Discovering Tsodilo Hills. Botswana

The Tsodilo Hills are a little off the beaten track, but are well worth a visit during your Central Kalahari Safari as you will learn about the fascinating culture of the San Bushmen who painted thousands of rock paintings in the hills.

The Tsodilo Hills today, stand as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are testament to lives of the inhabitants of this area over thousands of years. However, not much about the area was known before the 1950's when it was brought into the spotlight by Laurens van der Post's book 'The Lost World of the Kalahari'.

One of the reasons that Tsodilo only became significant when it did was because the Kalahari region was considered to be a backwater from an archeological perspective. To many archeologists, the region was simply deemed uninhabitable due to the extreme climate and desert landscape.

They chose to focus on the important sites found elsewhere, such as in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

This would all change in the early 1980's and 1990's, when Stone Age materials dating back to some 60 000 years, including stone points used as weapons on spears and arrows, were uncovered by archeologists exploring the area. This would prompt much interest in Tsodilo during the years that followed.

This would lead to the uncovering of large recordings of San Rock art inscribed on these sites. Specialists have been able to decipher much of the ancient rock art of the Hills, which depicts agriculture, hunting, fishing, metalwork, trading, sexuality and spirituality. In 1991, a group of archeologists came upon a marvelous painting that depicted an Elephant and other beasts of burden at what appeared to be an excavation site.

As they continued their discovery, they entered 20 caves which they later realized were mines with heaps of detritus located at the entrances. It appeared that these ancient miners were after a shimmering iron mineral called Specularite.

Pre-Historic Human Settlements

Ancient human settlements were also discovered and their inhabitants were San villagers who grew crops, raised cattle and were involved in long distance trade, based on evidence that was left behind. Excess cattle and specularite were traded for smelted copper and iron, glass beads and sea shells indicating that Tsodilo was anything but isolated.Another factor pointing to the level of advancement of settlers in the area is evidence of fishing. Fish bones dating back over 30 000 years, are evidence of freshwater fish consumption. These were sourced either a now extinct ancient lake that was nearby or possibly the Ncamasere River North of the Hills. Even more intriguing is the level of craftsmanship found on the barbed spears and harpoons, which is not rivaled anywhere else in Southern Africa.
Tsodilo today remains untouched, and is the only collection of rock art in Southern Africa that is home to the San people, who are thought to be largely responsible for the paintings. For the thousands of tourists that arrive at Tsodilo annually, these enigmatic, glimmering copper hills are a historical canvas in stone depicting achievements of its ancient settlers.
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