'Louvre of the Desert'
The Tsodilo Hills, in the far north west of Botswana, are one of the world's richest galleries of rock art and Botswana's sole World Heritage Site. The Hills also contain the oldest archaeological evidence in Botswana, remains which
RIGHT: The most famous and arguably the most beautiful of all the rock paintings, the Van der Post Panel. It was named in honour of Sir Laurens van der Post, who brought the hills to international attention through his book 'Lost City of the Kalahari'. Sir Laurens reported a remarkable incident. Tsodilo is a deeply
sacred site for the Bushmen; a resting place for the spirits of the dead and
the place from which their Gods rule the world. They believe that these Gods will cause misfortune and bad luck if anyone hunts or causes death near the hills.
During his exploration of the hills, Sir Laurens and his party suffered a sudden and inexplicable series of misfortunes in a short space of time. His cameras jammed, his tape recorders ceased functioning and his party was attacked by a swarm of bees on three successive mornings. At a loss how to stop the problems, he talked to his guide who pointed out that the party had upset the gods by killing wildlife while approaching the sacred hills. Sir Laurens is said to have buried a note of apology beneath the panel bearing his name. It seemed to have been accepted by the Gods.
show that the area has been occupied by the San (Bushmen) for at least 100,000 years.
The oldest paintings are about 3,000 years old, some claim up to 20,000 years. Most of the visible paintings date, however, from about 700-1200 AD. Within the ten square kilometres of rocky outcrops are some 4,500 ancient San rock paintings, making the area possibly the highest concentration of rock art in the world.
When we visited, it was the end of a long dry season. The surrounding land was extremely hot, dry, barren, flat, sandy and monotonous, with barely a blade of grass or a leaf to be seen. The dramatic rocky hills rising abruptly
from the flat Kalahari sands and small thorn trees were a very welcome sight.
The Hills are criss-crossed with easy to follow walking paths. But the midday temperatures of over 40 degrees, in what we had erroneously thought was winter, put something of a dampener on our enthusiasm for climbing, other than late afternoon and first thing in the morning.
The name, Tsodilo, comes from the Hambukushu name for the hills: Sorile, meaning sheer or precipitous rocks. As sunset neared we also saw the logic of the San name for the hills: 'the bracelet of God' or 'the bracelet of shining copper'. Standing like a long chain of links in a bracelet, the rocks blazed a golden-copper hue in the warm glow of the setting sun. Then the sun sank into the sand, the light faded away and the stars twinkled overhead like a diamond tiara.