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Stone Age Artists Carved Animal Prints That Can Be Identified Today

Engravings of animal tracks and human footprints appear in numerous traditions of prehistoric rock art around the world. 

Detail of Stone Age depictions of human footprints and animal tracks. 

Stone age artists carved such detailed animal prints tens of thousands of years ago that present day local trackers can identify the species, sex and age for 90 percent of engravings.

They can even identify which leg of an animal is depicted, reveals new research.

During the Later Stone Age up to 50,000 years ago in what is now the southern African country of Namibia, rock carvers engraved their surroundings.

And a team of scientists showed the carvings including of human and animal prints to indigenous trackers.

Study leader Dr. Andreas Pastoors, of the University of Erlangen–Nuremberg in Germany, said: “Namibia’s rock faces contain numerous Stone Age depictions of animals and humans, as well as human footprints and animal tracks.

“Until now, the latter have received little attention because researchers lacked the knowledge to interpret them.”

German archaeologists together with indigenous trackers from the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in Namibia examined hundreds of the tracks in more detail and discovered surprising details.

Pastoors said: “The tracks cover a wider range of animal species than in conventional animal depictions and differentiated cultural patterns emerge in the representation of the various species.

“Engravings of animal tracks and human footprints appear in numerous traditions of prehistoric rock art around the world.

Stone Age animal and human depictions. PHOTO BY ANDREAS PASTOORS/SWNS

“Namibia is especially rich in hunter-gatherer rock art from the Later Stone Age with many well-executed engravings of animal and human tracks.

“Most research into prehistoric rock art has grouped these engravings with geometric shapes, however, leaving them badly under-researched despite being common throughout the world.”

The research team recruited the help of Indigenous tracking experts from the Kalahari desert to analyse animal and human footprints in rock art in the Doro Nawas Mountains in central Western Namibia.

He added: “Engravers also showed a clear preference for certain species and were more likely to depict adult animals than juveniles, and male footprints compared to female footprints.”

Pastoors says the new findings, published in the journal PLOS One reveal patterns that likely arise from culturally determined preferences – but the meaning of the patterns is still unknown.

The researchers propose that consulting with present-day indigenous experts may shed some light on the mystery.

They say that while indigenous knowledge has “tremendous capacity” to advance archaeological research, in this situation, the precise meaning and context of the rock art will likely remain elusive.


Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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