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
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…
…but I knew that I had finally arrived, according to this road sign along highway A1…
…although I probably prefer this homemade sign for the Matsieng camping site.
This is the gate through which to access the Matsieng Footprints…
…although it is safe to say that it is apparently not exactly the most secure gate in the world.
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.
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.
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…
…so I walked through the gate and found a small stone shack — also known as the office of the custodian.
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.
“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.
There were times where the landscape seemed to have the appearance of the combination of part African and part another planet…
…especially with some of the strange foliage found growing there.
This is one of the many “prints” shaped like a human foot which were found on the stone ground of the site…
…and there were more to be found.
The outline of this footprint was indented into the rock floor itself.
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.
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.
These petroglyphics are in the form of footprints shaped like the letter U, with dots representing animal tracks — typically felines.
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?
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…
…and Maria pointed out to me the symbolism of celestial bodies as represented in the photograph shown above — perhaps of planets and solar systems.
The photograph shown above represents a closer view of the supposition of cosmology explained.
Two Water Holes
Two large holes — which retain water throughout the year depending on rainfall conditions — are found at Matsieng in addition to the footprints.
Water holes and caves are sacred to the San people — especially for the purposes of rainmaking.
The shape of this water hole reminded me of an outline of Africa itself.
It has not been established at this time whether the holes are natural or volcanic.
People collect water at the site for ritual purposes, domestic use, and to water their small stock.
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.
Although the weather was not too hot, the sun was indeed strong — and I can imagine the water being potentially inviting for cooling off.
Pea soup, anyone — or is this water imitating a form of green stucco?
I must say that this water is greener than Green River near Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.
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.
I was asked by her not to disturb anything — which is why I had my trusty camera with me.
Once she was done with the informal tour, she informed me that I may stay as long as I liked.
I thanked Maria as she walked slowly back to the stone shack.
I will let the remainder of the photographs speak for themselves.
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
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.