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Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site

Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site

Twyfelfontein (which means ‘uncertain spring’ in Afrikaans) was first proclaimed a National Monument in 1952 and in 2007 UNESCO awarded Twyfelfontein World Heritage Status. Twyfelfontein is not a town, it is a place. It is situated in the Huab valley of Mount Etjo in the Kunene Region of North Western Namibia (formerly known as Damaraland). Twyfelfontein is an ancient site of rock engravings and is one of the largest concentrations of rock paintings (petroglyphs) in Africa.

Twyfelfontein is officially known as ǀUi-ǁAis which is Damara/Nama for ‘jumping waterhole’.

There is a spring in the valley and slopes of red and yellow sandstone as well as many imposing rock formations. There are many places where you can even see where the wind has blasted holes through the sandstone blocks. If you are on a self drive holiday or organised safari in Namibia then we recommend the north-western region (the north west region consists of Damaraland and the Kunene) be included in your travel itinerary.

A visitors centre has been built at Twyfelfontein and was designed to blend into the sandstone of the surrounding environment. Mainly recycled and local materials have been used in the construction of this building and it is interesting to note that no cement has been used. The entire visitors center can easily be dismantled leaving little to no impression on the immediate landscape. Tourists are able to visit the centre which contains interesting information about the local fauna and flora, history of the site and the meaning and symbolism of many of the engravings. Tours are conducted from the visitors center. A percentage of the revenue from tourism through entrance fees at Twyfelfontein is shared with the local community to help them meet their basic needs. In this way, the locals are made aware of the importance of preserving their heritage.

It is often told that locals may have avoided the engravings as the area was considered sacred and also thought to be inhabited by the spirits of those long gone from the earth. The site is of particular importance due to the stone tool artifacts and manufacturing debris found there. There are 17 different sites displaying a whopping 2 500 engravings spread across 212 slabs.

It is estimated that Twyfelfontein was first inhabited about 6000 years ago by Stone Age hunter gatherers. It is believed that these hunter gatherers are responsible for most of rock engravings and quite possibly all of the paintings that are found in the area. The KhoiKhoi then appeared between 2000 – 2500 years ago and settled in the surrounding valley. The KhoiKhoi are an ethnic group that are closely related to the San/Bushman. This group also produced some rock art in the area however it is interesting to note that their rock art is clearly discernable from that of the hunter gatherers. Both groups worshipped here and conducted shamanic rituals. This site is of particular importance as stone tool artifacts and manufacturing goods were found here in the past.

There are 17 different sites at Twyfelfontein displaying about 2500 engravings spread across 212  rock slabs. The majority of the rock art and paintings have been very well preserved over time.  Some of the more popular rock engravings include a giant giraffe, a “lion man” and a dancing kudu. There are several rock-art styles depicted in the various galleries. The most popular style depicts real and natural living beings such as animals and spoor. The more geometric style is less frequent but show circles, ovals and lines.  Cupules are a very special type of rock art, which is a small depression that has been pounded or pecked out of the rock (about 5 cm in diameter) by using some sort of engraving tool.

Along with the rock engravings, you can see the Organ Pipes, Doros Crater, the Petrified Forest and the Burnt Mountain in the vicinity of Twyfelfontein, but the World Heritage Site covers only the area of rock engravings. Close by, there is also the Living Museum of the Damara, a one of a kind project to allow the unique possibility of experiencing the traditional Damara culture. 

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