Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site – a jump in time

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June 21, 2013
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UNESCO defines heritage as ‘ …our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations.’
(Read about Namibia's second World Heritage Site

The 2 000-plus rock engravings at Twyfelfontein in the Kunene Region represent one of Africa’s largest and most important rock-art concentrations. They are estimated to be 6 000 years and the newer paintings approximately 2 000 years old. 

By Ron Swilling

Recent history of the Twyfelfontein site … 

Taking the huge jump from the hunter-gatherer era thousands of years ago to the 21st century, we begin to appreciate the recognition and attention given to the Twyfelfontein engravings in recent times. This occurred while the country was going through wars, occupied first by the Germans and then by the South Africans, finally becoming independent as Namibia in 1990.

Twyfelfontein rock engravings. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk

Twyfelfontein rock engravings. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk

It is believed that the local people knew of the site and avoided the engravings, respecting the place as a holy area inhabited by the spirits of the deceased.

Word of the engravings reached the western world when Reinhard Maack mentioned the Twyfelfontein site in his 1921 report to the Administrator of South West Africa. A land surveyor named Volkmann had written to him, informing him of a remarkable group of rock engravings at a spring called /Ui-//aes.

In 1946 a farmer, David Levine from Mariental, moved onto the land. The family arrived by donkey cart, having followed an elephant track. Levine reported the engravings to the authorities in Windhoek and named his farm Twyfelfontein, meaning ‘doubtful spring’, which referred to his not being sure whether the spring would provide sufficient water for his animals and family. The name stuck and as the years went by more and more interest was shown in the engravings.

In 1964 Twyfelfontein was incorporated into a communal area for the Damara people as proposed by the Odendaal Commission. The Levine family left a year later. In 1971 the South West African Administration allocated the lands around Twyfelfontein as communal area for the exclusive use of Damara farmers.

Twyfelfontein rock engraving. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk.

Twyfelfontein rock engraving. Photo ©Paul van Schalkwyk.

In 1963, however, Rudolf Scherz had surveyed the site in detail, documenting over 2 500 individual engravings and paintings, and in 1968 an archaeological investigation was carried out by Erich Wendt to establish the age and cultural affinities of the rock art. Excavations at the site yielded dates of 3 450 and 5 850 years ago, confirming an archaeological affinity with late Holocene hunter-gatherers.

Further investigations and assessments were carried out in the 1980s by Kinahan and Kinahan. Documentation was carried out by Dowson in 1992, and detailed field records were made of the rock art in February 2005, documenting 2 075 identifiable images. This is considered to be a somewhat conservative number, underestimating the total tally of engravings and paintings by approximately five per cent.

The rock engraving site at Twyfelfontein is one of Africa’s largest and most important concentrations of rock art. Twyfelfontein was proclaimed a National Monument in 1952 and the National Heritage Council of Namibia (NHC) is now the legal custodian. At the time of its proclamation as a National Monument, the site received less than a hundred visitors per year. This has now increased to more than 40 000, making Twyfelfontein one of the more popular destinations for international tourists to Namibia.

In 2007 the stie was inscribed as a UNESCO cultural World Heritage Site. 

Read about Namibia’s newest UNESCO world heritage Site – The Namib Sand Sea 

Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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