Focus on rock paintings in Zimbabwe: a new location for French research

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The Matobo Hills, in southwestern Zimbabwe, are one of the best places to see rock paintings in Southern Africa. The huge density (over 3,000 recorded sites) and remarkable finesse of the paintings adorning its many rock shelters earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2003. In this area, from 2017, Camille Bourdier will run the first French Mission on prehistoric studies in Zimbabwe, with the support of the Ministry.

Despite a deep-rooted tradition of archaeological research in the area since the 1920s, major gaps remain when it comes to specific documentation on rock paintings. The mission therefore intends to compile a list of all relevant sites in order to carry out stylistic analysis. When exactly did rock paintings appear in hunter-gatherer societies? When did they shift from a simple geometric representation to genuine figurative art? These are all questions which the mission is seeking to answer. To avoid an overly unifying vision, it also intends to promote the extreme diversity of these rock paintings to demonstrate all the socio-cultural nuances of the societies which developed them over the centuries.

In addition to its major scientific value, this programme is a major initiative in terms of collaboration. Following campaigning from the French Embassy in Harare and the Zimbabwean co-director of the mission, Ms Ancila Nhamo, the programme has also been able to secure a groundbreaking bilateral agreement between the two countries, which is set to be very fruitful in terms of training. Expectations for the programme are high as regards science, heritage, conservation and academics. The mission is destined to become a genuine field-school both for local students and young French archaeologists.

Image Diaporama - 1. Fragment from the painted wall from (...)

1. Fragment from the painted wall from Nswatugi shelter in Matobo. Photo: Matobart project, C. Bourdier.

Image Diaporama - 2. Pomongwe cave: view from the shelter. (...)

2. Pomongwe cave: view from the shelter. Photo: Matobart project, C. Bourdier.

Image Diaporama - 3. Pomongwe cave: fragment from the right-hand

3. Pomongwe cave: fragment from the right-hand painted wall. Photo: Matobart project, C. Bourdier.

Image Diaporama - 4. Bambata cave: view from the shelter. (...)

4. Bambata cave: view from the shelter. Photo: Matobart project, G.Porraz, C. Bourdier.

Image Diaporama - 5. Bambata cave: fragment from the painted (...)

5. Bambata cave: fragment from the painted wall. Photo: Matobart project, G.Porraz, C. Bourdier.

Updated : January 2017

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