Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

African Rock Art: The Coldstream Stone

Thematic Essays

By Category

By Geographical Region & Time Period
By Department

This small polychrome stone, found buried with a human skeleton near the Lottering River in the southern part of the Western Cape province of South Africa, is famous not only for its great age but also its beautiful and unusually well-preserved imagery. Three figures with white faces and vibrantly elongated ocher bodies stride across this round stone's surface.


Documentations of South African Khoisan religious and trance practices recorded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been used to interpret not only more recent rock art but also rock paintings and engravings thousands of years old. Southern African rock paintings and engravings often combine geometric forms with images of humans and animals, in what some scholars have argued represents hallucinatory trance imagery. Although the Coldstream Stone itself does not contain references to animals or geometric patterns, some scholars have interpreted it in terms of Khoisan trance practices because of the nasal hemorrhaging of some of the figures.


Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Site of the discovery of the Coldstream Stone.

Site of the discovery of the Coldstream Stone.