Channeling Donald Trump on world rock art…
“So much rock art in the world, it’s fantastic, we have the best rock art in the galaxy, phenomenal rock art, really the best…”
There are something like 42 World Heritage rock art sites that have been ‘inscribed’ (that is the term used) for their Outstanding Universal (sic) Value (OUV). Quick parenthesis: altogether there are 1073 World Heritage Sites. Places can be outstanding for ‘cultural’ or ‘natural’ reasons, but you can also be both cultural and natural (like the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, which was declared amongst other things for the endemic Maloti minnow and San rock paintings).
OUV means “so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity” (as defined in the Operational guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention). The best in the world and you know it kind of thing. There are yet more wannabe rock art sites on what they call the Tentative List.
A site has to be very very very special to bear the World Heritage Site brand. In one of the manuals there is a diagram of a stratified pyramid, with ordinary sites at the bottom, in a shaded bluegreen receding colour gradient. The topmost stratum of the pyramid is red, and is for those sites that have made it to the top. Of course it’s a silly idea on the one hand, to think that beauty meaning insight is only inherent in the most magnificent, the biggest, the brightest, like prizegiving at school. I feel an affinity for the rough diamond, the scruffy and the damaged sites, where you have to work to see the wonder.
But equally you can’t blame a rock art site for being totally awesome and fantastic. They’re like the supermodels. These are places that for whatever reasons make you want to gasp or cry at their presence and impact. So how do you become a World Heritage Site? There are Criteria, lower case roman numerals, i – x. You chooses your criteria and you starts the process of nomination. Choose one or many, depending on what kind of Property you have. All rock art sites on the Lists so far invoke Criteria iii: the rock art bears “a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared”. Isn’t that just so true with rock art? It’s the one cultural expression that is part of the landscape and it always means something deep. Testimony indeed. The people who made it are gone but the ‘memories’ linger on.
And there’s such a range of testimonies, from single caves to extensive landscapes, people everywhere have been there and done that and in many different ways.
So, here are some of the best of the best from all over the Universe. Totally spoilt for choice. I know it and you know it. We got the greatest rock art…