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Ancient wonder in Botswana

TSODILO HILLS IS AN ANCIENT SITE IN THE NORTHWEST OF BOTSWANA. IT IS HOME TO 4500 ROCK ART PAINTINGS, EARNING IT THE NICKNAME ‘LOUVRE OF THE DESERT’.

In the northwest reaches of Botswana lies an ancient wonder. 

Four copper-red hills rise abruptly from the dry scrub and low trees of the surrounding plains. On the surface, thousands of paintings have been brushed onto the quartzite rock in red ochre. The San and Hambukushu communities in the surrounding areas revere the land as sacred. The area is known as Tsodilo Hills.        

Myth surrounds the ancient site. The Bushmen communities believe it to be the site of humankind’s creation, with The Male being home to the most sacred site—a large rock right on top where it is believed the first spirit prayed following creation. It is also believed that causing death or pain within sight of the hills will bring bad luck and misfortune.

Another myth surrounds the name – or lack thereof—of the fourth hill. The smallest hill is believed to be The Male’s first wife, whom he left for a younger woman (The Female Hill), leaving the smallest hill nameless.

While we will never know exactly what rock art depicts, it is believed that it shows everyday life as well as scenes of sacred rituals. Archaeologists and historians guess that ancient shamans would adorn the rock with artwork during these rituals. A hike across the hills will reveal rock and cave walls covered in historic paintings showing humans, animals both wild and domesticated, and an array of geometric designs. Visitors can spend days exploring trails and discovering ancient artwork.

Tsodilo Hills is slightly off the beaten track, but it is a great destination for anybody curious about rock art and the mysticism surrounding the hills. There are a number of campsites near the hills, with one main site housing major facilities. Local guides are available for guided walks.