Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Apollo 11 (ca. 25,500–23,500 B.C.) and Wonderwerk (ca. 8000 B.C.) Cave Stones

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The earliest history of rock painting and engraving arts in Africa is uncertain. Increasing archaeological research in Africa demonstrates that many sites remain to be discovered. In addition, artworks on exposed rock walls are vulnerable to damaging weather and harsh climates, and although many do survive, only tentative steps have been made toward direct dating techniques.


Much more easily datable are painted and engraved rocks that have been buried deliberately, or that have fallen off the wall and become submerged in soil. Radio-carbon dating provides an estimate of when these rocks were buried, although it is still not possible to determine how old the images were before burial.


The seven slabs of rock with traces of animal figures that were found in the Apollo 11 Cave in the Huns Mountains of southwestern Namibia have been dated with unusual precision for ancient rock art. Originally brought to the site from elsewhere, the stones were painted in charcoal, ocher, and white. Until recently, the Apollo 11 stones were the oldest known artwork of any kind from the African continent. More recent discoveries of incised ocher date back almost as far as 100,000 B.C., making Africa home to the oldest images in the world.


Incised stones found at the Wonderwerk Cave in the Northern Cape province of South Africa suggest that rock engraving has also had a long history on the continent. The stones, engraved with geometric line designs and representations of animals, have been dated to circa 8200 B.C. and are among the earliest recorded African stone engravings.


Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rock art sites in southern Africa.