Around the World in 80 Models: Zombapata Cave

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Hop on board as we continue our journey Around the World in 80 Models! We began our itinerary at Sketchfab headquarters in New York and are working our way through Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, South America, and North America. To catch up on past destinations, check out the rest of the Around the World in 80 Models series.

This week we meet up with Elizabeth Galvin, a curator at the British Museum, as she tells us about the African Rock Art Image Project and a beautiful piece of rock art in Zimbabwe.

Mashonaland, Zimbabwe: Zombapata Cave

The African Rock Art Image Project is documenting, researching and disseminating c. 25,000 digital images of rock art from throughout Africa. As an entirely digital collection, the project is exploring new ways that the audience interacts with and explores Africa’s rock art whilst it remains in situ. This model, from one site in Zimbabwe, was made from roughly 50 existing photographs from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s (originally photographed by the Trust for African Rock Art) stitched together and annotated by project researchers.

As these photos were not purposefully taken for 3D modelling, they presented a unique challenge to making sure it was an accurate representation of the site. A key aim of our project is increasing access to this collection online, worldwide. However, with limited resources, we cannot always get out into the field to take new photographs. By creating 3D models, it gives perspective into some of the world’s oldest art that cannot be communicated solely through photos and allows visitors to understand more about the rock art of Africa and the people that made it.

This model is made from existing photographs of the Zombapata Cave in Mashonaland, Zimbabwe. The tableau is over 80 feet long and includes paintings of zebra, sheep, sable antelope, bee’s nests, lions, a large troupe of baboons and animal footprints. A large yellow elephant dominates the scene and several kudu (antelope) are scattered throughout. Both elephants and kudu had significant meaning to the San|Bushmen people of this area, as demonstrated by their reoccurrence in rock art in Zimbabwe.

Most rock art in southern Africa was made by the ancestors of today’s San|Bushmen people. San|Bushmen is a collective term used to describe the many different hunter-gatherer-fisher groups living in this area with related languages and cultural traditions. The oldest scientifically dated rock art in the southern Africa is c.30,000 years old. The rock art images they left behind reveal insight into their lives, survival and spiritual beliefs over thousands of years.

European invasion and settlement of southern Africa from the 1650s onwards had a devastating impact on the San|Bushmen’s traditional nomadic lifestyle. New diseases, wars and enclosing of lands greatly reduced their population and resulted in the loss of many traditions, including rock art (which has not been practiced for about 100 years). Few objects of the ancestors of the San|Bushmen survive that offer the same amount of insight into their world as rock art.

Through 3D modelling we are able to preserve, explore and disseminate some of the world’s oldest art.

The African Rock Art Image Project is supported by the Arcadia Fund.

To see more of the British Museum’s scans here on Sketchfab, check out their profile!


About the author


Abby & Néstor

Abby and Néstor are Sketchfab Masters.
Abby Crawford, Ph.D. is trained in and passionate about Roman Archaeology and works as a freelance artifact illustrator and 3D scanner in California.
Néstor F. Marqués is a virtual Heritage & cultural diffusion researcher, and an enthusiast of ancient Rome’s culture.

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