Woodhouse Rock Art Collection

Woodhouse Rock Art Collection


Southern African Rock Art

Southern Africa is one of the world's richest archaeological landscapes, carrying the marks and artefacts of people from as far back as 2 million years ago. Since perhaps 70 000 years ago we see for the first time 'rock art' - engravings and paintings placed into and on boulders and rock shelters. Initially this rock art was exclusively gatherer-hunter or 'San' and related to their symbolic and religious beliefs. But as Bantu-speaking farmers and Khoekhoen herder people moved in a little over 2000 years ago they too marked the landscape with finger-painted and engraved rock arts that relate to issues such as initiation, group identity, political resistance and so forth. Even European settlers marked the landscape with their 'graffiti' - such as the names, dates and sayings left by Boer and British soldiers during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

Southern African Rock Art Research

In order to understand this rich, varied and often inter-connected rock art legacy, documentation and research are essential. The first known rock art recording was undertaken on 16th November 1777 by Robert Jacob Gordon at De Schanse Kraal in the Western Cape, South Africa. Since then a variety of interested individuals and researchers such as George William Stow (1822-1882); Maria Wilman (1867-1957 South Africa's first female museum director at McGregor Museum, Kimberley); Patricia Vinnicombe (1932-2003, archaeologist's wife and then archaeologist in her own right); David Lewis-Williams (ad hominem Professor of Archaeology but first an English Master at Kearsney); Janette Deacon (archaeologist at Stellenbosch and National Monuments Council) as well as a host of younger researchers have made rock art a subject of scholarly and public interest. The evolution of this research progressed considerably thanks to their efforts. In the 19th and early 20th centuries people erroneously thought rock art was a simple record of daily life, an expression of natural artistic ability and even - as with the 'White Lady' of Namibia's Brandberg - the product of exotic foreigners such as Arabians and Phoenicians! Though research is progressing, still we are today certain of all rock arts' complexity and use an anthropologically informed approach that tries to understand rock art not from our perspective, but from the perspective of those who made and used rock art.

The Woodhouse Rock Art Collection

One such informed avocational or 'amateur' researcher was Herbert (Bert) C. Woodhouse (1919-2011). Born in England, Bert joined the Royal Air Force during World War II and was sent to South Africa as an instructor based in Cape Town. After the war he remained in South Africa as an employee of Murray & Roberts Construction Company. His extensive travels within southern Africa introduced him to rock art sites, the documentation of which became a life-long passion. Starting in1953, Bert accumulated a collection of over 20 000 slides, maps and tracings from a large number of sites. In 2005 he sold this collection to the University of Pretoria that it may serve as an archive for future research into and management of southern African rock art. Now part of the University's Special Collections Unit, all Bert's slides have been digitised and are systematically and thematically being transferred to the on-line UPSpace repository that is accessible to everyone that has internet access, though precise locational information of sites is withheld to protect this fragile heritage.

For further information on rock art contact Law Pinto (UP Dept of Anthropology & Archaeology

Articles: Woodhouse, HC 1987 'Creatures with tusks in the rock paintings of Southern Africa', South African Journal of Art History, vol. 2, pp. 40-46 and Woodhouse, HC 1989 'Motivation and the rain animal in the rock art of Southern Africa', South African Journal of Art History, vol. 4, no. 2&3, pp.15-25

For inquiries regarding this collection or items in the collection, please contact : Pieter van der Merwe
Tel.: +27 12 420 4707

View the Collection Policy

An obituary of Bert Woodhouse

Provided for educational purposes only. It may not be downloaded, reproduced, or distributed in any format without written permission of The University of Pretoria Library Services. Any attempt to circumvent the access controls placed on this file is a violation of copyright laws and is subject to criminal prosecution.