Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

African Rock Art of the Central Zone

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Of the three zones, the art of Central Africa is the least studied and least well understood. This zone stretches from the Zambezi River to below the Sahara Desert. The art differs significantly from that to the south and to the north in that images of animals and human beings do not predominate. Instead, the art is principally comprised of finger-painted, monochromatic geometric images. Because of the finger-painted geometric images, some scholars are investigating the link between the central zone and the Khoi art of the southern zone.


There is one anomaly in the central zone—the art of the Kondoa region in central Tanzania. Although very faded with age, the art in this region is not finger painted but, like the fine-line southern African images, is also brush painted. In subject matter and style, it is more closely related to southern African San painting—and, in particular, that of Zimbabwe—than to any of the images in the central zone. It is believed that this enigmatic body of art is closely related to the Hadza and Sandawe people who, until recently, were still involved in hunting and gathering.

Geoffrey Blundell
Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Kasama Hills, Northern Province, Zambia.
Courtesy of the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
ZAM NAX84 3

A typical enigmatic finger-painted, geometric form from the central zone.
Dedza Hills, Central Region, Malawi.
Courtesy of the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
MAL NAM3

A nested U-shape form covered in tiny, white dots. The symbolism of such images is elusive.
Dedza Hills, Central Region, Malawi.
Courtesy of the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
MAL NAM11

A finger-painted quadruped in the characteristic thick white pigment of Bantu-speaker's rock art.
Kolo, Dodoma Region, Tanzania.
Courtesy of the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
TAM KOL1 103

A representational image from the Kondoa Region. The art of this area is an anomaly because in subject matter and style, it is more similar to southern African rock art than to other rock art traditions of the central zone.
Kasama Hills, Northern Province, Zambia.
Courtesy of the Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
ZAM MWE102

One of the rare representational images of the central zone. This painting of an eland is far more stylized than the depictions of eland in the southern zone.
Emerging from the central African plateau are isolated hills such as this one in Malawi. It is in these hills that both hunter-gatherer and Bantu-speaker's rock paintings are found. A view of the Masaai Step from the hills of Kondoa. In the mountains in the distance are rock paintings that are more similar to southern African rock art rather than other Central Zone painted traditions.

The shaded portion indicates the extent of the central zone of African rock art, principally comprised of finger-painted, monochromatic geometric images.