New ancient rock art found in Tanzania

Monday March 22 2021
stone art

The Amak'hee 4 rock art in the Swaga Swaga Game Reserve of Dodoma. PHOTO | COURTESY | JAGIELLONIAN UNIVERSITY


Tanzania's prehistoric art heritage was recently enriched by the discovery of new rock art motifs. Named the Amak'hee 4 paintings, the newly discovered rock art is located in the Swaga Swaga Game Reserve of Dodoma, in central Tanzania.

They were first discovered in 2018 by a research group from the Jagiellonian College of Poland, who were excavating the rock shelter. It is only recently that the findings have publicly been announced.

The paintings are mostly in a reddish-brown pigment, with some white areas. They portray human-like figures and animals that look like livestock and a giraffe. The slender people figures are particularly interesting for their huge, bulbous heads with tiny horns and are thought to represent stylised buffalo heads. One theory is that thematic illustrations of people and animals have ritualistic significance.

An overhang on the Amak’hee 4 rock shelter has kept the images protected from the elements over the centuries and they have survived mostly in good condition. Researchers believe the art was created by hunter-gatherer communities and the drawings are estimated to be several hundred years old. The Sandawe people who still live in this area are thought to be direct descendants of the rock art practitioners.

Landscape art dating up to tens of thousands of years is a widespread phenomenon around the world. Painted in natural pigments or carved into stone, the images vary from flora and fauna to human figures, geometric shapes and concentric forms. Scientists interpret the illustrations as impressions of daily life and the surrounding environment of prehistoric communities. In other instances, the drawings are symbolic and thought to have ceremonial significance.

Tanzania has numerous rock face paintings that have long been known to local communities but not officially documented. In her 1983 book titled Africa's Vanishing Art, paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey photographed and recreated dozens of Tanzanian rock paintings. The most famous are the Kondoa Irangi paintings, also found in the Dodoma region and now a UNESCO world heritage site.