Ancient Bushmen Rock Art in South Africa

View of a guide informing about the bushman cave art.

It is thought that South Africa has the richest treasure trove of rock art in the world. This ancient legacy of the San people (Bushmen) can be viewed in national parks and nature reserves all over the country.


The San followed the seasons and migrations of game over thousands of years, living in harmony with nature and leaving no trace of their presence other than these remarkable stories on their rock shelters.

The mysterious techniques of how the paintings were created, their symbolism and also interpretation, have been the subject of much debate. What is clear is the deeply spiritual significance these paintings represent for the San. We can get a glimpse of their way of life, the animals they encountered and their shamanic activities.

Certain scenes depict what appears to be communion with the spirit world – the transitional experience brought about through trance dance and ceremony. Certain animals were special to the San, in particular the Eland, which is shown as a power figure. Half-human and half-animal figures are also drawn plus a range of shapes common to Palaeolithic art.

Pre-historic rock art in South Africa has been dated back to thousands of years ago, which means that the San people roamed the land over a great age, their ways relatively unchanged until settlers from faraway places came to stay and farm. Wilderness areas of great significance with regard to San rock art include the Cederberg and the Drakensberg Mountains.

The Cederberg Wilderness Area (about 2 hours drive from Cape Town)

There is a belt across the Western Cape which is reputed to be one of the richest sources of rock art per square kilometre and the Cederberg falls into this zone. This rugged area is famous for its spectacular rock formations and many walks, hikes and trails. It also has World Heritage Status for its rare flora. You can visit rock art sites at Stadsaal, Truitjieskraal, Southern Arch and Varkkloof, but the mountains have numerous rocky overhangs and caves where Bushmen paintings can be found.

Another Reserve where you can see Bushmen Painting is the Bushmans Kloof Nature Reserve.

The Southern Drakensberg Mountains (about 2 hours drive from Durban)

Visiting this massive mountain range is a must for any visitor to KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa. It is divided into 4 sections and each area has its own set of special qualities. Around 20 000 rock paintings have been recorded over a wide area at 500 "shelters". The Drakensberg is known for its walks, hikes and trails plus a huge array of outdoor activities and great mountain resorts. For a presentation and guided walk to a rock shelter, the Kamberg Rock Art Trail and Interpretive Centre (west of Nottingham Road) is the place to go in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, which is a World Heritage Site.

Other sites in the Drakensberg where you can see Rock Art include the Giants Castle Game Reserve and the Royal Natal National Park.