhorn of Namibia” rises to an altitude of about 1728 m. The Pondoks are named after the dome-shaped huts made from branches bent over and smeared with cow dung. A wide gap separates the Spitzkoppe from this series of granite mounds. A third mountainous area, Klein Spitzkoppe (or ‘Little Spitzkoppe’), lies 15 km away to the west, standing 1584 m above sea level. Gross and Klein Spitzkoppe are ‘inselbergs’ which are defined as prominent steep-sided hills of solid rocks, rising from abruptly from a plain of low relief.

Archaeological remains (including at least thirty-seven rock art sites) indicate a pattern of hunter-gatherer settlement and subsistence that existed at the Spitzkoppe at least until the introduction of livestock in the last millennium. Rock paintings can be found at the foot of the hills among large boulders on several sheltered rock faces and under overhanging walls similar to those found at the ‘Bushman Paradise’ (the most known and visited rock art site in the area). Although the exact age of the rock paintings is not known, they are thought to coincide with a Late Ceramic Later Stone Age when nomadic pastoralism became the dominant economic activity. The remains of a short-lived German colonial outpost from the end of the last century can also be seen at the base of the Pondok.

Though the area attracts a great number of tourists (it has been known for its scenery and its climbing spots for decades), unemployment is widespread in Spitzkoppe village (about 1200 people). The limited income generating options leave hundreds of people struggling for food everyday. Income is generated through small stock farming, the informal sector and tourism. Spitzkoppe has a limited amount of land suitable for agriculture due to lack of water. As a result, the existing land suited for grazing of stock has been overgrazed. The site has a huge biodiversity with unique species of plants, birds and wildlife that is only found in these unique geological areas. At the same time it is also a very sensitive environment from under pressure from the number of visitors to the area and natural resource use.

The selected sites in the Kimberley area are all scheduled as National or Provincial Heritage and opened to the public.

A focus is made on Wildebeest Kuil, which tourism development (since 2000) associates local communities. Here ‘local’ communities are people displaced at the end of Apartheid and partly linked to San cultural groups from northern Namibia. They participate in the rephrasing of why and for whom rock art sites are a heritage, in a socio-economic context marked by very high unemployment rates and mining history.

Logistically, people studying this site and in charge of its management (Abenicia Henderson & David Morris) and involved in Heritage training at Sol Plaatje University (Lourenço Pinto & Gilbert Pwiti), which provides excellent conditions to achieve the project.


Driekopseiland is a site where engravings are found on a glacial pavement (rock smoothed by the action of glaciers) exposed on the banks of the Riet River, about 70 km from Kimberley. The site is densely populated with images. It contains more than 3,500 individual engravings, mainly pecked geometric images. The images are submerged when the rains come during the wet season, but are also left dry when the flow of the river decreases.It is estimated that the engravings may have been made in two episodes – before about 2500 years ago and after about 1000 years ago, based on archaeological and geomorphological considerations.

Debates over the authorship of the rock art at the site have been particularly heated. For some researchers, the overwhelming preponderance of geometric engravings, with very few animals and virtually no human figures, links the site to the rock art tradition of the Khoekhoe herders. Another approach, while not ruling out the hypothesis that different identity groups were responsible for some of the variability between sites, asks whether attributing variability in terms of ethnic or cultural differences overlooks degrees of complexity. It is suggested that a metaphorical understanding of place – and the possibility that different parts of the landscape may vary in ritual terms – may be more relevant to questions of variability in the rock art of the region than arguments based primarily on ethnicity and cultural difference.

Driekopseiland was declared a National Monument in 1944. It automatically became a Grade 2 Provincial Heritage Site when the National Heritage Resources were proclaimed in 1999.

A weir was built across the upper part of the site in 1942, permanently submerging an estimated 150 engravings above the weir and changing flood dynamics and siltation patterns. The latter, in turn, led to increased reed growth and an invasion of eucalyptus saplings into silted parts of the site – aided by increased flow following the construction of a canal from the Orange River to the Kalfontein Dam (on the Riet River) in 1987.


The Nooitgedacht engravings are found on a glacial andesite pavement (rock smoothed by the action of glaciers) from the Dwyka (or Karroo) Ice Age, some 300 million years ago, and more recently exposed by erosion

The engravings are mainly animal outlines and geometric designs made by pecking out the outer, darker surface of the rock. They are attributed to the ancestors of the San and Khoe peoples and were probably made within the last 1,500 years. The engravings include depictions of humans, eland, rhino, ostrich, giraffe and anteater. More abstract forms may represent bags and aprons, as well as ‘geometric’ images such as those found at other sites in the region, notably Driekopseiland.

The site was declared a National Monument in 1936 and is now a Grade 2 Provincial Heritage Site. It is open to visitors on self-guided tours.

Nooitgedacht Farm was also the site of diggings for high-grade alluvial diamond in the second half of the 20th century.

Wildebeest Kuil

Wildebeest Kuil is a rock art site located about 16 km from Kimberley on an andesitic koppie (hill). The site has long attracted the attention of rock art researchers and enthusiasts, with the earliest known copies made by George William Stow in the 1870s. Some of the engravings recorded by Stow were removed towards the end of the 19th century and exhibited at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886, and at least two are now in the British Museum. When G. and D. Fock documented the Wildebeest Kuil in 1968, they recorded 178 engravings. Since then, in-depth studies have revealed a much larger number of engravings and man-made markings.

Most of the engravings were made by pecking out the surface of the darker rock to expose the lighter rock underneath. They mainly depict large animals such as eland, elephant, rhino and hippo. Stone circles and clearings on and around the hill were already mentioned by Stow in the 1870s. One of them was excavated by Peter Beaumont in 1983 and revealed levels of Later Stone Age occupation dating to between 1800 and 1200 years ago. It is possible that the engravings were made by the occupants of the site during this period.

More recently, the site was occupied by the Khoe-San leader Kousop and his family. Kousop is famous for leading the resistance to colonial expansion in the area and was killed in 1858. A hotel was also built on the site and operated between the 1870s and the early 20th century.

Today the land belongs to the !Xun and Khwe San people of nearby Platfontein, and a rock art centre has been operating there since 2001. The site has been declared a Provincial Heritage Site and is managed by the Northern Cape Rock Art Trust in association with the McGregor Museum

  • Beaumont, P. B. and Vogel, J. C. 1989. Patterns in the age and context of rock art in the Northern Cape. South African Archaeological Bulletin 44: 73-81.
  • Morris, D. 2008. Driekopseiland rock engraving site, South Africa: a precolonial landscape lost and re-membered. In Gazin-Schwartz, A. & Smith, A. (eds) Landscapes of clearance. World Archaeological Congress, Left Coast.
  • Morris, D. and Beaumont, P. 2004. Archaeology in the Northern Cape: some key sites. Kimberley: McGregor Museum; Parkington, J. Morris, D. & Rusch, N. 2008. Karoo rock engravings. Clanwilliam: Krakadouw Trust
  • Morris, D., Ndebele, B. and Wilson, P. 2009. Who is interested in the Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre? Preliminary results from a visitor questionnaire. The Digging Stick 26 (2): 17-18.
  • Schoeman, K. 1995. New Dictionary of South African Biography edited by E.J. Verwey Vol 1 Pretoria: HSRC Publishers.
  • Weiss, L. M. 2009. Fictive Capital and Economies of Desire: A Case Study of Illegal Diamond Buying and Apartheid Landscapes in 19th century Southern Africa. PhD dissertation, Columbia University.


Wonderwerk Cave is about 200 km north-west of Kimberley. The cave is a large tunnel-like cavity measuring 140 m long, 10 to 25 m wide and 3 to 7 m high above modern ground.

There is rock art on both walls, in the partially lit entrance area. It consists of painted figures, mainly finger-painted geometries in black, white, red, orange and yellow. There are also animal figures of varying degrees of realism. No artefacts have been found below the surface of the floor during the various excavations, which suggests that it is relatively recent, or at least cannot be dated using archaeological levels.

The cave has yielded a wealth of archaeological remains. The oldest remains date back to the Early Stone Age, with 2-million-year-old levels in the entrance area attributed to the Oldowan. They raise the question of the early use of fire, as they contain burnt bones while no fire structures are visible. A series of Acheulean levels in the entrance area are characterised by the presence of handaxes and well-preserved plant and animal remains. In the cave, the Early Stone Age ends with the Fauresmith. This complex can be found at the bottom of the cave and has been dated to between 780,000 and 187,000 years ago. It has been suggested that the remains show traces of symbolic behaviour with the collection of non-utilitarian crystals, pebbles and incised stone slabs. Early Middle Stone Age levels are found at the end of the entrance. Ochre is present in these levels, but there are no traces of the symbolic behaviour typical of this period. Finally, the Later Stone Age levels in the entrance area have been extensively excavated. This occupation lasted from 12,900 to 900 years ago. It yielded 5 engraved stone slabs depicting animals and geometry, which at the time of their discovery were the oldest pieces of art mobilier in southern Africa. Pigments are present in all the Later Stone Age levels. Two stone slabs are interpreted as palettes.

In the 19th century, one of the main roads leading to the Moffat Mission in Kuruman passed right by the cave. This mission was one of the main stops for travellers heading north when the country was being colonised. At that time, the Kuruman hills were still inhabited by hunter-gatherers, and the cave was reportedly used to hide stolen livestock and to collect water. The paintings are also briefly mentioned, but without any comment on their condition. In 1906, however, a report to the Cape Town Legislative Assembly stated that the paintings had “nearly all been destroyed, visitors having scribbled over and otherwise defaced them.”

Between 1909 and 1911, the cave was occupied by the Bosman family while they built their farmhouse. They then used the cave to store farm equipment and house livestock until the 1930s. In 1921 Maria Willman, then director of the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, made three watercolour copies of some of the paintings in the cave. In the early 1940s, the Bosman family carried out extensive work in the cave to remove the guano-rich sediments and sell them as fertiliser. This work had a destructive effect on the upper archaeological levels, but led to the discovery of archaeological remains and attracted the attention of archaeologists, who quickly began excavations that continue to this day. In the 1960s, J. and I. Rudner and G. and D. Fock reported on the cave paintings in their surveys of rock art in the region. Throughout the 20th century the cave was visited by people from nearby towns and farms. They often wrote their names and dates on the walls, often above the rock art. Recreational use of the cave slowed in the 1970s when a fence was erected to control access to the cave. In 1993, the cave and surrounding public easement were declared a National Monument (reclassified as a Grade 1 National Heritage Site in 2010) and work was undertaken to regulate public access to the cave. Accommodation and a small exhibition area have been built. Inside the cave, a path has been laid out to restrict and make safe the route taken by visitors. Restoration work was carried out by the artist S Bassett to remove the graffiti that had covered the paintings. Since then, the cave has been managed by the Wonderwerk Cave Committee, which consists of the McGregor Museum, the owner of the surrounding farm and a representative of the Kuruman Municipality. A management plan was drawn up in 2008 in preparation for the upgrade in status in 2010. The cave continues to be a spiritual place for the local communities. People come here to perform rituals related to syncretic religious beliefs.

  • Beaumont, P.B. and Vogel, J.C. 1989. Patterns in the age and context of rock art in the Northern Cape. South African Archaeological Bulletin 44: 73-81.
  • Chazan, M. and Horwitz, L. K. 2009. Milestones in the development of symbolic behaviour: A case study from Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa. World Archaeology 41 (4): 521–539.
  • Chazan, M., Berna, F., Brink, J., Ecker, M., Holt, S., Porat, N., Thorp, J. L., and Horwitz, L. K. 2020. Archeology, Environment, and Chronology of the Early Middle Stone Age Component of Wonderwerk Cave. Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology 3 (3): 302-335
  • Chazan, M., Ron, H., Matmon, A., Porat, N., Goldberg, P., Yates, R., Avery, M., Sumner, A., and Horwitz, L. K. 2008. Radiometric dating of the Earlier Stone Age sequence in Excavation I at Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa: Preliminary results. Journal of Human Evolution 55 (1): 1-11.
  • Fock, D. and Fock, G. 1989. Die Felsbilder im Oranje-Vaal Becken (Vol. 3). Böhlau Verlag.
  • Malan, B. and Cooke, H. 1941. A preliminary account of the Wonderwerk Cave, Kuruman District. South African Journal of Science 37: 300-312
  • Morris, D. 2016. Revisiting the Parietal Art of Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa. African Archaeological Review 33 (3): 265-275.
  • Rudner, J. and Rudner, I. 1968. Rock-Art in the Thirstland Areas. The South African Archaeological Bulletin 23 (91): 75-89.
  • Rüther, H., Chazan, M., Schroeder, R., Neeser, R., Held, C., Walker, S. J., Matmon, A. and Horwitz, L. K. 2009. Laser scanning for conservation and research of African cultural heritage sites: The case study of Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 36 (9): 1847-1856.
  • Thackeray, A. 1981. The Holocene cultural sequence in the Northern Cape Province, South Africa. PhD dissertation, Yale University.