The so-called Linton Panel, surely one of the most astounding and finely detailed examples of southern African San rock art, is now housed in the South African Museum in Cape Town. This large slab of rock, measuring 2m by .8m, was removed in 1918 from a rock shelter on a farm named Linton has more recently come to prominence because a figure on the South African coat of arms has its origin in a male figure painted on the panel.
Rock shelters throughout much of southern Africa are adorned with some truly exquisite rock paintings made by San hunters and gatherers. Besides paintings on rock, images were also engraved into rock surfaces in certain areas. Rock art imagery depicts hunter gatherers’s efforts to maintain healthy communities. Of these, the activities of San shamans’ in the spirit world were just a part. The paintings on the Linton Panel graphically show the experiences of the shamans in trance, which were likened to being underwater – hence one of the human figures surrounded by fish and an eel.
In 1985 two colleagues, Paul den Hoed and Zachary Kingdon, an I traced the panel – it took us four days, often working in to the small hours of the morning. I then created a one-to-one, black and white reproduction of the panel (see below), which I used for the focus of my honours dissertation in archaeology at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1986 I returned to Linton farm and found the rock shelter from which the panel had been removed. The hole measures 4.5m by 1.35m, and then there were still traces of paintings around the edge of the hole, indicating this panel was once at least 6m in length.
The remaining paintings were in a terrible condition in 1986, and have no doubt deteriorated further. Given that the paintings on the Linton Panel are amongst some of the finest of all South Africa’s rock paintings, perhaps the removal was justified.
South Africa’s Coat of Arms
Not only is this panel one of the most spectacular pieces of San rock art in a South African museum, one of the human figures on this panel has been used in South Africa’s coat of arms (for a full explanation of the symbolism in the South African coat of arms, click here). As wonderful as it is for the San hunters and gatherers to have been recognised so prominently in a post-apartheid South Africa, the inclusion of a San image in the coat of arms is rich in irony.
The human figure on the Linton Panel is male, it clearly has an erect penis. This anatomical detail was, however, removed for the coat of arms. Also, on the coat of arms the human figure has been given a mirror image of itself, presumably to create balance. But this is explained as creating “an attitude of greeting, symbolising unity. This also represents the beginning of the individual’s transformation into the greater sense of belonging to the nation and by extension, collective humanity.” When one considers that there are literally countless human figures painted or engraved on the rocks of South Africa, in my opinion it is a shame that two or more other human figures, without penises, could not have been chosen to indicate ‘unity’ and ‘collective humanity’. In fact, it seems a wasted opportunity for a post-apartheid South Africa to have opted for such an overtly European-style symbol of identity. Rather than acknowledging the Khoisan peoples as the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa, the coat of arms serves to reiterate the way in which Khoisan people and their culture continue to be manipulated in South Africa today.
Where is the Linton Panel?
While seeing rock paintings in their original settings is highly recommended, if this is not possible, visiting Cape Town’s South African Museum good alternative. You can find the Linton Panel on display in the Rock Art Gallery of the South African Museum, one of the Iziko Museums of South Africa. Founded in 1825, the South African Museum is located in the historic Company’s Garden in Cape Town.
On 10 June 2020 the South African government approved the setting up of a national route to celebrate the heritage of South Africa’s first people, the Khoi, Nama, Griekwa, Khorana and San. We have created a page where will added details of centres and activities, sites and museums associated with the National Khoi and San Heritage Route. For rock art sites to visit in South Africa, see our World Rock Art Guide >>