Rock paintings and engravings are Africa's oldest continuously practiced art form. Depictions of elegant human figures, richly hued animals, and figures combining human and animal featurescalled therianthropes and associated with shamanismcontinue to inspire admiration for their sophistication, energy, and direct, powerful forms. The apparent universality of these images is deceptive; content and style range widely over the African continent. Nevertheless, African rock art can be divided into three broad geographical zonessouthern, central, and northern. The art of each of these zones is distinctive and easily recognizable, even to an untrained eye.
Not all rock art in these three zones is prehistoric; in some areas these arts flourished into the late nineteenth century, while in other areas rock art continues to be made today. In the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa, a number of rock paintings depict clashes between San (Bushmen) people and European colonists mounted on horses and armed with rifles. Many of the Drakensberg works use subtle polychrome shading that gives their subjects a hint of three-dimensional presence. The product of many authors, time periods, and cultures, the flowing naturalism and lively sense of movement of the best rock art attests to the conviction of masterful hands and trained eyes.