Rediscovery of a small rock art museum at the Royal Natal National Park

KwaZulu-Natal Museum staff recently visited uMhwabane rock shelter in the AmaZizi Traditional Authority, which is well-known as a site that has suffered large-scale rock art removals.

As part of the same visit, we went to explore the ruins of the old hotel in the adjacent Royal Natal National Park. When the rock art panels were removed from uMhwabane rock shelter, they were put on display at the hotel, where they were viewed by the British royal family during their tour of South Africa in 1947. We wanted to see if we could find the small museum where the rock art had been exhibited all those years ago.

The only information we had to go on was a plan drawn by the provincial architect Noel Jackson, who was tasked with getting the hotel ready for the royal visit. The plan showed a simple double-storey shed that was supposed to serve primarily as a bowling pavilion.


This drawing is filed in the Archaeological Survey archive, South African National Archives, Pretoria (photograph by Justine Wintjes 2010). It shows the special display cases built for the rock art (lower left).

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This photograph by Alex Willcox (courtesy of SARADA) shows the rock panel with the famous ‘elephant-man’ on display at the Royal Natal National Park Hotel around 1950. Today this rock is on display in the Hunter-Gatherer Gallery in the KwaZulu-Natal Museum.

The hotel closed in 2000 and is now in a derelict state full of overgrown vegetation. One of us had tried to find the pavilion several times before, but had not succeeded. This time with so many colleagues to help look around we found it! It had been modified from the original design but it is unmistakably the same building.

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Marks from the display cases are still visible on the walls. It is amazing to think that the rocks from uMhwabane rock shelter now in the collections of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum lived in this building for almost two decades!

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Photographs by Justine Wintjes (2021).

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Having an accurate picture of species diversity in a given habitat is critical for understanding and ultimately protecting our environment. However, the sheer volume of species means that simply counting them is not practical. Researchers instead rely on counting a subset of the population, which can predict species diversity and community composition. One commonly used method for terrestrial surveys is the use of a quadrat. This method requires researchers to define a much smaller area (quadrat) and identify the species found in that area. This is repeated either randomly or along a predefined line (transect). Collation of the quadrat data combined with statistical analysis provides an accurate picture of the community composition and species diversity without sampling the entire community. The application of this method to terrestrial habitats has now become straightforward. You take your quadrat, pencil, and clipboard, possibly a transect line, and survey the area accordingly.

But what about the less accessible ocean habitats? How are they classified? Until recently, surveying habitats deeper than 30 m was based either on extractive methods such as dredging (which are destructive) or predictions based on environmental variables and known species distributions. However, advances in technology now allow us to survey ocean habitats much more efficiently. One such technology called a jump camera places an underwater camera a set distance from the seafloor and takes photos of the habitat. These photos are called photoquadrats, and just like terrestrial quadrats, species and other habitat information captured in these photoquadrats can then be extracted and used to classify the habitat without any destruction. While photoquadrats go a long way to solving the ocean sampling problem, identifying species from photos is still tricky. Often, identifying smaller animals to species level requires access to the actual specimen.

Researchers at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum using the research platform RV Phakisa (South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity) are now comparing information obtained from photoquadrats to information gathered by dredging methods. This will allow us to determine what information can be reliably obtained from non-destructive photoquadrat methods. In doing so, we hope that we will be able to predict more accurately the types of species found in soft sediment habitats without the risk of damaging them further.


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Figure 1. A dredge (left) and the dredgings (right) used to collect specimens from the ocean floor.


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Figure 2. A jump camera system (left) and a photoquadrat (right) taken from soft sediment habitats in the Durban Bay area.


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Lecture on the San communities of eastern South Africa

On Sunday 6 June, Dr Geoff Blundell, the head of the Human Sciences Department, gave a lecture to members of the Khoisan-descendant and related communities at the Eston Farmers Club, south of Pietermaritzburg. Dr Blundell was one of several speakers, which included Troy Meyers and Dr Bronwynne Anderson. Dr Anderson spoke on Natal Coloured Identity in the context of Wentworth and Greater Durban, while Dr Blundell spoke about the nineteenth-century San communities living in the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces, as well as their relationship to the Lochenberg family. In particular, the talk discussed Hans Lochenberg, who was a prominent chief throughout the Eastern Cape, with elements of the San, Mpondomise, Bhaca and Mfengu recognizing him as their leader. Hans was the son of Jan Nicolaas Lochenberg and a Khoe woman, Sarah. Jan Nicolaas himself was descended from Caatje Hottentin (born ca. 1710), a Khoe woman at the Cape Colony. Hans eventually settled near the Nqadu Forest, between Tsolo and Umtata, in 1870, where the Cape Colony also recognized his chieftainship. The history of Nicolaas, Sarah and Hans is the subject of a research paper recently submitted by Dr Blundell and Mr Meyers. Mr Meyers also spoke to the community about the way forward in relation to the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Act, which seeks to recognise Khoisan and Khoisan-descendants, whose communities and lands were devastated by colonialism.

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Dr Bronwynne Anderson (seated), Troy Meyers (right), Marilyn Couch (left), and Dr Geoff Blundell (centre, behind).

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New publications by Museum staff

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Last month the volume Perspectives on Differences in Rock Art, edited by Jan Magne Gjerde and Mari Strifeldt Arntzen, was published by Equninox Press. The volume presents 25 papers written by rock art scholars from across the globe, and includes papers by Dr Ghilraen Laue and Dr Geoffrey Blundell of the Human Sciences Department at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum. Dr Blundell considers how rock art was used in identity construction and contestation in the Nomansland region after the arrival of people other than the San. Dr Laue considers the question of regionality in rock art and explores how concepts of communities and constellations of practice offer tools to reconceptualise regional differences. These two concepts are applied to motifs of flight and transformation in three areas of rock art to interrogate difference and regional variation in the art.

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This volume explores the differences observed in rock art through time and space, synchronically and diachronically. These differences can, for example, be in form, content or space (macro and micro), where explanations might relate to a variety of factors such as political or societal beliefs and rituals. This volume also discusses the many-sided and complex issues connected with authenticity and presentation, and the efforts and choices that are taken to preserve and present rock art.

Introduction to the volume is free to read here


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Opening Times

Monday to Friday - 9:00 to 15:30 
Saturdays - Closed 
Sundays - Closed


Adults (over 17 years) : R10.00

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