Rock Art on the Cape Whale Coast

Phillipskop Cave near Stanford South AfricaYesterday I visited the recently discovered rock art in a beautiful cave on Phillipskop Mountain Reserve near Stanford.  This has now been declared a Heritage Site as it is the only recorded rock art on the Cape Whale Coast. Although there are many thousands of rock art sites in the Western Cape, the majority of these are clustered in areas such as the Cedarberg. Rock paintings in the Overberg are very rare. The paintings were discovered in the spacious cave at Easter time in 2016, and since then the owners – Drs Chris and Anna Whitehouse, have been working with archaeologists to investigate and record the rock paintings, and put together a management plan to care for the site.

The paintings, which depict a group of men, an antelope, and various decorated hand-prints and finger dots, represent both the San hunter-gatherer and the Khoe herder traditions which began thousands of years ago and persisted into early colonial times. This rock art not only reflects the life of the past, but also the cultural conceptions of the artists, and it is of important historical, spiritual, cultural and educational value.

The rock art is situated in a large, beautiful cave, near a stream – an ideal shelter for San and Khoe people. The cave is now surrounded by beautiful Rock Candlewood trees and the views are wonderful. Archaeologists think that the decorated handprints and finger dots are the work of Khoe pastoralists, and are approximately 1,000 – 2,000 years old. The fine-line human figures and antelope paintings represent the work of San hunter-gatherers, and are likely to be significantly older. It was a wonderful experience to see this art and how incredible that the paint that they used withstands the rain and weather over so many years! The paintings are very faint, and it’s easy to see why they have only recently been discovered.

Phillipskop’s rock art site is approximately 30km from Cliff Lodge, and a 30-40 minutes’ walk from the reserve’s reception and carpark. The lovely, well made trail takes you up to a small waterfall at the foot of the slope near the cave. There is a short but steep path up to the cave. Good shoes are essential and a reasonable level of fitness. The reserve is open every day and a fee of R40 is charged. The paths are well marked and easy to follow. I loved the hike through the remarkable Fynbos and enjoyed the beautiful, unusual rock formations along the trail. The cave and rock art are magical and I look forward to many future visits.