Rock art at Thune Dam dates back 5,000 years


Earliest dated Southern African rock art at Thune, Botswana over 5,000 years old – new analysis reveals.

Southern Africa is renowned for its rock art, but until now it has been uncertain just how far back these creations go. However, by collecting samples of paint at 14 sites across three different regions of Southern Africa – Thune Dam in Botswana, the Phuthiatsana Valley, Lesotho and the Maclear District in South Africa, researchers were able to identify the types of carbons in the pigments and ultimately dated the oldest sample from Thune to more than 5,000 years old.


One of the challenges for dating rock art has been the need for researchers to remove large pieces – which damages them. For this latest study researchers opted to use accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). The method isolates small fragments of the artefacts, allowing researchers to thoroughly study them and ultimately learn more about what the ancient people used to create the works of art.

From each site, the team collected samples of paint about 0.5mm2 in size. The paint samples allowed them to determine if any were fit for to be analysed using AMS radiocarbon dating and shed light on the paintings’ composition. The researchers were also able to identify the paintings containing carbon and when found, if it originated from short-lived organic materials or charcoal.

In the end, the team was able to determine the first direct dates for rock art in the region, which they noted is 5723–4420 years ago for the samples from Botswana’s Thune Valley.

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Source:,, Botswana Government
Image source: Cambridge University

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