Wildebeest Kuil Talks, Displays, Activities
Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre

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 New Display: Wildebeest Kuil: 18 May 2013

Angola to Platfontein: !Xun and Khwe and 31 Bn


A new display fulfilling the wishes of veteran members of the !Xun and Khwe community explains the political background and history of the end of colonial rule in Angola and Namibia, and the ways in which the !Xun and Khwe became embroiled in the conflict, first in Angola, and then in Namibia. Members of both groups served in the South African Defence Force during the so-called Bush or Border War. Following Namibian independence some of the !Xun and Khwe soldiers and their families elected to evacuate to South Africa and were eventually awarded land at Platfontein, near Kimberley, in the Northern Cape. 

National Science Week Temporary Exhibition 2012

The essence of practical



Introducing our speakers for August 2007 

Hard on the heels of John McNabb’s talk a week ago on Stories in stones: Socialising in the Earlier Stone Age”, which drew a small but interested group of Wildebeest Kuil supporters, we offer another two evenings of interest. On Tuesday 21 August at 18:30 David Morris will present part of the Northern Cape Province’s official Women’s Month programme with a talk on Maria Wilman and Dora Fock: Women in Rock Art. The talk will illustrate the contributions of these two women, in particular, to rock art studies in the Northern Cape – and at Wildebeest Kuil itself. It will also consider the possible role of women in the making, and in the significance, of some of the engravings in the region.  The next highlight in August will be a double bill on Monday 27 August beginning at 18:30 when Prof Michael Chazan and Alexandra Sumner, both of the University of Toronto in Canada, will speak on work at opposite ends of the African continent – the continent where humanity arose.  Alexandra Sumner, who is nearing completion of her PhD at Toronto, will speak on The Northeast African Palaeolithic: cognitive aspects of Middle Stone Age stone tool production. Sumner’s research interests include Middle to Early Stone Age technological behaviours with specific regard to the evolution of human memory, learning strategies and information sharing as seen through stone tool manufacture.  She has spent a great deal of time in Nubia and Upper Egypt with refitting stone flakes to cores – the reverse process to that by which tool-makers manufactured artefacts by removing the flakes, many tens of thousands of years ago. This experience equips her to study the dynamic process of stone tool-making literally from one flake removal to the next. Situating her study of these processes within a cognitive framework provides insight into aspects of the cognitive abilities of early human stone tool-makers. 

Michael Chazan’s talk is not to be missed by anyone with an interest in the heritage of the Northern Cape and in one of its principal gems, Wonderwerk Cave. Wonderwerk is on South Africa’s tentative World Heritage listing. Research now not only vindicates excavator Peter Beaumont’s claims for the importance of the site, but indeed, in the light of a new dating programme, with analysis of stone tool assemblages from the long sequence, shows it to be even more significant than was previously thought. In his talk, Wonderwerk Cave: the earliest evidence for cave occupation by human ancestors, Professor Chazan will compare findings in the Northern Cape with evidence from Olduvai Gorge and elsewhere in Africa to show how uniquely important this site is. An interdisciplinary focus on a range of aspects of the site’s features will ensure that it will continue to yield valuable insights into the human past for years still to come.  Prof Chazan works in collaboration with the McGregor Museum and is also assisting, with international partners, in a management plan to stabilise the excavations and create a walkway for visitors to appreciate this spectacular site.  His specialist field of interest is the analysis of prehistoric stone tool technology. He has worked on field projects in Israel, France, and Egypt and co-directs excavations at Wadi Mataha in Jordan. With the McGregor Museum, he is co-ordinating an interdisciplinary project on the Earlier Stone Age in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa.


Dr John McNabb    7 Aug 2007 

Dr John McNabb, who joined the Archaeology Department at Southampton in 2000, specialises in Palaeolithic archaeology, and he is specifically interested in the reconstruction of hominin behaviour using stone tools.  He is particularly interested in technology and in the anthropology of technology and how it might apply to pre-modern humans. His earlier research interests were on Lower Palaeolithic material from Britain, the subject now of his book, published just this week, The British Lower Palaeolithic: Stones in Contention. In it he takes as a central theme the issue of whether early Hominins organized themselves into societies as we understand them. He looks at how modern researchers recognize such archaeological cultures, and examines the existence of a stone tool culture called the Clactonian to introduce the multidisciplinary nature of the subject.

”In analyzing the various kinds of data archaeologists would use to investigate the existence of a Palaeolithic culture, this book represents the latest research in archaeology, population dispersals, geology, climatology, human palaeontoloty, evolutionary psychology, environmental and biological disciplines and dating techniques, along with many other research methods.”
 Having completed his doctoral studies, McNabb turned his attention to the Earlier and Middle Stone Age of Southern Africa. He has been involved in collaborative work with the McGregor Museum at Canteen Koppie and Pniel 6 on the Vaal River near Kimberley, and in a major re-analysis of the Cave of Hearths in Limpopo Province. He has also conducted collaborative work with South African researchers at Sterkfontein.

At Southampton Dr McNabb teaches human origins, lithic analysis and African and European Palaeolithic at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and he is the co-ordinator of a Masters programme in Palaeolithic Archaeology and Human Origins.

Stories in stones: Socialising in the Earlier Stone Age, Tuesday’s talk, is not to be missed. Be there! 18:30, Wildebeest Kuil auditorium.

Staff at Wildebeest Kuil 

The Northern Cape Sport Arts and Culture Department’s Museums Unit established a full-time post at Wildebeest Kuil to help the project move forward, and appointed Mr Bafana Ndebele, a graduate of a Heritage Learnership Programme, who also worked at Wildebeest Kuil on projects and as a stand-in guide from 2005. Mr Petrus Wilson, who lives in Floors Township, was appointed on contract as a guide. Petrus Wilson is currently doing second year modules in Archaeology and Anthropology at  UNISA. At the N||aoh Djao Shop, run by SASI, Steven Riekert Moyo and Norman Jack from the !Xun and Khwe community, serve as shop assistants. Keila Mierke is the shop co-ordinator for SASI. David Morris (Northern Cape Rock Art Trust) co-ordinates management of the Centre. 

Thank you to New Sponsors We wish to acknowledge the generosity of new sponsors: Mervyn and Geraldine Bennun, Cape Town, and Dr Jessica Stephenson, Director of the African Art Museum, Emory, Atlanta.

December 2006 



 Andre Batista Salvador, or ‘Salvador’ as he was generally known, became a legendary figure at Wildebeest Kuil, being one of the first San guides to the rock art site. He joined our staff when the Rock Art Centre opened in December 2001 (he left our employ at the beginning of this year to take up a post as a court interpreter in Kimberley). His involvement with Wildebeest Kuil dated back further as he had acted as interpreter in earlier meetings with the !Xun and Khwe CPA to discuss ideas for the potential development of the site. We were greatly saddened last month to learn of his death – not long after that of his wife – following a prolonged illness. Radio Sonder Grense broadcast interviews with his former colleagues in which his role in rock art guiding was highlighted. He was also a skilled linguist, having been a fluent speaker of both !Xun and Khwe as well as English, Portuguese and Afrikaans. He served as an interpreter for the CPA before Wildebeest Kuil opened in 2001. Salvador was a story-teller par excellence whom many visitors to Wildebeest Kuil will recall: his vivid tales, many of them drawn from first hand experience, others from a rich store of legend, were punctuated with brilliant imitations of the persons or animals or situations which figured in them.

Salvador’s memory will live on in connection with Wildebeest Kuil. He inspired a sonnet by the poet Michael Cope; and features prominently in a chapter by travel writer Julia Martin.





“Celebrating our Living Heritage” 22 September 2005: BOOK LAUNCH AND TALK at 6 for 6-30 pm. All Welcome - refreshments. The BOOK: "My Heart Stands in the Hill," by well-known archaeologist Janette Deacon and award-winning film-maker Craig Foster.The TALK: by Dr Janette Deacon, introducing this evocative, beautifully illustrated, full colour coffee table book, which engages the reader with the rock art, the people and the history and landscape of /Xam-ka !au, the Upper Karoo, Northern Cape. “The book draws on the myths, legends and folklore of the /Xam people written down in the 1870s by Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd,” says Janette.  “To express the strength of the bond between these people and the landscape, we projected photographs of /Xam taken in the 19th century onto the land and the rocks and in this way we have re-united the people with the places where they once lived. The title comes from the words of a /Xam man who had accidentally cut his foot with a poisoned arrow. When his friends wanted to open the wound and suck out the poison, he refused, saying 'My heart stands in the hill.”   “My Heart Stands in the Hill” is published by STRUIK. Copies of the book will be available at the launch, at a cost of R295.

RSVP  dmorris@inext.co.za

 5 September 2005: Community open day at Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre, yesterday, formed part of the Northern Cape's celebration of Heritage and Tourism Month. Guided tours, free of charge, for more than 100 learners who came by bus from Barkly West and Kimberley, to the rock engraving site and the current excavation of the remains of a late nineteenth century hotel that was next to the old Barkly road. Rock art custodians and team members on the excavation acted as guides/educators. Mr Gideon Thina, HOD for Housing and Local Government, stood in for MEC Molusi (who was ill). MEC Molusi's speech referred to the huge educational potential that the site represents. Mr Thina added that the tour had been an excellent way of exposing learners to the fantastic world of heritage and culture. We thank the media who gave us coverage in the run-up to this event, with front page pictures this morning in both the DFA and Volksblad.  Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and Provincial Cabinet had made this one of the first official events of their provincial heritage month programme.  7 September 2005: Talk by Dr Beverley Roos-Muller on “Rituals of pilgrimage in South Africa and the modern world”. Beverley, who is from UCT’s Department of   Comparative Religions, recently submitted her PhD dissertation on “Pilgrimage as process: diversity and authenticity in rituals of pilgrimage in South Africa and the modern world”. She included analysis of visits to heritage sites. The talk, which will track something of her personal journey around this topic, takes place at 18:00 at the Wildebeest Kuil auditorium. Wine and snacks. Donations towards costs welcome. The following is an extract from Beverley Roos-Muller's Abstract:  Pilgrimage... is thriving.  This ancient form of ritual has been considered almost obsolete in the “modern” West, particularly since the pilgrimage-denying Reformation, yet a careful check of current pilgrimages shows this not to be the case...pilgrimage continues to burgeon in every country, on every continent, and must be considered entirely normal behaviour. Pilgrimage is a dynamic and changing process, with a continually negotiated meaning.  Attempts to create a division between “sacred” and “secular” pilgrimages are artificial. Many cultures recognise no such division anyway, and insistence on the division is part of the will to control ritual, and own its power. The mechanism used is “authenticity”, which, when wielded, either confirms or denies pilgrim status, leading to inclusion or exclusion. The most frequent attributes of  “authentic” pilgrimage are pain and peril.  Sacred geography is often a critical aspect of authenticity of pilgrimage. The veneration of natural terrain and “wilderness” must be considered, along with built shrines and sacred buildings. Holy caves, mountains, rivers and rocks, wells and trees, are not only part of ancient pilgrimage but are also current, honouring past traditions. Ancestor hunting, which has always been practised as part of connecting to heroes and holy people, continues to play a vital and broadening part of pilgrimage process, with many pilgrims today visiting places of shared memory or experiences with which the pilgrim identifies. Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island may be approached with a similar sense of pilgrim purpose as Wounded Knee, war cemeteries or shrines to saints; Elvis Presley’s Graceland, too, has its plethora of devotees. Paying homage to the great has always been part of pilgrimage. I have devised a typology of pilgrimages, concentrating on the dynamic functions of the rituals. Most have long histories, such as pilgrimages of veneration, initiation, healing and barter. Some appear modern, such as “virtual” pilgrimages, aided by the Internet; yet even virtual pilgrimages have their roots in the past.  A separate discussion of “Women’s Pilgrimages” recognises the fact that women experience aspects of life, of conception and giving birth, that are not shared by men. Also, some modern women’s pilgrimages are reclaiming sacred space that has been male-dominant. The exclusion of women “living on the edge” has particular resonance in the cases of Helen Martin and Manche Masemola in South Africa, both of whom suffered as powerless and poor women.  The long, tough sacred trek of the Camino, the sacred path to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, is an example of a venerable and classical pilgrimage that has experienced a remarkable revival in the modern era. It has done so, moreover, with great flexibility, despite some resistance from Church groups, because it is able to incorporate a diverse number of pilgrims from many - or no - faiths, as well as from many different cultures, languages and interests.  Not all pilgrim journeys are physical. As we are constantly reminded, the greater part of a pilgrimage is a journey of the heart. That process, to the inside, is the most keenly felt and critical part of the ritual.            12 September 2005: Talk by Lida van der Merwe on her work on the human remains rescued from graves disturbed outside Kimberley’s Gladstone Cemetery. A municipal trench had struck unmarked graves outside the cemetery in 2003. In total, 145 graves were inadvertently dug through before the trenching was stopped. During the ensuing investigation and salvage of exposed remains by the McGregor Museum’s archaeology department, fifteen graves were examined in detail. They yielded more than 104 skeletons. Treatment of the remains has proceeded in accordance with heritage legislation and community consultation, and will include eventual laying to rest. As part of the process, a cleansing ritual took place at the museum in September last year. The archaeological work on the graves is now complemented by Lida’s detailed physical anthropological analysis on population profiles, and biological and pathological history.  This work is seen as part of a process of extending dignity to individuals who were dumped into pauper graves with little or no grave-side care or ritual, circa 1897-1900. The talk takes place at 18:00 at the Wildebeest Kuil auditorium. All welcome.


Highlights of the last month The joint McGregor Museum-Wildebeest Kuil programme for learners and structured around Lindsay Weiss’s Wildebeest Kuil 3 excavations has been a huge success, covered amply by the local media and even making it to the national television news. Over a period of three days, each a week apart, thirty students from five schools have taken part in an intensive integrated learning experience taking in the process of archaeological knowledge production from excavation and field documentation, to lab work, to interpretation. Our community fieldwork team, some of whom have taken part in museum projects since 2003, have received further training and played a leading role in teaching the school visitors.  One of our team members is now serious himself about taking up archaeology as a career and hopes to commence studies through UNISA next year. We’re hoping to raise a bursary to assist him.  About 25 members of the Wildlife and Environment Society of SA and Friends of Wildebeest Kuil went on an excursion to Driekopseiland with David Morris.   The National Arts and Culture Portfolio Committee visited Wildebeest Kuil, hailing the project as a model of its kind; and there was a subsequent visit by CEO of the National Heritage Council, Mr Sonwabile Mancotywa who was similarly complimentary.


7 August 2005: Feeling is ‘seeing’ - or so it was for blind visitors to Wildebeest Kuil, Simon and Primrose Manyambo, from Bloemfontein. A special display of engravings (which, of all ‘visual’ art forms, can be appreciated uniquely by the visually disabled), was set up for the occasion, along with a range of other objects relevant to the site (and sprigs of aromatic Karoo plants). Following this introduction by touch and smell, our visitors elected to go on the walk up the hill and enthused at the opportunity to feel and breathe and listen (of stories, //Kabbo once said, “I feel that a story is the wind”).  A short route is being planned for disabled visitors, which will include Braille text. Valuable advice was given on how we might go about setting out such a route.


9 August 2005: Women’s Day. A programme for girls from Kimberley schools (Pescodia, Homevale and Tshireleco), in association with the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture (McGregor Museum), and presented by Karen van Ryneveld (museum archaeology) and  Lindsay Weiss (PhD candidate affiliated with the museum), with Chantal Wilson and Jane Joubert (team members). Few learners from local schools have ever been to an archaeological excavation.  About 50 girls participated in the event which began with a braai lunch (they arrived from a morning session at the museum), followed by a visit to Lindsay’s dig, and a spell in the lab (WBK shop space converted for the day - the lab is usually set up on the patio outside but it had been raining intermittently).  Several artefacts had been laid out for sorting and describing and thinking about in terms of the clues they might represent - gender issues being topical on the day.  Karen then spoke on more ancient times and on human evolution; and the day ended with a visit to the engravings on the hill. Earlier in the day, students from Camps Bay High, Cape Town - on tour to Kimberley - enjoyed an exposition from excavators Petrus Wilson and Koot Msawula as they followed the foundations and retrieved the cast-offs of late nineteenth century life on this spot; and they then headed up the hill.  


Note on Driekopseiland

 Driekopseiland is a well-known engraving site. More than 3500 engravings, mostly geometric images, are situated on glaciated rock in the bed of the Riet River. When the river rises the engravings are submerged, but for most of the year they are left high and dry. The placement of the art relative to this most potent of symbolic elements led to a consideration of the significance of water in Khoe-San ethnography for clues to a fresh understanding of Driekopseiland. Ethnography of the last century and a half refers to ritual practices, specifically the female puberty rites, which have (or had) a geographical focus at the water source (the literature, and oral testimony, is vast, from across the Khoe-San spectrum). Common to almost all recorded accounts of the rites are the ritual markings (with pigments, tattoos, cicatrisation, scarification, tonsure, mud or ash) - of the initiate, of her group, and also of objects - and the strewing of ochre or buchu on persons, plants, animals and/or the water source in rites of reintroduction or reaggregation. As common an element is a “dancing out” which, in various Northern Cape examples, is a “stap” or “step dance” directly to the water to seek the acceptance and protection of/from the great watersnake. In this, these rites echo strongly the rationale behind the |Xam observances respecting !Khwa, and “the rain’s magic power” of which the “new maiden” was an embodiment. Guenther comments that in these rites, “all of the symbolic and affective stops - of liminality, inversion, celebration - that accompany the transition phase generally are pulled out, creating a ritual performance of great emotional intensity and symbolic density, akin in this regard to the trance dance.” The objective geography of Driekopseiland is a unique sequence of events that led to the exposure here, probably in late Holocene times, of glacially smoothed basement rock, aligned with the flow of the river, which ‘bulges’ and ‘dips’ above or below the water according to the season. As such, the site resonates with environmental rhythms, and these, in turn, were very likely resources for cultural construal in ways that are consistent with the ethnography. Upon this great undulating surface, more than 3500 rock engravings are densely placed such that they become submerged when the rains come, but equally are left high and dry when it is cold and the river flow dwindles, or ceases altogether. It could be that these striking expanses of smoothed rock came to be identified, not quite as the “great whales lying in the mud,” as Battiss memorably described Driekopseiland, their backs “decorated with innumerable designs”, but indeed as a manifestation of !Khwa, the 'Rain/Water' in the form of an immanent giant Great Watersnake. Features in the landscape have been imbued with meaning in this kind of way in San contexts, as indicated in the legend “The Death of the Lizard”, given by |Hankass’o in the Upper Karoo.  At Driekopseiland the rock appears to emerge from the depths in the channel of the Gama-!ab (the Riet River), as might, perhaps, the mythic snake, and to dip down beneath the riverbed again a few hundred metres further downstream. Stow, too, had sensed that the “perfectly polished and striated” rocks, with “their wonderful and unwonted appearance” and “unexplained smoothness” could, in terms of these qualities, have moved the Stone Age engravers. Beautiful stripes, fat, and smoothness are amongst the celebrated attributes of a fecund python, the subject of Ju|’hoan tales. Mythic snakes associated with rivers and waterholes (in some instances it is clear the snake and the water are synonymous) feature widely in Khoe-San repertoires, with particular prevalence in the Northern Cape, at least during the last century. The combination of geological features and riverine processes - in a semi-arid region often parched by drought - make for a potent congruity with beliefs associated with !Khwa and the watersnake. A ‘powerful place’, it is plausible that Driekopseiland became a focus in rites, perhaps specifically those associated with the ‘new maiden’. It is possible that the place itself was an active element in the redefinition, in these rites, of social personhood. If fresh insights are to be had on the significance and meaning of the Driekopseiland site, a consideration of the placement of rock engravings in the landscape could well be a good place to begin. Reference:Morris, D. 2002. Driekopseiland and “the rain’s magic power”: history and landscape in a new interpretation of a Northern Cape rock engraving site. Masters dissertation, University of the Western Cape.   


Previously... Our “Four short talks” evening on 13 July filled the auditorium, when Lindsay Weiss (Columbia, New York), Folke Richardt (Lund, Sweden), Isabelle Parsons (Cambridge, England) and Rachell Engmann (UNESCO and Stanford, USA), spoke on their respective projects. Petrus Wilson (McGregor Museum fieldwork team member, on Lindsay’s project) gave an added perspective. Prof Michael Chazan from Toronto, with Alex Sumner and students, Dr Darren Curnoe from Australia, with Andrew Herries, Prof Alan Thorne, from Australia, and Dr Zoe Henderson from Bloemfontein, joined local archaeologists, students, and Friends of Wildebeest Kuil - making the Centre quite the hub of archaeological action for a night.  Rachel Giraudo (Berkeley) and Arana Hankin (Columbia) visited with a view to future projects. Prof Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Special UN Rapporteur on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, visited the site preparatory to a meeting with San leaders for a report on rights and development issues.   
Several Friends of Wildebeest Kuil gathered on two successive Fridays in June and the beginning of July to hear Professor Knut Helskog from Tromso in Norway and Sven Ouzman from Berkeley USA (and a Steward of Wildebeest Kuil), who gave illustrated talks on rock art at the top end of Norway and in South Africa. We were privileged indeed.  Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre strives to bring a variety of events and talks to Kimberley. We have also been pleased to welcome special guests in the last few weeks including a visit by tourism agents from Australia, and tourism officials from the Northern Cape Tourism Authority and other provincial and local structures. Mrs Stelli Oppenheimer, a keen supporter of the site and especially the arts and craft production of the !Xun and Khwe, called in while in Kimberley recently; while Northern Cape MEC Pakes Dikgetsi gave the project a thumbs-up in our visitors book. Development Bank officials called in, inter alia in connection with their Arts Initiative. Our site guide Wejoenke Kambungu was closely involved in selecting art works for that project. Site guide Batista Salvador meanwhile was part of the San Council’s recent art road-show through Namibia and Botswana. 


New braai facilities have been built at the site. And our staff (Petrus Wilson, Koot Msawula, Roger Bosch, Elia Andrews and Tsolofelo Chinkuli of McGregor Museum, assisted by Batista Salvador, Wejoenke Kambungu, Fernando Zolino of Wildebeest Kuil) have been planting indigenous trees while hacking out alien prosopis. A new fence and a sliding gate have been erected along the front of the servitude to enhance both the look of the site and security (the custodian’s house was broken into recently, all electrical fittings being ripped out). In May the Science and Technology Week went well and some 750 learners from schools in the region visited the site and took part in a programme we prepared for them. In June we were visited by a group of workers involved in San development projects from Southern Africa, who were guests of SASI (SA San Institute). Also in June discussions are being held on possible further development at the site. We look forward to welcoming the MEC for Tourism when he visits the site with guests on Friday 24 June. 


Wildebeest Kuil Eland Fund (R1000): Dr Benjamin Smith; Mr Gurth Walton (in memory of Maria Walton); Ms Giselle Baillie; Prof Nick Segal in association with Centre for Development and Enterprise (R2000); UBUNTU Foundation (Switzerland); Mr Cedric Meyer; Dr Robert Kaplan (Australia); Mpumalanga Heritage Project; Dr John Raimondo.Roan Antelope Fund (R1000): Dr Francis Thackeray.

Wildebeest Kuil Ostrich Fund (R250-500): Mr & Mrs Roelf and Paula Hartzenberg; The Vipond family; Ms Tara Turkington; Dr Sue Milton-Dean; Dr Denise Lourens; Prof Meg Conkey (USA); David & Noeleen Morris; Mr Brilliant Mhlanga (National University of Science & Technology, Zimbabwe); Mervyn and Geraldine Bennun; Dr Jessica Stephenson

Wildebeest Kuil Stewardships (R100): Mr Lawrie Shuttleworth; Mrs Dana Sumar; Mr Sven Ouzman; Mrs Lyn Klemp; Mr Hugo Leggatt; Ms Rachel Giraudo (USA); Mrs Veronica Bruce; Mr Alistair Andrews; Miss Fiona Barbour