Under the guidance of an obligatory Damara guide the history and background to the ancient San drawings come alive and the rationale behind this work becomes, well, less unclear. The engravings are of different animal paw prints and a map to the nearest waterhole.
Visitors cannot touch the rock – unless they are TV presenters, who should know better. . . Ray Mears, love your documentaries but do consider the impact of your sweaty paws!
Damaraland, in the country’s north west, conveniently located roughly between Etosha National Park and Swakopmund, is a dry and rocky wilderness of roller coaster dirt roads (which sound fun but are, at speed, heart stopping), red rock outcrops and spectacular views.
Hiking in the area is excellent – though hot, but the main attraction is over 2, 000 rock drawings of the San bushmen that date from about 300BC to the 19thC.
The San were southern Africa’s first inhabitants, wandering hunters, so most of the engravings feature animals, with humans occasionally appearing as handprints, such as on the end of the lion’s tail in the picture above. The exact purpose of the drawings is unknown and theories range from pure art to spiritual power-upping of the San hunter’s bow to primitive data banks of local animals, paw prints and water holes to guide or train other San hunters.
Lesser sights in Damaraland include a Petrified Forest of 260 million year old fossilized trees, though in the form of large logs rather than standing trees, some good examples of living 1, 000 year old welwitschia mirabilis desert plants, and the Organ Pipes rock formation. Looking for desert elephants in this area – sometimes touted as a tourist activity – is a waste of time.
The dirt roads into Damaraland are long, dusty and occasionally downright nasty but the rocks rock, the sights are for sore eyes and then you reach Twyfelfontein valley and its 2, 500 rock engravings. . .
4WD is not necessary, though caution when hitting steep switchbacks is, as the road can occasionally make a sudden and unseen turn just over the crest.