The Paleolithic or Old Stone Age originated around 30,000 BC until 10,000 BC and produced the first accomplishments in human creativity. Due to a lack of written records from this time period, nearly all of our knowledge of Paleolithic human culture and life comes from archaeology and ethnographic comparisons to modern hunter-gatherer cultures. The oldest African art is dated to the Mesolithic and late Upper Paleolithic boundary, about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Originating in the Nile River Valley, early African art depicts a variety of human and animal life executed using both rock-art methods of painting and engraving. There is a significant amount of portable rock art that originated in Africa. However, the vast majority has been dated to the early Neolithic period.
The Bushmen, also referred to as the San, are the indigenous people of Southern Africa, whose territory spans most areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. Their paintings and rock carvings (collectively called rock art) are found all over Southern Africa in caves and on rock shelters. The Bushmen depicted non-human animals, hunters, and half-human half-animal hybrids.
Discovered in 1969, the Apollo 11 cave in Namibia is the site of Africa’s oldest discovered art (Figure 1). From this complex of caves and rock shelters, seven stone plaques painted with figures of animals have been recovered that date from approximately 22,500 to 27,500 years ago.
Discoveries of engraved stones in the Blombos Caves of South Africa has led some historians to believe that early Homo Sapiens were capable of symbolic art (Figure 2). The stones are made from ochre and covered in abstracted patterns of intersecting, incised lines. While they are simpler than prehistoric cave paintings found in Europe, some scholars believe these engraved stones represent the earliest known artworks, dating from circa 75,000 years ago, though this belief has encountered some contestation.
The Drakensberg is the highest mountain range in Southern Africa, rising to 3,482 metres (11,424 ft) in height. The Drakensberg has between 35000 and 40000 works of bushmen art and is the largest collection of such work in the world. Some 20,000 individual rock paintings have been recorded at 500 different caves and overhanging sites between the Drakensberg Royal Natal National Park and Bushman's Neck. Due to the materials used in their production, these paintings are difficult to date, but there is anthropological evidence, including many hunting implements, that the bushmen people existed in the Drakensberg at least 40,000 years ago, and possibly over 100,000 years ago.