The hills in Ngamiland, northwestern Botswana have yielded many interesting rock art and ancient artifacts since their discovery in the 1990's. The area consists of four hills made of quartzite known to the Sans people as the male, the female, the child, and the unborn. Modern day Sans call this place "Mountains of the God's" and "Rock that Whispers". These hills host the greatest concentration of San rock paintings in the world.
Being created some 70,000 years ago, you could say the hills still echo some of the religious beliefs still held by their people to this very day. This sacred connection to the past reflects the religious rituals practiced by Sans shamen so many years ago. Sans believe this to be the resting place of their spirits.
Trance dance psychology is described as three distinct stages beginning with entoptic phenomena, or, optical illusions that occur naturally in the form of "floaters". In the second stage the shaman tries to make sense of the u shapes and zigzags he sees and incorporate them into life. This leads to the third stage, where the images transform into mental imagery, giving birth to the belief of a sort of religious prophecy. Trancing seems to be the likely source of imagination in the therianthropes depicted on cave walls in much of San cave art.
The San people believe in power animals, such as Elands (a larger version of a moose), elephants, and hartebeasts. These animals were evoked to assist in the hunt. Tsodilo Hills seem to date to a hunting and gathering society, and one cave discovered in 2004 has attracted much interest due to the finding of a gigantic python's head, complete with more than 300 man made "scales". This carving is believed to be a shrine, pushing back the ideals of religious organization about 40,000 years.
The San creation myth depicts humans as descending from the python, the hills forming as he slithered through the valley in search of water. Norwegian based archaeologist Sheila Coulson of the University of Oslo has unearthed burnt spearheads thought to be part of a ritualistic sacrifice in the floor of the cave containing the massive python shrine. Carving tools and other spearheads were also discovered, even the tools used to notch the scales into the snake. Coulson has described the head as seeming to sway when illuminated by fire. She believes the layout of the cave would allow a shaman to hide behind the shrine undetected, and speak as if his voice were that of the snake. There is even a back door exit, allowing him to sneak out without being seen when the ritual was complete.
Botswana National Museum
The Botswana National Museum uses a variety of educational tools to inform visitors of the Sans heritage. The archaeology division is the largest division which is in charge of the excavations and study of Tsodilo Hills. In June 2000 the museum was responsible for putting the area on the list of protected ancient sites of UNESCO World Heritage.
To learn more about Tsodilo Hills and explore the caves located in the hills, visit http://www.botswana-museum.gov.bw/.