National History Museum


Rock Art
Rain animal, Free State, South Africa

Rock art is visual imagery painted onto, engraved into or sculpted out of a rock surface. Rock art is an archaeological artefact that tells us about its makers – who they were, when they lived and, most importantly, what they thought. Southern Africa has many different rock art traditions made by hunter-gatherers, herders and Bantu-speaking farmers. It is important to study and manage all of these rock arts in order to better understand and respect each other and the land we live in.

South African rock art research is a sanctuary for critical thinking and also a contentious platform for exemplifying the history of South Africa as a colonial and post-colonial country from a unique perspective. The positive imaging of rock art has served to reinforce the dominant attitude of tolerance and unity in this country. Recent investigation into rock art has emphasised the spiritual symbolism inherent in the art and has succeeded in convincing the public to revere both the aesthetic and the spiritual significance of the art.

Mission Statement

The mission of the Rock Art Department (RAD) is to locate, record, interpret and manage the diverse rock engraving and rock painting traditions of southern Africa, thereby promoting the re-construction and development of southern African history.