Mazel’s critical contribution to the study of the Drakensberg San

Introduction to Mazel’s Theories of San Rock Art

Aron Mazel

Aron Mazel is one of the more recent theorists that has written extensively regarding the Drakensberg San. He worked for many years as an archaeologist in South Africa. First, for the Natal Museum, where he was an Assistant Director. Later, as the Director of the South African Cultural History Museum from 1998 to 2002. He later moved on to the University of Newcastle. He has also done extensive research for the Bradshaw Foundation, culminating in a comprehensive website on global rock art

Changing fortunes: 150 years of San hunter-gatherer history in the Natal Drakensberg

His paper, ‘Changing fortunes: 150 years of San hunter-gatherer history in the Natal Drakensberg, South Africa’, was seminal and provided a concise overview of the earliest views of the Drakensberg San. He makes the critical point that until the 1970s, very little serious academic research had been done regarding the Drakensberg San. He feels that the story of the Drakensberg San was ignored mainly; unfortunately, their history has never been documented from the perspective of these people. As a result, much of what has been written is very subjective and ideological. He is critical of the views that the San were ‘Brutal Savages’ and the later romantic view that they could be regarded as ‘Noble Savages’.

He also expresses the view that the San occupied the Southern Drakensberg some 8000 before the present (BP). Some moved into the Thukela Basin area around 1000 BP and back to the Drakensberg in the late 18th Century. The Northern Drakensberg was occupied by them some 2000 BP.

Mazel also carefully synthesized the work of the Pager’s and also through his work in the Didima Gorge. The Didima Gorge is a special conservation area of the Drakensberg World Heritage Site and has the most important concentration of Drakensberg San Rock Art. Please see the San Rock Art of the Drakensberg section on the Bradshaw Foundation website. Please also refer to the Autumn 2022 edition of Drakensberg Times.

Mazel believes that one reason the Didima Gorge has such a significant concentration of San Rock Art, particularly human-like images, is that it was the site of many rituals because of its excellent acoustics.

Mazel’s Works

The following is a list of some of his most important publications:

Aron Mazel. 1989. People making history: the last ten thousand years of hunter-gatherer communities in the Thukela. PhD Thesis.

Aron Mazel and John Wright. 2007. Tracks in a Mountain Range: exploring the history of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg;

Aron Mazel, George Nash and Clive Waddington. 2007. Art as Metaphor: The Prehistoric Rock- Art of Britain;

Aron Mazel and John Wright. 2012. uKhahlamba: Umlando wezintaba zoKhahlamba/History of the uKhahlamba;

Aron Mazel and George Nash. 2018. Narratives and Journeys in Rock Art: a Reader; and

Aron Mazel, Carole Charette and George Nash. 2021. Indigenous Heritage and Rock Art: Worldwide Research in Memory of Daniel Arsenault

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