Twyfelfontein, a significant rock engraving site in northern Namibia, has one of the largest concentrations of rock engravings (petroglyphs) in Africa. The valley was declared a national monument in 1948, and UNESCO recognised Twyfelfontein as a World Heritage Site in 2007.
The rock art “forms a coherent, extensive and high quality record of ritual practices relating to hunter-gather communities in southern Africa over at least two millennia” (UNESCO). Most of the engravings and all of the cave paintings were though to have been been produced by the Stone-age hunter-gatherers of the Wilton stone age culture group approximately 6,000 years ago. The valley was later inhabited by the Khoikhoi, an ethnic group related to the San (Bushmen), who also produced rock art 2,000 to 2,500 years ago.
The site contains over 2,000 motifs, including hunting scenes where the hunters are pictured with bow and arrow. There are a variety of animals: over 200 giraffes, 100 rhino, elephants, impala, oryx, ostriches, flamingos and zebras, as well as drawings of human and animal footprints.
Giraffes are very common in the Twyfelfontein rock art: they are characteristically shown without hooves, their legs tapering away to long thin lines. A giraffe body shown distorted or hollow represents a shaman feeling his shape changing, and a shaman who has changed into a giraffe is shown with five protrusions from the head, representing the five digits of the human foot.
The “Lion Man” depicts the transformation of humans into animals (it’s also an example of shaded relief engraving): the lion is depicted with prey in its mouth, and five toes on each foot and on the tip of its tail. This sub-site is called the Die rechte Talseite [Right Valley Side].
Remarkably, there is an engraving of a seal – despite the ocean being about 100km away.
Some of the panels have overlapping motifs, where it can be hard to make out what is being represented.
Twyfelfontein rock art sites
The Twyfelfontein rock art area consists of fifteen smaller sites across 212 rock slabs, which were documented by Ernst-Rudolf Scherz – a German chemical engineer who settled in Windhoek – in a 1975 site survey.
|1||Nördlich des Zeremonienplatzes [North of the Place of Ceremonies]||20°33′53″S 14°21′52″E||– 65 engravings|
– 2 large giraffes with fine–pecked infill
|2||Zeremonienplatz [Place of Ceremonies]||20°34′15″S 14°22′11″E||more than 175 engravings|
cave with rock paintings
rare engravings of hand prints
|3||Die Sieben Tafeln [Seven Slabs]||20°34′27″S 14°22′38″E||– 150–175 engravings|
– 2 superimpositioned engravings
– 4–toed human foot print & one parent–child grouping
|4||Die Sieben Tafeln [Seven Slabs] Outlier||20°34′35″S 14°22′34″E||– 2 giraffe in excellent condition|
– Rough work, possibly jackal
|5||Hasenblock [Hare Rock Block]||20°34′45″S 14°22′23″E||– 40 engravings and 30 paintings|
– 18 human pictures in different postures
– Horned kudu bull with giraffe legs
|6||Twyfelfontein Main Site Complex||20°34′27″S 14°22′38″E||– Symbolfelsen [Symbol’s rock] with geometric imagery|
– red pigment rock paintings
|7||The Boulder Field||20°35′41″S 14°22′21″E||– 120 rock engravings, over 200 cupules|
– Ostrich depiction joined to equid by a pecked line
|8||Die große Wohnfläche [Large Living Area]||20°35′36″S 14°22′30″E||– 50 rock engravings, 43 rock paintings, 70 pieces of geometric imagery|
– Dancing kudu (“Fabeltier”
|9||Die südliche Wohnfläche [Southern Living Area]||20°35′50″S 14°22′31″E||– 250 rock engravings, 40 pieces of geometric imagery|
– giraffe with three wavy lines attached to its head
– Riesenblock [giant slab] with sitting giraffe
|10||Die rechte Talseite [Right Valley Side]||20°35′51″S 14°22′30″E||– 75 rock engravings on 15 slabs|
– Löwenplatte [Lion’s Slab] with Lion Man
|11||Die linke Talseite [Left Valley Side]||20°35′54″S 14°22′31″E||– 150 rock engravings on 30 slabs|
– Affenplatte [Monkey slab] with engraved pecked-infill human figure
– Halbmondplatte [Half moon slab] with sitting giraffe
– giant elephant and rhino
|12||Der Westliche Berghang [Western Hill Slope]||20°35′53″S 14°22′29″E||– Carstenplatte [Carsten’s Slab] with several pecked animal engravings|
|13||Am Fuß des Westlichen Berghangs [Bottom of Western Hill]||20°35′52″S 14°22′26″E||– 120 engravings on 10 rock blocks|
– Spoor rock with animal footprints & 7–toed feline
|14||Beim Großen Malereiblock [Large Paint Block]||20°35′56″S 14°22′23″E||– 20 engravings and 25 paintings in a cave–like overhang structure|
– best–preserved paintings in the valley
|15||Beim Großen Malereiblock [Large Paint Block] Outlier||20°35′58″S 14°22′13″E||– engraved cluster with animal spoor and cupules|
History of Twyfelfontein
The Twyfelfontein valley has been inhabited for 6,000 years initially first by hunter-gatherers of the Wilton stone age culture group and later by Khoikhoi herders, who were related to the San (Bushmen). Both ethnic groups used it as a place of worship and a place to conduct shamanist rituals.
The valley containing the rock was settled in 1947 by white farmers, but the spring was was unreliable – hence the name “Twyfelfontein”, which means “doubtful fountain” or “Fountain of Doubt”. The remains of a farmhouse built by David Levin, who came up with the name. The farm was procured by the apartheid government as part of the Odendaal Plan, becoming became part of the Damaraland bantustan, with the white settlers leaving in the mid-1960s.
Getting to Twyfelfontein
Twyfelfontein is situated in remote semi-arid area at the head of a valley in Damaraland, a region of north-central Namibia, on the banks of the Aba Huab River in the Huab valley. The nearest small town, Khorixas, is 80km to the east. The site has a car park and a visitor centre, which caters to 40,000 visitors who come each year – often on guided tours. The rock art can only be seen with a guide, and two separate loops visit different parts of Twyfelfontein – the Lion Man route and the Dancing Kudu route.
Accommodation near Twyfelfontein
The nearest accommodation is the Twyfelfontein Country Lodge, which is 3km away – but there are a few other camps nearby. We stayed at Camp Kipwe on a two week self-driving tour of Namibia. All the nearby lodges/camps will have tours that include Twyfelfontein. or you can drive there in your own vehicle.
- UNESCO – Twyfelfontein or /Ui-//aes
- African World Heritage Sites – Twyfelfontein
- Scherz, Ernst-Rudolf (1975). Felsbilder in Südwest-Afrika. Teil II: Die Gravierungen im Nordwesten Südwest-Afrikas [Rock Art in South-West Africa. Volume II: The engravings in north-western South West Africa] (in German). Cologne: Böhlau Verlag. ISBN 978-3-412-03374-3.