New perspectives in the interpretation of South African rock engravings; the Emil Holub collection in the Náprstek Museum.
Robert Burret, Jeremy Hollman
Dr Emil Holub visited the South African rock art site Gestoptefontein in 1884 and collected several examples of engraved rock art, some of which is in the collection of the Náprstek Museum in Prague. The engravings occur on a local form of pyrophyllite (similar to talc) known as wonderstone. The motifs and markings are distinctive in appearance. Apart from the usual images of anthropomorphs and zoomorphs, there are items of Khoe-San material culture, especially women’s aprons and ornaments. The ease of marking wonderstone allowed the artists to incise patterns similar to those that Khoe-San have applied to their artefacts for thousands of years. Local traditions about the wonderstone outcrops as well as Khoe-San ethnography enable researchers to link the rock art to Khoe-San rituals of initiation. These ceremonies involve the presentation of clothing and ornamentation to newly initiated women and the introduction of the neophytes to an entity known as the Water Snake. It is argued that in the past the Khoe-San linked the wonderstone outcrops in the area to the presence of the Water Snake. Rock art was made on the outcrops in order to associate Khoe-San initiates with the Water Snake. In this way communities ensured good fortune for themselves and their livestock. Holub’s removal of rock art from an ancient and important religious centre arouses mixed responses today.