The Python Cave at the Tsodilo Hills

The Tsodilo Hills are sometimes called the Louvre of Africa with their 4000 rock paintings, but the crude statue of a python is what captures many people's imaginations.The Tsodilo Hills are very important to the local Bushmen or San. They are called the "Mountains of the Gods" or "the Rocks that whisper". There is small cave on the northern side of the hills that is known as the Python Cave and this contains a rock that resembles a giant python, and there is evidence that the San were worshipping the Python around 70,000 years ago.

This effigy or "statue" appears to naturally have the shape of a python, but eyes and scales appear to have been carved into the rock. Small man made chips creates the appearance of scales, especially when the cave is lit at night.

Archaeologists also discovered a secret cave behind the statue of the python that could have been used as a hiding place by the Shaman so that he could talk to his people as the python deity.

In San mythology they believe that their race was descended from a giant python and that the ancient dry riverbeds that scar the land were created by it while it was searching the vast desert for water. Bushmen have therefore always venerated pythons and treat them with respect.

Spearheads of many different colours were excavated from just below where the snake statue is in the cave. Among these were burnt red spearheads, a sign of ritualistic burning and sacrifice that indicates some kind of ritual was practiced.

This site is significant because the spear fragments have been dated at around 70,000 years old, which is much older than the oldest sites in Europe. It can therefore be deduced that early man was practicing rituals much earlier than previously thought.

There are over 4000 paintings in the caves in the Tsodilo Hills, but in the Python cave there are just two, one of an Elephant and one of a Giraffe. These are significant given San mythology, as the python was often metaphorically represented as an Elephant. They have a tale about the time where their python deity fell into a river and could not get out, and the Giraffe with his long neck leaned in and helped rescue the python.

The Tsodilo Hills and particularly this site are still sacred to the San people today and visitors who visit the sites often tell of the sense of mystique that surrounds the caves and religious representations on their walls.

by Michael English
Botswana Safari Tours and Game Lodges
©2024 Siyabona Africa (Pty)Ltd - Private Tours and Safari