Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Windows on the Past Volume 54 Number 4, July/August 2001
by Alec Campbell and David Coulson

Africa's endangered rock art provides glimpses of vanished worlds.

Africa has the greatest variety of rock art of any continent. Found in almost every region, the rock art has a world heritage of incalculable value; it is, however, exceptionally fragile. Millennia of exposure to the sun, rain, and wind have already taken their toll on many works; others, which have survived for thousands of years, are being threatened by uncontrolled development, theft, tourism and vandalism.

Archaeology can tell us much about people, but it often falls short in telling us how ancient people viewed their world. For more than 10,000 years, the people of Africa recorded their views in rock-shelters and on rock outcroppings. Indeed, these rock images--many of which have been documented in the past six years--speak of a time when the natural environment was a potent subject and a medium for human expression.

Alec Campbell is founder and former director of Botswana's National Museum. David Coulson is chairman and founder of the Trust for African Rock Art. Their book, African Rock Art: Paintings and Engravings on Stone, has just been released by Harry N. Abrams.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America