Where Life Began? Matsieng Footprints in Botswana

M atsieng is one of the well-known “Creation Sites” in southern Africa — another one is the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa, which I also visited and will document in a future article — where followers of folklore believe that life began when Matsieng emerged from a hole in the ground. Matsieng is considered to be one of the ancestors of the Sotho-Tswana people.

He was supposedly followed by his people and animals while the rocks were still “wet” and soft; and their feet sank into them, creating “footprints” in the rock floor which have been preserved since then due to the rocks eventually hardening.

Where Life Began? Matsieng Footprints in Botswana

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I was interested in visiting this site. After all, how often does one get to see where life purportedly began?

Driving northeast on highway A1 from Gaborone, I arrived at the site approximately 45 minutes later — although I initially thought that the site was closer to Gaborone…

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…but I knew that I had finally arrived, according to this road sign along highway A1…

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…although I probably prefer this homemade sign for the Matsieng camping site.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

This is the gate through which to access the Matsieng Footprints…

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…although it is safe to say that it is apparently not exactly the most secure gate in the world.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Once past the initial gate — for which I waited for someone to open, not realizing I could have just opened it myself — there is a road of soft dirt which is not too soft that a car cannot be driven on it.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

There are branches of the dirt road which seem to go every which way, causing me to wonder if I was still going in the right direction — and thankfully, a simple sign reminded me that I still am on the correct road.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I finally arrived at a second gate and parked the car in what I thought might have been the parking lot, as my rental car was the only car there. I walked up to the gate; and although it was more secure than the first gate, it was open…

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…so I walked through the gate and found a small stone shack — also known as the office of the custodian.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I walked up to the shack and stopped. The air was eerily quiet, as though not a soul was around.

I peeked into the shack; and I found a woman who was lying down and sound asleep in the cool darkness of the structure. I did not want to awaken her, as I had no idea who she was or if she worked at this site — but what else was I to do?

“Excuse me,” I said gingerly as I cleared my throat.

No response.

“Excuse me,” I said again, this time a little louder.

Still no response. This place must not get much action.

After several attempts, she finally woke up and groggily greeted me. I apologized for waking her up, which she quickly dismissed as though it was no problem and introduced herself as Maria, who indeed worked there. She had me sign a guest book and asked from where I came.

“The United States,” I replied.

“Really?” she replied in her thick Botswana accent, with a smile on her face. She promptly grabbed a large stick — gee, I hope she was not going to hit me for waking her up — and started reciting the history of this site as she walked out of the stone shack.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

There were times where the landscape seemed to have the appearance of the combination of part African and part another planet…

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…especially with some of the strange foliage found growing there.

The “Footprints”

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

This is one of the many “prints” shaped like a human foot which were found on the stone ground of the site…

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…and there were more to be found.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The outline of this footprint was indented into the rock floor itself.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Note what appears to be the paw print of a feline at the top of the photograph shown above adjacent to yet another footprint which appears to be from a human being.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Rock engravings — also known as petroglyphics — are the main attraction of the Matsieng Footprints site; and the animal and human “footprints” are actually engravings created by the ancestors of the modern San people during the Late Stone Age.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

These petroglyphics are in the form of footprints shaped like the letter U, with dots representing animal tracks — typically felines.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Despite the interpretation of archeologists that the engravings are a form of rock art, the legend of Matsieng is still respected to this day.

A Study in Cosmology?

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The site is associated with the creation myth which attempts to explain cosmology, which is the science of the origin and development of the universe…

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…and Maria pointed out to me the symbolism of celestial bodies as represented in the photograph shown above — perhaps of planets and solar systems.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The photograph shown above represents a closer view of the supposition of cosmology explained.

Two Water Holes

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Two large holes — which retain water throughout the year depending on rainfall conditions — are found at Matsieng in addition to the footprints.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Water holes and caves are sacred to the San people — especially for the purposes of rainmaking.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The shape of this water hole reminded me of an outline of Africa itself.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

It has not been established at this time whether the holes are natural or volcanic.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

People collect water at the site for ritual purposes, domestic use, and to water their small stock.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

As pretty as this pattern may be, I am not sure I would want to drink this water — unless I am desperately thirsty, I suppose.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Although the weather was not too hot, the sun was indeed strong — and I can imagine the water being potentially inviting for cooling off.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Pea soup, anyone — or is this water imitating a form of green stucco?

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I must say that this water is greener than Green River near Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

One other thing I would like to mention is that Maria was quite knowledgeable and graciously answered any questions I had, pointing to every feature of the site with her stick so as not to disturb anything.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I was asked by her not to disturb anything — which is why I had my trusty camera with me.

Matsieng Footprints

Photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Once she was done with the informal tour, she informed me that I may stay as long as I liked.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I thanked Maria as she walked slowly back to the stone shack.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I will let the remainder of the photographs speak for themselves.

Matsieng Footprints

Photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Matsieng Footprints

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Summary

Bring your curiosity and your imagination with you — but do not bring cash, as there is no admission fee. Also please try not to walk on — or otherwise disturb — the engravings themselves despite the fact that there is nothing stopping you from doing so.

Parts of this site reminded me of Hawiyat Najim Park — which is the location of the Dabab Sinkhole or Bimmah Sinkhole, located 113 kilometers southeast of Muscat in Dabab Village — in Oman, which I had visited only a few weeks earlier. I enjoyed my visit to this site, which is a protected national monument administered by the Botswana National Museum.

For further information pertaining to the Matsieng Footprints site, please contact:

The Archeology Division
Botswana National Museum
Private Bag 00114
Gaborone, Botswana
267-3974616
267-3902797
national.museum@gov.bw

The official Internet web site of the museum — www.botswana-museum.gov.bw which was printed on a sign at the site — does not seem to be working at the time this article was written.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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