Re-investigating significantly differentiated figures in the rock art of the South-eastern mountains

Mullen, Alice
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ABSTRACT Within the corpus of Bushman-authored rock art in the south-eastern Mountains of South Africa there exists a category of highly embellished, oversized anthropomorphic figures termed Significantly Differentiated Figures (SDFs). These figures are understood as being a regionally and temporally specific product of changing socio-political, and economic, relationships between hunter-gatherers (specifically ritual specialists) and their non-Bushman neighbours after the advent of contact. Drawing on new data gathered during surveys of the Matatiele region in the Eastern Cape, South Africa and the Sehlabathebe National Park in Lesotho, which have brought to light incongruities in the SDF category, and on recent developments in dating technology, this dissertation tested, and challenged, the hypothesis that these images are a recent, localised phenomenon relating to embodied experiences of ritual specialists who had ascended in social status within their communities. The category, as a rigid classification, does not withstand rigorous testing. An alternative interpretation of some of the images is offered, which places emphasis on Bushman ontology as animist, and concerned with the relationships between humans and non-human entities occupying the world. The dissertation found that such interpretations may better account for the creation of some of the images previously called SDFs.
Mullen, Alice (2018) Re-investigating significantly differentiated figures in the rock art of the south-eastern mountains,University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,