Damara Rock Engravings & Petrified Forest

We stopped first at the rock engravings, an important ancient site in Namibia, and continued later to the area of the petrified forest, where we found a lovely camping before we visited some of the trees at a community site next door.

The area of Twyfelfontain has been inhabited for 6,000 years, first by Stone-age hunter-gatherers and later by Khoikhoi herders. Both ethnic groups used it as a place of worship and a site to conduct shamanist rituals. In the process of these rituals at least 2,500 rock carvings have been created, as well as a few rock paintings. As it is one of the largest concentrations of rock petroglyphs in Africa, UNESCO approved Twyfelfontein as Namibia’s first World Heritage Site in 2007.

Our guide, explaining about the farm called Twyfelfontain
(Afrikaans: uncertain spring)
Soon we came to the first rocks, which had engravings on them

The rocks containing the art work are situated in a valley flanked by the slopes of a sandstone table mountain. The sandstone rocks are covered by the so-called desert varnish, a hard patina that appears brown or dark grey. Engravings were effected by chiseling through this patina, exposing the lighter rock underneath.

Today it is estimated that the site contains more than 5000 individual depictions. The oldest engravings might be as old as 10,000 years, and the creation of new works probably ended by the arrival of pastoral tribes around 1000 AD.

Additionally, the site contains rock paintings at 13 different locations, with depictions of humans painted in red ochre in six rock shelters. The similar occurrence of rock paintings and rock engravings is very rare. But on our tour we came only past engravings.

pictograms – maybe a map showing the waterholes of the region?
The Lion Man

The rock with the Lion Man is one of the famous engravings. It depicts a creature with human toes, and an overly long tail with a footprint at its tip. It is believed to be a shaman in trance taking the form of a lion.

Engravings of animals that certainly never occurred in this area, like a sea lion, penguins, and possibly flamingos indicate that the hunter-gatherers might have had contact with the coast more than 100 km away.

After our visit we continued a little bit further in direction of Khorixas, and stopped at the Haisra campsite, where we could stay next to an overhanging rock. The camping has also tents, a restaurant and pool and is well maintained. We had our own little ablution block where the donkey for warm water was heated in the evening.

Haisra Camping close to the Petrified Forest

The next day, we went just next door to visit the Petrified Forest. There is also a government site further south, but they charge 250,- instead of 100,- ND, so we were happy to support the local community.

our local guide showing us many pieces of petrified wood lying on their land

In this valley, it is not a forest, which turned to stone, but rather an accumulation of enormous fossilised tree trunks about 280 million years old. Scientist found out that these trunks haven’t grown in today’s Namibia but were washed down a river in ancient times when one of the Ice Ages ended on the Gondwana continent. There must have been a huge flood that carried along the trunks to where they lie today.

This flood also carried a lot of sand and mud, which covered the trees to such an extent that air intrusion was prevented and consequently no decay took place. The organic material of the trunks was conserved. Due to enormous pressure and over a period of millions of years even the finest structures of the wood have been dissolved by silicic acid and replaced by quartz, which is silicic acid in crystalline state. The result are perfectly conserved and completely petrified trunks.

Knothole on a big tree trunk
30 metre long petrified trees

From Twyfelfontain, we will now drive further north with the goal to reach the border to Angola at the Kunene River. But first we will came past Palmwag, Sesfontain and Opuwo – more on the next posts!

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