Exploring regionality in the rock art of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa

Laue, Ghilraen Bishop
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This study examines rock art regionality in southern Africa. The cultural-historical approaches that linked regional style to ethnicity in the first half of the twentieth century have seldom been explicitly rejected and are today still tacitly maintained in discussions of rock art difference. This thesis offers alternative, concrete ideas on ways to approach regional difference in southern African rock art, which have implications for studies of rock art worldwide. I suggest that regional studies based merely on one or two phenomena are bound to fail. Rock art variation across the subcontinent derives from a complex set of interrelated factors that give different regions their particular ‘look’. I use the concept of a chaîne opératoire, or chain of operations, to break down rock-art making into steps so that each step in the chain can be examined individually. Each step involves a community of practice or learning group, and multiple or even overlapping communities of practice probably influenced the making of a rock art site. Regional variation was thus a product of constraints in praxis, rather than ethnic affiliation. The rock art of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, provides a case study. This previously unstudied area lies at the far eastern edge of an already defined western and southern Cape region, and is almost equidistant from the well-studied Maloti-Drakensberg and Cederberg rock art, which are commonly recognized as regionally distinctive. Although the Groot Winterhoek area has more affiliations with some of the Cederberg art, there are also connections to the Maloti-Drakensberg. I argue that art of the Groot Winterhoek Mountains has a distinctive character that can be recognised, but that there is also evidence of a wider information exchange network, which leads to a blurring of regionality. By looking at rock art through the lens of communities of practice, we can identify the ways in which variation was constructed.
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Science, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.