Prehistoric Art at the British Museum

Earlier in the course I annotated a cave painting from the Chauvet cave in France. It was interesting to do, but had to be done from printed and electronic images from books or online. It would have been fascinating to see the original, but, simply not possible

I was, therefore, very interested when I visited the Art of South Africa exhibition at the British Museum to see two examples of rock art on display. The Zaamenkomst Panel dates from around 1000 to 3000 years ago and depicts Sans/Bushman running between Eland (an antelope with spiritual importance). According to the museum notes rock paintings such as this relate to a ritual deemed “the great healing or trance dance” which continues in the Kalahari today. “The paintings address the relationship between healers, or shamans, and the worlds of the living and the dead”.

Image by Nkansah Rexford (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The   Coldstream Stone dates from about 9000 years ago. Red ochre and crushed white shell have been used to depict three human figures. They are shown with blood streaming from their noses, possibly shamans involved in a trance or healing dance. The museum notes describe how “the Eland bleed from the nose when close to death – shaman show similar symptoms when metaphorically dying and entering the world of the dead during the trance dance”.

It was fascinating to be able to see first-hand examples of such early art. It really added to my understanding that I’d gained from the initial work on the Chauvet cave painting. I began to appreciate the skill and care taken in the shape, composition and colours used by the artists. Having the museum explanatory notes alongside added to my knowledge of early art.

Further images can be seen at the following links: