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1IntroductionLesotho boasts an extraordinarily high concentration of hunter-gatherer rock art, including the only three sites anywhere in southern Africa for which verbatim explanations of specific images were provided by a San informant for whom painting was still a living tradition (Orpen 1874; McGranaghan et al. 2013). While considerable effort has gone into documenting its rock paintings over the last several decades, notably by the Analysis of the Rock Art Lesotho (ARAL) project led by the late Prof. Lucas Smits (Smits 1983), only a small number of them have received any detailed publication since the pioneering work of Patricia Vinnicombe (1976) more than 40 years ago. Such studies have tended to emphasise sites in the highlands of Lesotho close to the Senqu (Orange) River (e.g. Challis et al. 2008, 2013), only rarely addressing examples from Lesotho’s more accessible and more densely populated western lowlands (e.g. Loubser & Brink 1992). Across the country and the last four decades major infrastructural projects have provided increasing opportunities for archaeological fieldwork aimed at mitigating their damage to Lesotho’s cultural heritage (e.g. Smits 1992; Mitchell et al. 1994; Kaplan & Mitchell 2012; Forssman et al. 2020). Here, we report on the rock art component of one such project, which was undertaken as part of a wider programme of cultural heritage management in the Metolong Dam catchment of the Phuthiatsana River between 2008 and 2012.Our work at Metolong has been pivotal in taking forward the direct dating of hunter-gatherer rock art in southern Africa and in gaining detailed information on the pigments employed to produce it and the treatments to which they were subjected (Bonneau et al. 2014, 2017, 2022). Details of the rock painting traditions present there, however, have not previously been published and we use this paper to repair that omission, drawing attention to the presence not only of San rock art, but also of paintings associated with other communities, both past and contemporary. At the same time, we discuss the methodology we employed to underline the importance of similarly thorough and comprehensive approaches becoming standard practice in future cultural resource management (CRM) projects across southern Africa.2The Metolong Catchment and the MCRM ProjectBeginning in January 2014 the Metolong Dam flooded a 14-km-long stretch of Lesotho’s Phuthiatsana River between the villages of Metolong and Ha Monamoleli. The Phuthiatsana itself is an important west-flowing tributary of the Caledon River, which today defines Lesotho’s western boundary with South Africa (Fig. 1). The area directly affected by the dam’s impoundment was part of a steep-sided gorge in the Clarens Sandstone Formation of the Karoo Supergroup and contained numerous rock shelters and overhangs (Fig. 2). Prior fieldwork by the ARAL Project in 1980 (Smits 1983) showed that many of these locations preserved rock paintings, while excavations and surveys undertaken in 1989 and 1990 established the presence of sites with long histories of occupation by both Middle and Later Stone Age (LSA) hunter-gatherers (Mitchell & Steinberg 1992; Mitchell 1993, 1994). On behalf of the Metolong Authority, the parastatal body charged with building the dam, the Metolong Cultural Resource Management (MCRM) Project was constituted in 2008 with Mitchell as Senior Consultant and Arthur as Principal Investigator in charge of all work on the ground and later post-excavation analysis. In 2008–2009 a preliminary (Phase 1) survey of surviving tangible cultural heritage in the areas affected by the dam located 29 separate rock art sites, equating to a mean density of approximately one site per 500 m along the reservoir’s eventual length or of about ten sites per square kilometre allowing for the gorge-like nature of the Phuthiatsana and its key tributaries (Fig. 3). Further fieldwork to mitigate the impact of the dam’s construction followed from October 2009 to August 2010 and continued in shorter field seasons in each of the following four years. Phase 2 of our project involved substantial excavations, principally focused on the rock shelter sites of Ha Makotoko (ARAL site 175) and Ntloana Tšoana (ARAL site 180), documentation of surface sites and possible lithic raw material outcrops, geoarchaeological investigations, archival work, oral history interviews and surveys of the area’s living heritage (Arthur & Mitchell 2009a, b, 2010; Gill & Nthoana 2010; Mitchell & Arthur 2010, 2012a, b, 2014; Nic Eoin & King 2013; Roberts et al. 2013; King & Nic Eoin 2014; King et al. 2014; Nic Eoin 2015; Pargeter 2016; Arthur 2018, 2022; Pargeter & Hampson 2019; Mathieson et al. 2020). Considerable efforts were also devoted to training local staff and students as part of building capacity for Lesotho’s archaeological infrastructure (Arthur et al. 2011; Arthur & Mitchell 2012; King & Arthur 2014; King et al. 2020). Analysis of some components of the material excavated continues.Figure 1Map of the Metolong Dam’s catchment showing the location of the dam wall and of archaeological sites mentioned in the text. Except for RS 3, all numbers refer to site designations given by the ARAL project (Smits 1983). Note that at this scale, ARAL 164a and ARAL 170a cannot be shown separately. They are located immediately next to ARAL 164 and ARAL 170 respectively.Map of the Metolong Dam’s catchment showing the location of the dam wall and of archaeological sites mentioned in the text. Except for RS 3, all numbers refer to site designations given by the ARAL project (Smits 1983). Note that at this scale, ARAL 164a and ARAL 170a cannot be shown separately. They are located immediately next to ARAL 164 and ARAL 170 respectively.Figure 2A view of part of the Metolong Dam catchment looking upstream along the Phuthiatsana River (before it was flooded). ARAL 175 (Ha Makotoko) is partially visible on the far bank of the river in the centre of the photograph and was by far the largest rock shelter in the area that has since been drowned.A view of part of the Metolong Dam catchment looking upstream along the Phuthiatsana River (before it was flooded). ARAL 175 (Ha Makotoko) is partially visible on the far bank of the river in the centre of the photograph and was by far the largest rock shelter in the area that has since been drowned.Photography by Jessica MeyersFigure 3A view across the Phuthiatsana Valley from within ARAL 171A view across the Phuthiatsana Valley from within ARAL 171Photography by Jessica Meyers3MethodologyTwenty-eight of our 29 sites had previously been identified by the ARAL Project, which recorded them using colour slide transparencies and written fieldnotes and sketches. These records now form part of the African Rock Art Digital Archive at the Rock Art Research Institute (RARI), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (www.sarada.co.za). For consistency between the different sets of records, we retained the original ARAL site numbers. One further rock art site was found for the first time during our Phase 1 survey and named RS 3 (RS 1 and 2 being newly found rock shelters that did not have paintings). Given the length of time that the MCRM team spent living and working in the Metolong catchment and the thoroughness of our surveys we are confident that we found and recorded all of the area’s surviving rock art sites.All the sites were recorded following the same standard procedure. Standardised Metolong Rockshelter Recording Sheets were used to record accurate measurements for each of them, including GPS location and details of any other archaeological remains present. Photographs were taken using a Canon EOS-1D digital camera and tripod by professional photographer Jessica Meyer, then associated with the South African Centre for Photography. For some situations that were more difficult to reach a smaller Canon G9 digital camera was used instead. Contextual shots were also taken for each panel and each site, including 360° panoramas to help locate sites within the broader landscape. Individual Metolong Photography Sheets were filled out for each site describing the photographic procedures followed, including the equipment used, the conditions in which photographs were taken, the position of the camera, and the sequence of photography. All previously unrecorded rock art was sketched, measured, and described in words on a Metolong (Rock Art) Panel Sheet. Three painted rock shelters were excavated (Arthur et al. 2011), but no direct connection could be established between their deposits and the paintings.Notes, hand-drawn sketches, diagrams, and printed colour photographs from the ARAL archive were compared directly with the existing rock paintings at each site. Not all the photographs could be taken to site as the ARAL team sometimes took up to 300 colour transparencies for a single site. However, in all cases the ARAL sketches were annotated on site and assessments made as to the percentage and degree of deterioration that had taken place between 1980 and 2008. This assessment was carried out without the use of microscopes and chemical determination and was intended as a base-line study for more detailed characterisation. A comprehensive inventory of the rock art and its condition was then produced and used as a decision-making tool for designing the second phase of our mitigation work, which included tracing, sampling, removal of selected panels, and recommendations for their storage and conservation as well as for the general protection of Lesotho’s rock art (Arthur & Mitchell 2009b). Details of the procedures followed in recording the art and assessing significance are provided elsewhere (Arthur et al. 2021).Subsequently, the first two authors recorded all 29 sites in detail in the course of three visits between August 2010 and January 2011, using procedures developed at RARI and now applied across southern Africa and beyond (Whitley 2005). Recording involved tracing all visible surviving images using single matte, archival quality polyester drafting film and 0.3 mm HB clutch pencils. The surface of the film in contact with the paintings is smooth and non-abrasive (Loubser & den Hoed 1991) and is both chemically and dimensionally stable. Further digital photographs were taken to ensure that faded imagery, fine details, and superpositional relationships were all adequately documented. These photographs and the tracings made are currently stored at RARI where digital redrawings of the latter were produced after fieldwork was completed. Knowing that almost all the sites we recorded were destined to be inundated and destroyed, we subsequently took advantage of this to undertake an extensive programme of pigment sampling for physico-chemical analysis, including radiocarbon dating (Bonneau et al. 2014, 2017, 2022). A report on our efforts to remove selected rock art panels from their original contexts for safeguarding and eventual display has been prepared for publication elsewhere (Arthur et al. 2021).Table 1 provides details of the main rock art panels at the sites we recorded at Metolong (including noting those panels that were removed before inundation) and attributes them to one of four painting traditions. In addition to the fine-line art that dominates the corpus as a whole and can be attributed to San hunter-gatherers and a very small number of images that could not readily be classified into any of the groups we identified (‘Other’), three further categories of images were present: finger-painted ‘contact’ period human figures (‘Type 3’); finger-painted or charcoal-drawn horses and geometric designs (‘Basotho’); and non-representational ochre smears and handprints (‘Ochre’) that are also likely to be of Basotho origin. The last two forms of rock art have not previously been formally described. We discuss each tradition in turn, illustrating our discussion principally with tracing-based drawings rather than photographs for enhanced clarity.Table 1Metolong Dam Catchment rock art sites: summary of main panels recorded (content that is bolded indicates those panels that were removed for safeguarding prior to the impoundment of the reservoir)Metolong Dam Catchment rock art sites: summary of main panels recorded (content that is bolded indicates those panels that were removed for safeguarding prior to the impoundment of the reservoir)Metolong Dam Catchment rock art sites: summary of main panels recorded (content that is bolded indicates those panels that were removed for safeguarding prior to the impoundment of the reservoir)Metolong Dam Catchment rock art sites: summary of main panels recorded (content that is bolded indicates those panels that were removed for safeguarding prior to the impoundment of the reservoir)Metolong Dam Catchment rock art sites: summary of main panels recorded (content that is bolded indicates those panels that were removed for safeguarding prior to the impoundment of the reservoir)4Fine-Line ImageryFine-line images occur at 26 of the 29 rock art sites in the Metolong catchment, the exceptions being ARAL 164, ARAL 164a, and ARAL 170a. They range from being extremely well preserved to being very faded and flaked, with some being painted in a somewhat rougher and less detailed manner than others. Equally, some shelters have many individual paintings in multiple panels, whereas others have only a few individual paintings. Our discussion focuses on the six most significant categories of imagery present, beginning with antelope. This category is dominated by images of eland (Tragelaphus oryx), several of which display the sort of attention to detail for which San paintings are well known, including the use of the shaded polychrome technique (Fig. 4b), the employment of perspective by depicting the animal as facing toward the viewer (Fig. 4d), and the representation of postures linked to specific behaviours, such as scenting the air for danger (Fig. 4c). Two other antelope taxa are represented at Metolong, rhebuck (Pelea capreolus/Redunca fulvorufula) and hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus). Like eland, both are documented in the archaeozoological record for the area and occurred in the wider Caledon Valley in the early nineteenth century. Slightly unusual, however, is the depiction of a group of three hartebeest at ARAL 175 (Ha Makotoko), images that are also striking in showing them with their legs extended (Fig. 5), as if running, in contrast to the more inactive, static pose in which this species is more typically painted in the Maloti-Drakensberg region (Vinnicombe 1976: 203).Figure 4Paintings of eland from the Metolong catchment: a) polychrome image at ARAL 172; b) shaded polychrome at ARAL 175; c) group of shaded polychromes at ARAL 254. Note that the one on the left has its head raised if scenting the wind; d) shaded polychrome at ARAL 258 turning to face the viewer; e) group of shaded polychromes at ARAL 169; f) bichrome at ARAL 180 (photography by Jessica Meyers). The images from ARAL 172, 175, and 254 were subsequently removed for safe-keeping. Carbon black from one of the front hooves of the eland image at ARAL 172 is dated to 1700 ± 310 BP (OxA-X-2479-37).Paintings of eland from the Metolong catchment: a) polychrome image at ARAL 172; b) shaded polychrome at ARAL 175; c) group of shaded polychromes at ARAL 254. Note that the one on the left has its head raised if scenting the wind; d) shaded polychrome at ARAL 258 turning to face the viewer; e) group of shaded polychromes at ARAL 169; f) bichrome at ARAL 180 (photography by Jessica Meyers). The images from ARAL 172, 175, and 254 were subsequently removed for safe-keeping. Carbon black from one of the front hooves of the eland image at ARAL 172 is dated to 1700 ± 310 BP (OxA-X-2479-37).Figure 5Drawing from a tracing of human figures and therianthropes with ‘thin red lines’ at ARAL 172Drawing from a tracing of human figures and therianthropes with ‘thin red lines’ at ARAL 172Images traced by Nthabiseng Mokoena and later redrawn by Wendy VoorveltHuman figures are the most common fine-line images at Metolong, as is the case throughout the Maloti- Drakensberg region. A panel at ARAL 172 (Fig. 6) is noteworthy for showing several individuals in the bending-forward posture with knees bent that is associated with the healing dance through which San medicine people typically gain access to altered states of consciousness (Lewis-Williams 1981: 88). Two of these figures also display a combination of antelope heads with human bodies, referencing the ability of shamans to take on animal potency in order to transcend the boundary between the everyday world and that of the spirits (Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2004a: 166–175). One of them, along with another bending-forward human figure, wield what appear to be sticks, perhaps of the kind used to support a person’s weight while dancing (Lewis-Williams 1981: 88; Lewis-Williams & Dowson 1999: 40). Two more have vertical lines emanating from the top of their heads, a feature that Lewis-Williams & Dowson (1999: 74–75) suggest may relate to the tingling sensation experienced by some laboratory subjects in altered states of consciousness and to San beliefs that a trancer’s spirit leaves his body through a ‘hole’ in the top of the head. Further trance-related imagery is evident at other sites, for example ARAL 254, where a large and detailed panel of human figures includes several postures significant of trance, among them bending forward from the waist, holding the arms back behind one, bleeding from the nose, and equipment carried or worn specifically in a trance dance context such as flywhisks and dance rattles tied around the ankles (Fig. 7; Lewis-Williams 1981: 78, 81, 88). We note in passing that the only known first-hand description of a trance dance among southern San by a nineteenth-century Western observer comes from the general area of the Caledon Valley to which Metolong belongs (Arbousset & Daumas 1846: 246–247).Figure 6Drawing from a tracing of the three hartebeest figures at ARAL 175Drawing from a tracing of the three hartebeest figures at ARAL 175Images traced by Nthabiseng Mokoena and later redrawn by Wendy VoorveltFigure 7The panel of human figures at ARAL 254 depicts several distinctive postures. Note the more recent images of horses and riders at bottom rightThe panel of human figures at ARAL 254 depicts several distinctive postures. Note the more recent images of horses and riders at bottom rightImages traced by Lelia Henry, Lara Mallen, and Lariss a Snow and later redrawn by Wendy Voorvelt. Photograph right by Jessica MeyersAnother kind of equipment is represented at ARAL 252. At this site, human figures are associated with shields, spears, and knobkerries (i.e. wooden sticks with large round heads used as clubs). All are depicted in black. While these images clearly belong to the fine-line, brush-painted tradition associated with the San, the weaponry itself is associated with Bantu-speaking agropastoralists and evokes the many centuries of interaction between the two (Jolly 1995, 1996). As previously discussed by Loubser & Laurens (1994), this kind of equipment appears to have been widely incorporated into San art in the Caledon Valley, on some occasions in contexts that clearly reference altered states of consciousness and shamanistic activity. San beliefs about the persistence of an animal’s qualities in artefacts made from it suggest that the shields themselves may have been understood as supernaturally powerful given the likely use of cowhide to make them and the symbolic equations frequently made between cattle and eland (Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2004a: 214).Three other classes of animals merit attention. ARAL 175 retains the image of a large feline, identifiable as such from the length and shape of its tail and the way in which paws have been depicted instead of hooves (Fig. 8). For many San, large cats are thought to be ‘angry’, potentially dangerous animals that are associated with darkness and merit the use of appropriate respect words (Bleek & Lloyd 1911: 183; Marshall 1969: 352). They are also strongly associated with shamanic transformations as when healers enter trance their hair is said to stand on end and lion hair to grow on their bodies (Bleek 1935: 2, 23). If too much supernatural potency builds up inside and the shaman loses control of it then he or she may turn into a feline and behave in a dangerous or otherwise anti-social way (Lewis-Williams 1981: 97). In the case of the scene at ARAL 175, the feline is painted as if pursuing (but perhaps also being pursued by) several human figures to its right, some of whom carry bows and arrows. The likelihood that these images represent an interaction in the spirit realm is reinforced by the presence of numerous tiny (<1 mm) red dots scattered throughout the scene of a kind that Dowson (1989) has elsewhere interpreted as representing supernatural potency.Figure 8Drawing from a tracing of a large feline possibly in confrontation with multiple human figures at ARAL 175Drawing from a tracing of a large feline possibly in confrontation with multiple human figures at ARAL 175Image traced by Lara Mallen and later redrawn by Wendy VoorveltARAL 258, on the other hand, depicts a much less commonly painted animal, the ostrich (Struthio camelus). Eleven ostriches are shown, all in a monochrome white pigment (Fig. 9). What appear to be footprints are also present. Depictions of animal tracks are relatively common in southern African rock art, but their association with ostriches is unusual, though reported by Hollmann (2001) from the Western Cape Province of South Africa. We are, however, uncertain as to which species they may belong and note that while some marks are clearly U-shaped others have a clear V-shape to them. The former recall the hooves of zebra, which would imply movement across the panel in a downward/right-to-left direction. However, if this is so then the presence of the V-shaped marks does not entirely make sense, even allowing for the fact that the precise details of an animal’s spoor will vary depending on the substrate into which it is imprinted. Ostrich tracks, on the other hand, are distinctively V-shaped, with the longer and shorter toes forming the two sides of the ‘V’. The close proximity of the tracks to the ostrich images and the fact that they are executed in the same white pigment might thus encourage their identification as ostrich spoor, although this, in turn, leaves the U-shaped marks unexplained. Lacking further data that could help resolve this conundrum, a third possibility might then be that both animals are being referenced. In support of this we note reports of their mutualistic association in the wild based on the zebra’s sharp senses of smell and hearing and the ostrich’s keen eyesight allowing them to benefit from each other’s predator alarms (Dean 2000).Figure 9Drawing from a tracing of a section of the ostrich panel at ARAL 258 showing details of plumage and spoor with a photograph of the complete panel aboveDrawing from a tracing of a section of the ostrich panel at ARAL 258 showing details of plumage and spoor with a photograph of the complete panel aboveImage traced by Lara Mallen and later redrawn by Nthabiseng Mokoena. Photograph by Jessica MeyersOstriches, as well as their eggshell and the beads made from it, have a rich set of associations in San thought (Hollmann 2001; Mitchell & Stewart in press). These associations include their ability to return from the dead by remaking each part of their body (Bleek & Lloyd 1911: 139), a clear parallel with the ability of shamans to return from the ‘death’ of trance (cf. Katz 1982: 99–100). The chests of the ostriches at ARAL 258 are notably large and swollen, suggesting an emphasis on their strength and power, and in three cases feathers are shown standing erect on their backs and spread out in a fan shape. Depictions such as this reference the threat display performed by male ostriches prior to fighting or copulation and thus indicate dangerous concentrations of supernatural potency (Hollmann 2001).Regardless of the precise identification of the tracks present at ARAL 258, aspects of Ju/hoãn men’s first kill rituals suggest that an animal’s spoor is thought to be linked to it in such a way that manipulating the tracks is equivalent to manipulating the animal’s behaviour (Lewis-Williams 1981: 61). This link between spoor and the animal that made it forms part of the observances that hunters must follow during a hunt if the latter is to be successful and was also recorded among nineteenth-century /Xam (Bleek 1932: 237). Other elements of the /Xam ethnographic texts show that spoor was considered to have a scent of its own and that the ability to follow that scent was attributed to transformed shamans, including lions. Although they discuss lions and eland, rather than ostriches or zebras, it seems that these beliefs were general rather than specific to just two species. The association would have been particularly relevant to shamans of the game tasked with influencing the movements of animals, not least since shamans were attributed a vastly enhanced sense of smell (Bleek 1935: 31). In sum, the panel at ARAL 258, which has been analysed in further detail by our colleague Nthabiseng Mokoena (2012), thus brings together an unusual set of references that relate simultaneously to the supernatural control of animals and of potentially dangerous levels of supernatural potency, as referenced by the aggressive male ostriches that it contains.The final aspect of the fine-line imagery at Metolong to which we draw attention is the presence of snakes. Three partial snakes were identified during the tracing process at ARAL 176, ARAL 180, and ARAL 252 respectively, complementing another example previously recognised at ARAL 254 (Fig. 10). San cosmologies record an abundance of references to the significance of snakes. The /Xam teachers of Bleek and Lloyd, for instance, explicitly linked cobras (probably Naja nivea) and puffadders (Bitis arietans) to the Rain and the second of these to rainbows and the sky more generally (Bleek 1933: 303; Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2004b: 210). Such connections between snakes and rain are paralleled in the famous description of the rain-making scene at Sehonghong in eastern Lesotho given by Qing to Joseph Orpen in 1873 (McGranaghan et al. 2013: 163; cf. Challis et al. 2013). These associations also extend to water more generally, not least because of the ability of all snakes to swim. Qing’s testimony further suggests that snakes could control water levels (McGranaghan et al. 2013: 156). Moreover, some Khoe-San groups, including those of /Xam descent, believe that supernaturally powerful snakes associated with rain live in permanent bodies of water such as pools and rivers and that they exercise control over other meteorological phenomena like wind and lightning (Hoff 1997).Figure 10Drawing from a tracing of the supernatural snake at ARAL 254, showing protrusions from the mouth area and possible reinsDrawing from a tracing of the supernatural snake at ARAL 254, showing protrusions from the mouth area and possible reinsImage traced by Larissa Snow and later redrawn by Wendy VoorveltSkinner (2021) has recently discussed the presence of these and similar ideas about river snakes (linoha-ea-metsi) among Sotho-speaking communities in highland Lesotho, a topic previously considered by Rakotosoane (2008) and Snow (2011). At the sub-continental level, there is clearly a widely shared overlap in beliefs about supernatural snakes that inhabit water, can control how much of it is present, have links to rain and other aspects of the weather, and are able to act as messengers or mediators between the different realms of the cosmos. Such snakes can also transform themselves physically and may variously have the horns or ears of antelope, the heads of antelope or horses, or tusks (Mallen 2005). At ARAL 254 it seems extremely likely that the set of double lines linking the back of the snake’s neck with the front of its head is intended to represent reins. This is reinforced by the shape of the snake’s ears, which appear to be horse-like, suggesting that the snake itself is horse-headed and thus an example of a noha ea metsi (Rakotosoane 2008). Given that horses were unknown in Lesotho before the 1820s, this would suggest that the painting itself is relatively late in date, which accords well with the manner of its depiction: brush-painted, but in a much cruder fashion than is typical of most fine-line rock art. The conflation of horse and snake that we may be seeing here is also significant given the close practical and symbolic relationship between horses and the inhabitants of the Metolong area today and in the recent past (see further below). Regardless of the directionality, timing or extent to which beliefs may have been borrowed, San, Khoe and Sotho conceptions of water snakes are sufficiently similar to allow for the possibility that they would have been readily recognised and could thus have provided a means of facilitating interactions between different groups of people (cf. Challis 2012), not least because of the importance of rain and its control for hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and farmers alike (cf. Campbell 1987; Dowson 1994).5Type 3 ImagesARAL 254 also contained a very unusual pair of human images, both of which are finger-painted (Fig. 11). One is shown wearing a European style hat, the other a dress and holding a long thin line that may represent a stick. The former figure is shown with his hands on his hips, a posture that has previously been interpreted as an aggressive stance associated with outsiders, particularly Europeans (Ouzman 2005: 104). Both paintings were made with a watery orange pigment and are superimposed on two fine-line depictions of eland. A corpus of art formally resembling these two images has been designated ‘Type 3’ and has been identified at 12 sites in the northern part of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, the area known in colonial times as Nomansland (Mallen 2008). It has subsequently been argued to form an intermediate stage in a progression whereby non-San artists in the Nomansland area moved from initially emulating San techniques and imagery toward developing a mature tradition that used a wide range of colours to depict horses, riders, humans, indeterminate quadrupeds, and geometric motifs, mostly using finger-painting (Blundell 2021).Figure 11Type 3 imagery at ARAL 254: left) drawing from tracing (with underlying imagery omitted); right) photographType 3 imagery at ARAL 254: left) drawing from tracing (with underlying imagery omitted); right) photographImages traced by Lara Mallen and Nthabiseng Mokoena and later redrawn by Wendy Voorvelt6Stylised Horses and Associated Abstract Images (Basotho)Eight of the sites in the Metolong catchment have an unusual set of painted images not previously described in the southern African rock art literature. They take the form of H-shaped depictions of horses, sometimes with reins and riders, that are frequently associated with geometric imagery in the form of concentric squares and long rows of parallel (generally vertical) lines (Fig. 12). The H-shape comprises two legs at the bottom with the torso as the horizontal part of the figure and the head and tail sticking up at either end at the top. These images are depicted in a rough and expedient manner that almost exclusively used either black paint or dry charcoal. Both the paint and the charcoal have a coarser texture and appear very different from the media used for the fine-line paintings. Categorised as ‘Other’ in Table 1 because it is not entirely clear to us that they too are of Basotho origin, the horse images present at ARAL 164 were rendered in greater detail and more naturalistically in a white pigment that was applied with a thick brush.Figure 12Examples of horse imagery in the Metolong catchment: a) horses and parallel lines at ARAL 251; b) a horse and rider with reins at ARAL 166; c) horses at ARAL 254; d) white-painted horses at ARAL 164Examples of horse imagery in the Metolong catchment: a) horses and parallel lines at ARAL 251; b) a horse and rider with reins at ARAL 166; c) horses at ARAL 254; d) white-painted horses at ARAL 164Images traced by Lara Mallen, Nthabiseng Mokoena, and Tom Wilson and later redrawn by Wendy Voorvelt. Photographs in A–C by Jessica Meyer with image editing by Charles Arthur. Photograph d courtesy of the ARAL ArchiveA panel at ARAL 252 contains the most extensive and best-preserved example of horses and associated abstract images at Metolong (Fig. 13). Here, at least four rows of vertical lines, the longest of which measures over 3 m in length, are visible. Above the lines are several animals, including at least one snake, a prominent H-shaped horse rendered in white, and some other possible horses. The lines themselves are positioned above a row of fine-line figures depicting men with shields and spears. A remarkably similar content and arrangement is found nearby at ARAL 251 (Fateng Tsa Pholo) as well as at a third site, ARAL 172, several kilometres downstream. The rows of lines at ARAL 252 and ARAL 172 are both evident in the ARAL photographs taken in 1980, implying that they were at least 28 years old when we recorded them.Figure 13A partial view of ARAL 252, with multiple rows of vertical black lines clearly visible on the rock face and shown close-up in the insetA partial view of ARAL 252, with multiple rows of vertical black lines clearly visible on the rock face and shown close-up in the insetPhotographs by Jessica Meyers assisted by Pulane Nthunya with image editing by Charles ArthurRather than the fine details of any specific image having been important, it seems as if it was the overall impression of horses and associated geometric designs that this art was intended to highlight. In the case of ARAL 252, at least, this conclusion is strengthened by the fact that the images are visible from several metres away, suggesting that they may have been painted to help frame performative action inside the shelter itself (Fig. 13). The choice of different pigments, manner of depiction, and subject matter all suggest authorship by a group that used different conventions than those responsible for the fine-line paintings at Metolong. Local informants indicated that both ARAL 172 and ARAL 252 were used by Basotho initiation schools, suggesting that this art might thus be related to rites of passage, although we have no definite information to that effect. At both these sites, as well as at ARAL 251, its makers were careful not to paint over fine-line images, implying respect for the older San paintings present, although one of the panels (H) at ARAL 252 includes a fourth, faded row of black vertical lines in a different pigment that includes some longer red lines and appears to be much older than the more prominent charcoal ones. The relationship between this kind of image and the later art thus poses interesting questions about continuity in tradition, a subject that we discuss further below.7Ochre SmearsPreviously undescribed smears of red ochre that seem to have been applied to the rockface using hands and fingers are present at five sites in the Metolong area, namely ARAL 170a, ARAL 173, ARAL 174, ARAL 250, and ARAL 255, in some cases on parts of the rock surface beyond the main panels recorded in Table 1 (Fig. 14). At the last two sites handprints are also present, both made in the same bright red pigment. An initiation instructor known to MCRM team member Pulane Nthunya confirmed that ARAL 250 is used by male initiation schools and that the red marks there, including the handprint, were left by the initiates. Similar red finger dots have been identified as markings by Sotho and Xhosa initiates at Mohapi’s Shelter on the Mehloding Heritage Trail near Matatiele in the Eastern Cape Province (Ntate ‘Tsepho Lesholu, pers. comm.). Although some details of Basotho male initiation schools remain secret, they often involve new initiates spending time in rock shelters prior to returning to their villages at which point they are completely covered from head to toe in a mixture of red ochre and fat (Ashton 1952: 52–53; Riep 2013).Figure 14Ochre smears on the ceiling at ARAL 173Ochre smears on the ceiling at ARAL 173Photograph by Lara MallenIn the course of our fieldwork it became evident that the link between initiation and rock shelters containing rock art also extends to female initiation, which likewise involves the use of red ochre as body paint (Riep 2013). Three sites – ARAL 250, ARAL 251, and ARAL 252 – were used by female initiates as places in which to rest and sing special songs related to their initiation during our 2010–2011 field seasons. We are unclear as to what, if any, relationship may exist between the choice of these particular sites and the painted imagery that they contain but suggest that this would be a potentially productive avenue for future research. Fine-line images are common to all three sites, with remnants of eland and human figures at ARAL 250, multiple human figures (some of them clapping) and remnant animals (including possibly one feline) at ARAL 251, and a much larger number of people and eland, as well as many shields and some therianthropic figures, at ARAL 252. Additionally, charcoal figures occur at ARAL 250, while, as described above, ARAL 252 also preserves several horses or possible horses and numerous vertical lines of Basotho origin.8Discussion and ConclusionTwelve radiocarbon dates have been obtained from black pigment samples in the rock art of Metolong (Table 2; Bonneau et al. 2017). Four must be treated with caution since they were obtained on ≤100 µg of carbon. Two of these (both from ARAL 252) have unacceptably large errors (±1000 or 2000 years), while that from ARAL 172 (OxA-X-2479-37, 1700 ± 310 BP) and a third date from ARAL 252 (OxA-X-2479-36, 2640 ± 390 BP) also possess unhelpfully large standard deviations but nevertheless point to the images concerned having been executed before the end of the first millennium AD. The remaining eight dates come from just three sites. The oldest (from ARAL 171) is 1210 ± 90 BP (OxA-X-2470-50), which calibrates to between cal. AD 675 and 1024 at two-sigma using the new SHCal 20 calibration curve and OxCal 4.4. However, as this result was obtained on charcoal from potentially long-lived trees – rather than short-lived carbon black – it can only be considered a maximum age (Bonneau et al. 2017: SOM). Of the remaining dates for fine-line imagery, four come from ARAL 175 (OxA-X-2479-49, OxA-X-2470-48, OxA-X-2495-27, and OxA-X-2555-40) and one from ARAL 249 (OxA-X-2555-24). All fall within the second millennium AD, as does a single date – also from ARAL 175 – for a human figure assigned to the Basotho tradition (OxA-X-2555-26). Significantly, perhaps, this concentration within the last 1000 years fits with the remainder of the archaeological evidence for the Metolong catchment, for which we have two dates from excavated contexts: one of 980 ± 20 BP (UGAMS-11593, cal. AD 1032–1156) from near the base of the sequence at Litsoetse (ARAL 172) and one of 650 ± 20 BP (UGAMS-8973, cal. AD 1305–1401) associated with a brief visit involving butchery of a large ungulate at Ntloana Tšoana (ARAL 180). As we discuss elsewhere (Arthur et al. 2018), this pattern is consistent with typological inferences drawn from surface lithic assemblages at other sites at Metolong and more widely in the Phuthiatsana Valley, where other late Holocene radiocarbon dates also fall exclusively in the last millennium (Mitchell 1994).Table 2Radiocarbon dates obtained from painted images in the Metolong Dam catchment (Bonneau et al. 2017)Radiocarbon dates obtained from painted images in the Metolong Dam catchment (Bonneau et al. 2017)Radiocarbon dates obtained from painted images in the Metolong Dam catchment (Bonneau et al. 2017)We can marry these suggestions with two other datum points, namely the antiquity of agropastoralist settlement in the wider region and the duration of San presence after farmers arrived. Farming communities likely established themselves at the northern end of the Caledon Valley as much as 600 years ago (Mitchell & Whitelaw 2005: 227), considerably earlier than the initial date for settlement of South Africa’s highveld advanced by Vogel & Fuls (1999). Hunter-gatherer groups, on the other hand, probably persisted along the Phuthiatsana into the mid-nineteenth century, with no definitive evidence of Sotho villages being established in the Metolong area before 1850 except possibly for Thotapeli, which lies close to ARAL 250, 251, and 252 (Gill & Nthoana 2010; cf. King et al. 2014; Fig. 1). We are therefore looking at a window of almost half a millennium in which farmers and hunter-gatherers could have interacted with each other, shared understandings of the world, and exchanged both ideas and material culture. Likely understood as items that retained the supernatural potency associated with the animals (cattle) from which they were made, this is probably the context in which we should locate the incorporation of images of shields into the fine-line tradition (Loubser & Laurens 1994). Along with a degree of intermarriage (and possibly of violence) it is also the context in which we should place the choice to paint other warfare-related items (spears and knobkerries; King 2019: 174) and the elaboration of a common set of beliefs regarding, among other things, snakes, rain, and bodies of water (Loubser & Laurens 1994; Jolly 1995, 1996; Challis 2012; Skinner 2021).Metolong’s rock art is, however, far from consisting only of fine-line paintings, even though several of these are noteworthy for referencing ideas about supernatural potency, transformation, and the control of animals that are in some cases unusual (the ostriches and possible spoor at ARAL 258), in others more frequently depicted in the wider Maloti-Drakensberg region (the feline-human confrontation at ARAL 175).We begin our discussion of these other ‘rock arts of Metolong’ with the Type 3 images present at ARAL 254. Their identification represents the first time that they have been detected beyond the Eastern Cape where they were first recognised in the mountains of the Maclear area as comprising mostly human figures along with some quadrupeds that are predominantly painted in a thick monochrome red pigment using fingers or a rough brush (Mallen 2008: 34–42). Subsequently, Henry (2010) described similar paintings from lower-lying areas between Maclear and Tsolo in which horses and riders dominate. These images were executed in a wider variety of colours but a similar style in either thick, coarse paint or a thin, watery, and powdery one. The presence of horses and European-style clothing in the Type 3 art points to it being of nineteenth-century date, although its makers clearly drew on fine-line art with respect to the techniques used, the subject matter depicted, and the placement of images within particular sites (Mallen 2008). This suggests that they had some knowledge of the pre-existing San art but had already begun to develop a clear sense of their own identity, both in their choice of imagery (unlike the emphasis on eland in the arguably older Type 2 art of the Nomansland area) and in sometimes appropriating the spaces previously used for San paintings (Blundell 2021). Further work is now required to establish how much more widely Type 3 art may occur in Lesotho (and the broader Caledon Valley) and whether it is possible to identify links to surviving cultural beliefs and practices. The region’s complex nineteenth-century history provides an appropriate context for the connections between lowland Lesotho and the northeastern Eastern Cape at which the ARAL 254 images hint (cf. King 2019).Our work at Metolong has identified two additional painting traditions, both linked to the area’s present inhabitants and their immediate ancestors. The ochre smears found at five sites can be explicitly linked to ongoing male initiation rituals via comments from a local initiation instructor obtained during our fieldwork. However, the fact that the vertical lines and stylised horses that we have identified as a separate painting tradition occur at two further sites used for male initiation schools raises the possibility that these kinds of images may also be linked to rites of passage. Conversely, what appear to be Christian crosses feature among the abstract geometric images present at ARAL 173, although we note that crosses are known to have been painted in rock shelters to protect them from being struck by lightning, beliefs that lack any Christian association (Mokoena 2017: 194–195). That these more recent arts have not overpainted pre-existing fine-line imagery where the two co-occur in the same site (ARAL 172, ARAL 250, ARAL 251) and that fine-line images have also been respected at a further site with initiation associations (ARAL 252) makes us wonder whether we are witnessing only a continuity (or coincidence?) in choosing locations suitable for painting and instruction or whether fine-line imagery plays any part in the initiation schools themselves. ARAL 252 is particularly interesting in this regard as it is a small, barely habitable site, but one that was clearly chosen by different artists at different times as a special place. Moreover, it has the highest number of obviously shamanistic images of any encountered during our survey, including several therianthropes and a number of humans shown bending over at the waist. The deliberate smearing of what appears to be riverweed over the rock face may also be linked to its continuing significance as a site where female initiation schools rest and sing; such weeds (or algae) are explicitly referenced in some girls’ initiation songs that also mention deep pools in rivers and several of the schools’ key ceremonies must take place at a river (du Plooy 2006: 104, 114).Drawing on fuller discussion elsewhere (Arthur 2018), the painting of a male initiate in ochre and fat is thought to represent and provide the visual and bodily experience of the final phase of transformation associated with the journey back to the village as a new man (Riep 2013). Recent work just across Lesotho’s southern border into South Africa, suggests that it may also play a more active role in protecting initiates from malevolent spirits (Zulu 2016). The relation of the practice of body painting to the application of ochre to the ceilings and walls of rock shelters at Metolong as part of this journey requires further ethnographic research, yet its presence suggests that these secluded locations and the rock walls and ceilings themselves are closely linked to ideas of transformation and protection. We can then begin to suggest that both recent and contemporary Basotho arts and San fine-line art share a common understanding that the rock face and the painted images themselves were neither a neutral canvas nor a mere representation, but rather powerful entities in their own right (cf. Lewis-Williams & Dowson 1990; Lewis-Williams 1995).In addition to this shared understanding, we can also say that contemporary initiates must be aware of this earlier tradition, as all current inhabitants are, and that, although in terms of image type or placement there does not appear to be any specific reference to the older images, care is taken to ensure that the application of ochre does not obscure or damage the earlier images. More compelling evidence for a direct reference comes from the purposeful removal of pigment from San paintings for use by both initiation schools and practitioners of traditional medicine (Wilman 1911; How 1962: 34; Mokoena 2017; Challis pers. comm.). This is well-known across the wider Maloti-Drakensberg region and very likely to be the reason behind the almost complete removal of the paint from a single image at ARAL 174.The emphasis on horse imagery also warrants further attention. Basotho first acquired horses in the 1820s and within a few decades virtually all adult men were mounted. The horse thus became intrinsically linked to male identity as all men were potential fighters and horses have continued to be associated with the idea of the Basotho nation as a political unit ever since (Ficq 1988), appearing, for example, on both royal and national insignia. They also frequently appear in proverbs and praise poetry and can form part of bridewealth payments (Swart 2010). Significantly, however, while women may occasionally ride them, especially in more distant highland villages and/or where men are absent, horses remain an overwhelmingly male-associated mount, with women and children typically using donkeys instead (Ficq 1988: 65, 107; Swart 2010: 93). Horses would thus be highly appropriate images for painting at sites linked to men’s initiation rituals, although we could not confirm this from local informants. We directly dated one horse image (at ARAL 175), but this returned an unhelpfully wide range of calibrated age possibilities that fall between cal. AD 1318 and the present (OxA-X-2555-39, 410 ± 130 BP).In concluding, we draw attention to the fact that we believe our work at Metolong is the largest CRM rock art recording exercise yet undertaken in southern Africa in terms of the number of sites that it documented, all but three of which (ARAL 250, 251, and 252) have now been lost to the reservoir created by the dam’s impoundment. It is also one of, if not the, most comprehensive such exercise in terms of the level of detail it recorded, with a complete written, photographic, and traced record of all images at all 29 sites located. In far too many cases smaller projects have limited themselves to just a few photographs and no tracings at all, a strategy incapable of adequately documenting an irreplaceable component of southern Africa’s cultural heritage. That we adopted a very different, and much fuller, approach – which, as noted above, also included a comprehensive and pioneering programme of pigment characterisation and radiocarbon dating (Bonneau et al. 2014, 2017, 2021) – was undoubtedly facilitated by our prior knowledge of the area and the recording efforts of Smits’ (1983) ARAL Project. Our ability to plan and execute such a project informed by this baseline knowledge also emphasises the necessity of undertaking fine-grained reconnaissance work elsewhere in Lesotho outside the areas affected by large infrastructure projects as it is only when armed with this prior understanding that it becomes possible to argue for comprehensive archaeological and community engagement projects (Arthur et al. 2011). This includes those vast stretches of sandstone gorges rich in rock shelters that are yet to be surveyed (Smits 1983: fig. 1), some of which have nevertheless long been earmarked for future dams (Mitchell 2018), as well as higher-elevation basalt areas that recent mitigation work (Forssman et al. 2020) has shown to be far from devoid of rock art and well-preserved stratified sequences, contrary to previous wisdom.
Journal of African Archaeology – Brill
Published: Jun 8, 2022
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