National Geographic : 1983 Jul
EVERAL THOUSAND YEARS ago prehistoric artists in Tanzania, East Africa, produced a priceless and de tailed record of various events in their lives. On the sheltered surfaces of cliffs and rock faces these Stone Age painters re created the world around them in scenes reminiscent of the great prehistoric cave paintings of Europe. Neither the identity of the artists nor the date of their work is known. It is doubt ful that any of the paintings could have survived in open air more than several thousand years, although carbon-14 tests in dicate that the coloring materials could be much older. In many respects the paintings tell us more than we can learn from the bones and stone tools and other artifacts that form the basis of much of our archaeological study of man's distant past. Those long-ago works of art tell us, for example, that Stone Age man in Africa wore clothing, had a variety of hairstyles, hunted, danced, sang, played musical instruments, and may even have known the secret of fermenting spirits. I first saw the Tanzanian rock paintings in 1935, on an exploratory trip with my hus band, the late Louis S. B. Leakey. Having heard reports of the paintings, we visited the Kondoa region briefly at the end of our sea son's work at Olduvai Gorge. Sixteen years later, in 1951, we returned to Kondoa in order to study and record some of these superb paintings. The admission fee, as it turned out, was one goat. The first evening after Louis and I had set up camp at a site known as Kolo, we were visited by local elders from the Irangi tribe. The elders informed us that the site of the paintings was sacred, and that in order for us to work there it would be necessary to sac rifice a goat to appease the resident spirits. Fortunately, the elders knew of a suitable goat; the price was 30 shillings (about $4). I felt sorry for the poor goat and for the spirits, too, whose share of the sacrifice con sisted of nothing more than the contents of the goat's stomach spattered on a rock wall among the paintings. As for the elders, they dined happily on roast goat and then depart ed, their duty well and faithfully performed. The next three months gave me more sat isfaction (Continuedon page 92) REHISTORIC MURAL decorates a sheltered cliffface at Tlawi in Tanzania'sKondoa District (above). Rows of human figures wear what appearto be skirts and knee ornaments, SCA costumes suggestive of dancers. In 1935 and 1951 Kondoa the Leakeys cataloged ANIA K 186 such rock painting sites scattered over some 500 squaremiles. Mystery shrouds the sites. No one knows who the artistswere or, indeed, when they lived. The color on the walls probablycould not have endured the batteringof weatherfor more than afew millennia, even though carbon-14 tests point to a much greaterage for the materials used as pigment.