African Archaeological Review

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 265–275 | Cite as

Revisiting the Parietal Art of Wonderwerk Cave, South Africa

  • David MorrisEmail author
Original Article


Seen by all who visit Wonderwerk Cave, the rock paintings that adorn its walls have attracted less attention than many other aspects of the site. The paper gives a brief account of their history and significance and of factors that have constrained their study. Graffiti damage and restoration added layers through which researchers would need to delve in order to understand them archaeologically. Pointing to directions for future work, the paper concludes with discussion on a currently debated category of southern African rock art, the “non-entoptic” geometric rock art tradition, to which the Wonderwerk Cave rock paintings would belong. A shift in theoretical focus is advocated for comprehending local contingencies in the formation of rock art “traditions” rather than simply assuming the prior existence of such constructs.


Wonderwerk Cave Later Stone Age Rock art Finger paintings Geometric rock art 


Vues par tous les visiteurs de la caverne Wonderwerk, les peintures qui ornent ses murs ont attiré moins d’attention que d’autres aspects du site. Cet article donne un bref compte rendu de leur histoire et leur sens, ainsi que des facteurs qui ont limité leur étude. Le vandalisme et les restaurations ont ajouté des couches à travers lesquelles les chercheurs auront besoin de fouiller afin de les comprendre d’un point de vue archéologique. Suggérant des directions pour de futurs travaux, cet article se conclut par une discussion sur une catégorie d’art pariétal sud-africain actuellement débattue, la tradition d’art géométrique ‘non-entoptique’, à laquelle les peintures de la caverne Wonderwerk appartiendraient. Un changement d’orientation théorique est prôné afin de comprendre les contingences locales dans la formation des ‘traditions’ d’art pariétal, au lieu de présupposer l’existence de tels constructions.



I was introduced to Wonderwerk Cave by Peter Beaumont in 1981, and my first discussions about its rock paintings were with Gerhard and Dora Fock not long afterwards. Access to the site was provided by the McGregor Museum, which owns the servitude. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Symposium held at the cave in June 2009. I thank Michael Chazan and Liora Horwitz for the opportunity to include it as part of a special series of papers on Wonderwerk Cave. Finally, I am indebted to the generous critiques of two anonymous reviewers.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was conducted in the course of routine museum work.

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McGregor MuseumKimberleySouth Africa
  2. 2.Heritage Studies ProgrammeSol Plaatje UniversityKimberleySouth Africa

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