Read about the country’s geological history and it’s framed in terms of hundreds or at least tens of millions of year. Thus it’s sobering to realise how relatively recent any human history is, and how much more compressed its timescales are.
Our knowledge about early human life in Botswana is derived from archaeology and from oral histories, which go back about 700 years. Written records only date from the arrival of Europeans in the 18th and 19th century. Most of these are personal accounts, which are interesting, but subjective. In many places the story is confused and incomplete, or even deliberately misleading (see A note on ‘tribes’ at the start of Chapter 2).
However, from the archaeology we know that the ancestors of the Khoisan (see pages 4–5) were once widely dispersed throughout the continent and probably had exclusive occupation of southern, central and eastern Africa from about 60,000 years ago up to the last 3,000 years. Skeletons of a Khoisan-type people, dating back 15,000 years and more, are found throughout southern and eastern Africa. It is believed to be these people who made the rock paintings of people and animals that are found all over eastern and southern Africa and even in the Sahara Desert. The earliest paintings have been found in Namibia (the ‘Apollo 11’ cave) and are thought to date back 26,000 years.
Rock paintings found in the Kalahari, at the Tsodilo Hills, are evidence that the living was good enough to allow the people to develop a vibrant artistic culture. Most experts believe that many of the paintings have deeper significance, probably connected with spiritual, religious or mythological beliefs. It is impossible to interpret them accurately without an in-depth knowledge of the culture and beliefs of those who created them. Unfortunately no group today claims historical responsibility. The local Zhu Bushmen claim that their god, Gaoxa, made the paintings.
The animals of Africa, such as antelope, eland, rhinos and giraffe, are the subject of many paintings. The images beautifully capture the form and the spirit of each animal. Humans also appear; one painting at the Tsodilo Hills shows a group of fifteen men exhibiting the permanent erection, or semi-erection, which is a distinctive feature of San men from birth to death. Later paintings, featuring black men and sometimes war, are thought to depict the arrival of the Bantu farmers.