On this episode, Emily Long shares information about one of the oldest examples of dated rock art in Africa, recovered from Apollo 11 Cave.
Apollo 11 Cave and Stones
Welcome to the 365 Days of Archaeology Podcast. I’m Emily Long and on this episode, I’m going to talk a little bit about some of the oldest rock art in Africa.
In 1969, while listening to the Apollo 11 Moon landing on the radio, archaeologist Erich Wendt was carefully excavating a cave in the remote Huns Mountains of Southern Nambia. The Apollo 11 ca ve overlooks a gorge, sitting above a dry river. During the Middle Stone Age, the cave was an active site for ongoing human activity. Cultural material recovered from the excavations, such as blades and scrapers, represent over 100,000 years of human occupation. There is rock art present on the surrounding cave walls from the Later Stone Age, depicting handprints, geometric images, and bits of color here and there. But the truly amazing finds are a collection of portable grey-brown quartzite slabs with unique images.
During two field seasons, Wendt recovered seven small portable stone slabs with painted images that had been buried in cave; one of the slabs found in 1969 refitted with a different one recovered in 1972. The slabs depict some kind of black feline type of animal with human like rear legs; two slabs with an animal with black and white stripes; another of an outline of a rhino in black; and the body of an antelope covered with red and black lines with a black patch.
Southern Africa has one of the richest collections of Stone Age rock art in the world. It’s tricky to know how old all of the rock art is; It is a challenge to determine the age the rock art at any location unless there is charcoal associated with the images or other organic material to conduct radiocarbon dating or other dating methods. Luckily, at Apollo 11 cave, there was charcoal associated with buried slabs that could be used for radiocarbon dating. The charcoal dated between 28,000 to 19,000 years ago, so towards the end of the Middle Stone Age and the beginning of the Later Stone Age in Southern Africa. This rock art then dates to the same era as some of the oldest rock art in Europe.
Upstream of from the cave, along the banks of the riverbed, there are engravings of animals and zigzag lines; it is thought that this rock art is less than 2,000 years old. With the rock art at Apollo 11 Cave with these engravings, it is possible that both locations represent an area of ritual significance used over thousands of years. For a time, the Apollo 11 Cave Stones were the oldest known artwork from the African continent until similar discoveries were found that dated to as far back as 100,000 BC. [music] thanks for listening!