Around the World in 80 Models: South Africa, pt. 2

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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 remain in Maloti Drakensberg Park, South Africa, rejoining the African Conservation Trust to learn about Game Pass Rock Art Shelter and how image enhancement can reveal otherwise invisible rock art.

Maloti Drakensberg Park, South Africa: Game Pass Rock Art Shelter

The African Conservation Trust (ACT) is a non-profit organisation in South Africa that has been using cutting-edge technology to digitally preserve these amazing sites. ACT uses the Leica ScanStation C10 scanner and processing is done using Leica Cyclone, 3DReshaper and Autodesk Memento. The Sketchfab platform has allowed us to share these models with the public and create a greater awareness about these heritage treasures. It was Former President Nelson Mandela that said “Africa’s rock art is the common heritage of all Africans, but it is more than that. It is the common heritage of humanity.”

Game Pass Shelter is located in Maloti Drakensberg Park (MDP), a spectacular mountain range and World Heritage Site located in KwaZulu-Natal and bordering Lesotho. In these mountains and the foothills below lies a treasure trove of priceless art left behind as a legacy of South Africa’s first inhabitants, the San. The San hunter-gatherers lived in the Drakensberg Mountains from the late Stone Age until as recently as the 19th century. They are a people with an ancient past but almost no recorded history except for their beautiful rock paintings.

The main frieze features a magnificent herd of eland, South Africa’s largest antelope, with smaller human figures in running postures. The San belief was based on Shamanism which is connecting with the spiritual world through an altered state of consciousness. The clan would dance, clap and sing for extended periods to induce a trance. The Eland is the most common animal depicted in the rock art; the San not only relied on the large antelope for meat and nourishment, but believed that the Eland had a mystical potency which resided in the blood and fat of the animal.

It is rare to see poor art in the Drakensberg which suggests that not just anyone had the right to paint on the walls. These sacred places were reserved for the masters to record deeply meaningful statements. The paintings depict scenes of hunting, dancing, fighting, food gathering, and ritual or trance scenes of hunting or rainmaking. These paintings are the only tangible record of the San who were the first inhabitants of South Africa. Unfortunately many have been damaged/destroyed and since restoration is not possible, it is vitally important to create a digital record.

Maloti Drakensberg Park, South Africa: Bushman’s Pools Rock Art

The natural weathering process of the rock has resulted in many paintings becoming faded, and sometimes not even visible to the naked eye. The African Conservation Trust  (ACT) has been using image enhancement techniques developed by Jon Harman to go back in time and uncover these lost images. These tools can be used to reveal rock art paintings and add to the growing database of San art in the Drakensberg.

Bracketed HDR digital images are taken in RAW format covering the entire site. This involves the systematic coverage of the walls, without prejudice of existing paintings. All images are pre-processed and enhanced before being run through the DStretch image enhancement programme. Paintings that were barely visible are suddenly clear, and other paintings hidden beneath layers of paint are revealed. The enhanced image is then draped over the 3D model to show the enhanced rock art paintings in 3D. You can check out ultra-high resolution ‘before’ and ‘after’ images for Eland Cave in the MDP here.


To learn more about the African Conservation Trust, check out their website.

And to see more of the African Conservation Trust’s models 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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