Doro Nawas (Namibie : More than 400 animals on Stone Age ‘zoo’ identified by their footprints
More than 400 footprints across a diverse range of species have been identified in incredible detail for the first time, with researchers enlisting a trio of expert indigenous trackers to help solve the mystery of these 5,000-year-old records.
In the collection of carvings, discovered in the Doro Nawas Mountains in central Western Namibia, the Kalahari desert trackers were able to not just identify 407 unique prints, but work out the species, sex and estimated age, and even which animal leg the cave-dwellers immortalized.
Incredibly, the team managed to identify more than 90% of the ancient artworks,And the results read more like a zoo map than an archaeological paper: giraffe, white and black rhinos, ostrich, leopard, springbok, zebra were among common species depicted; others included monkey, porcupine, jackal, elephant, lion, cheetah,
Ordering the digitally enhanced print puzzle Pastoors, A et al/CC-BY 4.0
Overall, at least 40 species were clearly identified by their distinctive footprints. More than 60 of those were bird prints.The giraffe won the popularity contest, however, with 54 adult and 81 juvenile prints depicted. This was an unusual finding in the data, which shows the engravers mainly focused on adult (and largely male) prints.
Animals with less than 10 prints were considered 'rare', but researchers don't know the driving force behind the species preferences Pastoors, A et al/CC-BY 4.0
The archeologists from Germany’s Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg and the University of Cologne in Germany, gained this greater insight thanks to the indigenous trackers from the Nyae Nyae Conservancy in Tsumkwe.
The indigenous trackers, who more often work for commercial hunters, Thui Thao, /Ui Kxunta and Tsamgao Ciqae, have become increasingly relied upon as researchers attempt to piece together ancient puzzles.
While there are many theories as to why animal prints make it into some of our earliest art galleries, and we might never know the full picture, it does provide a valuable record as to how landscapes and animal populations change.
Print identification is not foolproof, but it does spotlight how important a unique indigenous skillset is to research.
“Namibia's rock faces contain numerous Stone Age depictions of animals and humans, as well as human footprints and animal tracks,” noted the researchers. “Until now, the latter have received little attention because researchers lacked the knowledge to interpret them.”