uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site

243 500 ha uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, stretching from Royal Natal in the north to Garden Castle in the south, was declared a combined cultural and natural World Heritage Site on 29 November 2000 – South Africa's fourth such site and the second in KwaZulu-Natal. The Isimangaliso Park being the first. Only 25 world heritage sites have been declared as a result of both natural and cultural criteria.

While there is evidence of Early Stone Age and Middle Stone Age archaeology within the Park, it is mainly the activities of Late Stone Age communities that have contributed to its nomination as a World Heritage Site on cultural criteria. Archaeological excavations indicate that humans occupied the Drakensberg region over a period of 20 000 years ago until to Colonial times. The oldest dates obtained from excavations focusing on the Stone Age for the Southern Drakensberg are around 8 000 years before present (Good Hope Shelter) and 5000 years before present for the Northern Berg. The legacy of rock paintings by early Bushman hunter-gatherers lent considerable weight to the Park's bid for World Heritage status. Rock art embodies a scarce and non-renewable heritage. It is material evidence of the spiritual and aesthetical achievement of the San and it also serves as a medium through which their cultural continuity, change, cosmology and life ways can be communicated to present and future generations. Such a concentration of well-preserved and diverse rock paintings does not exist anywhere else in Africa, studies have recorded approximately 600 painting sites containing about 40 000 images in the Park.

The rock art of this region is globally significant as it contains some of the finest prehistoric rock art depictions in the world. The Drakensberg rock paintings are distinct for their use of the shaded polychrome technique, in which human
figures, eland and other animals are represented through use of more than two colours, delicately graded into each other. The minute detail contained in the paintings has also impressed researchers. Compared to rock art in other parts of the world, the Drakensberg images are small and intricate. An eland, for example, may be represented as a 35 cm tall image with clearly indicated eyes, a mouth and ears. It will have a mane of individually painted hairs no more that 1,5 mm long and neat black cloven hooves. Animals are shown not only side-on, walking and running, but also lying down, leaping and looking back over the shoulder. Most remarkably, they are also viewed from the front and the rear. Human figures are also depicted in sophisticated positions. Advanced artistic techniques such as foreshortening have also been applied.

The Cathedral Peak area contains one of the largest concentrations of rock art sites in Africa: 17 sites including 3909 individual images, in a 5, 5 km long gorge

Most rock art is associated with great antiquity. However, some of the art within the Park is important, as it is more recent. While rock art in the southern part of the Park is more narrative and includes depictions of rituals being carried out (e.g. rain-making rituals such as depicted at Sheltered Vale rock art site) as well motifs relating to the contact period, often showing horses, ox-wagons, colonial soldiers and conflict scenes, e.g. Bellevue Shelter, Beersheba, etc; rock art in the Northern Drakensberg is more shamanistic, including mainly hallucinatory motifs, e.g. "ropes to God", magnificent dream images such as the "Moon Goddess" and the "Sorcerer" of Sorcerer's Rock. Images of bees, ladders and a butterfly scene (a rare depiction at Eland Cave) seem to be limited to the Northern Drakensberg. In the Didima valley alone, researchers discovered 12 depictions of bee swarms

The Drakensberg is also the "heart-land" of Shamanist-interpretations. The Rosetta panel at Game Pass Shelter, Kamberg, led rock art specialist, Prof. David-Lewis Williams to speculate on the religious and cognitive depth and abstract reality of San rock art; previously only being regarded as depictions of the life-ways of the San and art for art's sake. Research has subsequently shown that the majority of rock art is directly related to shamanism or altered states of consciousness, (e.g. metaphors for trance – dying, flying, the under-water feeling; the depiction of therianthropes being images that consist of both animals and human-attributes; images that were depicted that related to the different stages of trance: iconics, construals; and iconics and entoptics and even placement of the art on the rock surface, e.g. a human figure or animal being painted as if it is going into the rock surface, or coming out of it – the rock surface being symbolic of a veil between the physical and supernatural world

For the sake of clarity the metaphor for trance as depicted in the Rosetta-panel, namely death, needs to be expanded upon. The San say a shaman "dies" the moment he enters a trance. Trance is sometimes called a "half-death". This metaphor for death refers to the similarities between a dying antelope (especially an eland) and the conduct of the shaman during an altered state of consciousness. Both tremble severely, have blood coming from their noses, bow their heads downwards, sweat profusely, contract in spasms and fall down in a state of unconsciousness. These attributes are clearly depicted in the Rosetta Panel of Game Pass Shelter. In the panel a therianthrope (motif combining both animal and human features) can be seen clutching onto the tail of a dying eland. The therianthrope mimics the actions of the eland. When an eland dies its hair stands erect and in the Rosetta panel both the hair of the eland and the therianthrope stands erect. In the panel the eland has its head lowered and is stumbling, with its hind legs crossed. This is duplicated in the motif of the therianthrope, whose legs are also crossed.

The Rosetta Panel contains key elements that allowed researchers to "break the code" concerning symbolism in San rock art: here both the San shamans and dying elands experience the same thing. Next to the shaman holding the tail of the dying eland, is another shaman in a bent forward position its arms stretched out to the back. This depiction correlates with a stage during a trance dance when the shaman enters an altered state of consciousness, where he will find himself experiencing spasms in his stomach when magical potency starts to "boil" in his stomach. The potency travels up his spine and later explodes at the back of his neck. This process is so painful that the shaman may bend forward and later fall unconscious. Sometimes shamans are depicted leaning on dancing sticks when the potency starts to boil in their stomachs. They are then portrayed as "walking on all fours" just as an antelope, in this position they are transported to a semi-animal, semi-human state of being, in order to create a bridge between the physical and spiritual world. This implied that the shaman died in this world and entered the spirit world where he could fulfil his functions as ritual specialist. These principles have been applied to shamanistic interpretations elsewhere in the world.