|History of Rock Art|
Every continent, except Antarctica, has rock art, but Africa has more rock art and the greatest diversity of art of any of them. It also has some of the oldest art. Almost every country in Africa has rock art but the greatest concentrations occur in north Africa's Sahara desert and in Southern Africa. The art consists of both rock paintings (sometimes called pictographs) and rock engravings (sometimes called petroglyphs).
In north Africa the earliest works a few measuring over 8 metres in height and superbly crafted were made by Stone-age hunter-gatherers with no knowledge of writing. Later paintings and engravings in the Sahara were made by negroid and Berber pastoralists and in Central and eastern Africa by ancestors of Twa and Sandawe / Hadza-type foragers. In Southern Africa artists were ancestors of modern Bushmen / San forager-hunters, Khoe herders and Bantu-speaking farmers. Rock art sites with more than 100 images are very common and sites with over 1000 images not uncommon especially in South Africa, Namibia and the Sahara.
Where is the Art?
Most of North Africa's rock art is found in the Sahara Desert, in Egypt, Chad, Libya, Niger, Algeria, Mali, Morocco and Mauritania. The richest concentrations are found in mountain ranges such as the Tibesti (Chad), Ennedi (Chad), Akakus (Libya), Tassili-n-Ajjer (Algeria), Air (Niger) and of course Atlas Mountains (Algeria and Morocco). Richest of all is Algeria's Tassili-n-Ajjer where some of the world's most diverse and extraordinary rock art occurs.
In East and Central Africa rock art is found in most countries although not in the concentrations found in the north or South. Tanzania has the most art but Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Congo and Gabon all have rock art. Meanwhile every Southern African country has rock art - namely Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Much of the art in these countries is what we term "Bushman" art i.e. thought to have been made by ancestral Bushmen / San. Of all these countries Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe probably have the most art.
Who were the artists?
Because our rock art was made so long ago, we don't know who the earliest artists were. However there are some exceptions to this. We know that most of southern Africa's rock art was made by ancestors of modern San people. Sandawe and Hadza living in Tanzania also claim that their ancestors painted the rocks around Kondoa and Singida. Other paintings, most depicting circles and spirals found around Lake Victoria, are attributed to the ancestral Twa peoples.
In North Africa, we know that the earlier art, dating before about 7,000 years ago , was made by peoples who hunted and gathered wild food. Paintings, including those of cattle dating between 7,000 and 4,500 years ago, may have been made by ancestors of Black West Africans, possibly of Fulani people. Much of the art of the last 3,500 years, particularly the engravings of Niger and Mali, was created by ancestors of Berber peoples, particularly of the Tuareg.