Namibian Apollo 11 Cave Site – Sequent Occupancy Shows Evidence of Changing Modes of Subsistence

At the time of its discovery, the Apollo 11 Cave site in Southwest Namibia was of particular significance in dating the emergence of modern human cognition. During the first few excavations starting in 1969 by Dr. Wolfgang Erich Wendt, seven painted stone slabs were found. These slabs were found to be associated with charcoal radiocarbon dated to between 27,500 to 25,500 years BP, making them the oldest rock art recorded in southern Africa at the time. Most notable of these painted slabs is what many describe as a “therianthrope,” which could have been of religious significance to its original painter (see image 2). Also found in the cave were geometric figures, such as zig-zag lines, dots, and circular “wagon wheels,” which were originally attributed to San hunter-gatherer shamanistic practices (Masson 2006). However, it is now thought to be more likely that such geometric forms (see image 2) were instead made by incoming Khoekhoe herders, or at least an adoption of Khoekhoe traditions by San hunter-gatherers, due to their association with similar engravings (Smith and Ouzman 2004).

(1) Image of what has widely been referred to as a therianthrope for its strange figure, namely its human-like hind legs

Herder arts of Africa - Wits University

(2) Example of Khoekhoe geometric rock engraving

The stone slabs, as well as some of the representational depictions found on the Apollo 11 cave wall, are almost universally agreed to have been made by San hunter-gatherers. These images, and other evidence of San occupation such as blades and flake tips, were left in and around the cave from approximately 49,000 BP until at least 1,700 BP. From 1,700 BP onward evidence of Khoekhoe occupation – pottery fragments and geometric art – is found. Such evidence also roughly coincides with sheep remains found throughout southern Africa, perhaps brought by Khoekhoe sheep herders or given to San hunter-gatherers by Khoekhoe herders through trade (Masson 2006).

Khoekhoe migration into southern Africa is indicative of a larger cultural shift in the region, as it signifies a shift in subsistence practices. What would have incentivized such a change within the wider cultural landscape of southern Africa? Perhaps the shift occurred due to an environmental change which made hunting a less stable mode of subsistence? Or maybe the shift occurred simply because herding allowed groups to sustain greater populations, and thus herders out-competed or absorbed hunter-gatherers into their cultures? Further research would be helpful in clearing up ambiguity surrounding these questions, which would provide invaluable insight into pre-historic motivations for societal change. Such insight could help us better understand the ways people adapt to change, which could grant us with more efficient tools for solving modern problems.

Additional Links

Pigment analysis of painted stone slabs:

New evidence of domesticated sheep in southern Africa over 2,000 years ago:

Image Links:



Works Cited:

Masson, John. 2006. “Apollo 11 Cave in Southwest Namibia: Some Observations on            the Site and Its Rock Art.” The South African Archaeological Bulletin
Vol. 61, No. 183 (Jun., 2006): 76-89. Cape Town: South African Archaeological                Society.

Smith, B.W. and Ouzman, S. 2004. “Taking stock: identifying Khoekhoen herder rock            art in southern Africa.” Current Anthropology 45(4): 499-526. Chicago: University of        Chicago Press.

The Clovis People – Enactivist Theory in Speculation of Archaic Peoples

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, a great number of distinctive stone tools were found near Clovis, New Mexico. Named “Clovis points,” their size and symmetrical shape, along with the indents found on either side of each specimen, indicated that these were spear tips. These Clovis points were often found in close association with mastodon remains, and unequivocal evidence for the hunting of mastodons with these tools was later discovered at a kill site in Kimmswick, Missouri. The only direct evidence of the “Clovis people” available are these sites, and thus we know very little about them (Tankersley, Waters and Stafford 2009, 566). However, by considering what we do know about them and relating it to general characteristics of modern hunter-gather societies, we can infer more about the lives of these ancient people than one might think.

Artist rendition of American mastodon

First, we must establish that the Clovis people were modern humans so that the generalizations made can be applied to them. Besides the fact that it is generally accepted by the scientific community that Homo Sapiens were the only human species to reach the Americas, the Clovis people themselves demonstrated that they are Homo Sapiens through their construction and use of complex tools. In Big Bone Lick, Kentucky, Clovis points were found alongside blade tools, one which was shown to be struck from a prepared polyhedral core made of Fort Payne chert, which was likely found locally (Tankersley, Waters and Stafford 2009, 566). Such tool specialization and complexity in design has only ever been connected with groups of Homo Sapiens. The Clovis people had an end goal in mind before the creation of these tools, and as such they are clear indicators of a level of thinking only matched by Homo Sapiens.

Clovis points from various North American sites

Enactivist theory in cognitive science posits that cognition, and by extension reflections of higher cognition such as social organization and culture, arise from interactions between an organism and its environment. In hunter-gatherer societies, because the subsistence of the society depends wholly on the natural world and one’s ability to navigate it, traditions surrounding the belief that nature and animals are sacred often develop. Thus, using enactivist theory, we can speculate that the Clovis people had a reverence for the mastodon, likely had a pantheon of gods or spirits which coincided with their perceived distinct elements of nature, and lived in closely-knit, mostly egalitarian units which would have facilitated their main method of subsistence, hunting (Evy Van 2020, 306).

Additional Links

3-D computer analysis of Clovis points:

To learn more about finding evidence for mastodon butchery:

Image Links


Clovis Points:

Works Cited

Cauteren, Evy Van. 2020. “Hunting Ideology and Ritual Treatment of Animal Remains             in Hunter- Gatherer Societies: An Enactive Anthropological Approach.” Journal of           anthropological research 76, no. 3 (2020): 296–325. Chicago: The University of               Chicago Press. 

Tankersley, Kenneth B, Michael R Waters, and Thomas W Stafford. Jul., 2009. “Clovis and the American Mastodon at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky.” American antiquity 74, no. 3 (2009): 558–567. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.