Therianthropes in San rock art

Journal Article


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title

South African Archaeological Bulletin

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

San paintings of therianthropes, beings that combine human and non-human features, are described and analysed in order to formulate a theory concerning the meaning of these paintings for the people who made and viewed them. The range of therianthrope paintings is described. Four explanations, or theories, concerning the therianthropes are discussed and evaluated in relation to San religious rites and beliefs and the physical forms taken by therianthropes in the art. These explanations or theories focus respectively on animal-masked/costumed shamans, shamans transformed into animals or other creatures while in altered states, the spirits of dead shamans and the human-animal beings of San myths. Physical as well as deeper, structural, conceptual correspondences between these classes of beings in San religious thought indicate that they are all related and relevant to the way in which we should interpret the therianthropes. The kingdoms are artificial constructions designed by human beings in an effort to cope with the tremendous diversity of the living world. They are not rules of nature. (Keeton 1972: 703).