Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-75dct Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-13T00:45:09.093Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

King's monuments: identifying ‘formlings’ in southern African San rock paintings

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2015

Siyakha Mguni*
*Rock Art Research Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa and Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Retreat, South Africa (Email: and
Rights & Permissions [Opens in a new window]


Core share and HTML view are not available for this content. However, as you have access to this content, a full PDF is available via the ‘Save PDF’ action button.

The author demonstrates that the complex images of rock art known as formlings depict or evoke the equally complex architecture of ant-hills. Presented in cutaway and full of metaphorical references, they go beyond the image into the imagination.

Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd. 2006


Bignell, D. E. & Eggleton, P.. 2000. Termites in ecosystems, in Abe, T., Bignell, D.E. & Higashi, M. (ed.) Termites: evolution, sociality, symbioses, ecology: 121–39. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.Google Scholar
Bleek, D. F. 1956. A Bushman dictionary. NewHaven: American Oriental Society.Google Scholar
Breuil, H. 1944. South African rock-paintings: landscapes of the soul, trans. M. E. Boyle. (Prologue for Walter Battis Exhibition).Google Scholar
Breuil, H. 1966. Southern Rhodesia: the district of Fort Victoria and other sites. Paris: Singer-Polignac Foundation/Trianon Press.Google Scholar
Chippindale, C. & Taçon, P.S.C. (ed.). 1998. The archaeology of rock-art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Coaton, W.G.H. 1947. Biology of South African wood-eating termites. Journal of entomological Society of South Africa 9: 130–77.Google Scholar
Cooke, C. K. 1959. Rock art of Matabeleland, in Summers, R. (ed.) Prehistoric rock-art of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland: 112–62. Salisbury: National Publications Trust.Google Scholar
Cooke, C. K. 1969. Rock art of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Books of Africa.Google Scholar
Crane, E. 1982. The archaeology of beekeeping. London: Duckworth.Google Scholar
Deregowski, J. B. 1995. Perception-Depiction-Perception, and communication: a skeleton key to rock art and its significance. Rock-art Research 12: 322.Google Scholar
Dowson, T. A. 1988. Revelations of religious reality: the individual in San rock-art. World Archaeology 20: 116–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frobenius, L. 1929. The mystery of South Africa's prehistoric art: newly discovered rock-drawings of divergent style-the problem of the age and affinities. The London Illustrated News: 333–5.Google Scholar
Frobenius, L. 1930. Prehistoric art in South Africa: “The King's monuments”-a unique series of rock-drawings recently discovered in Southern Rhodesia. The London Illustrated News: 338–41.Google Scholar
Frobenius, L. 1962 [1931]. Madsimu Dzangara. Graz: Akademische Druck.Google Scholar
Garlake, P. S. 1987. The painted caves. Harare: Modus Publications.Google Scholar
Garlake, P. S. 1990. Symbols of in the paintings of Zimbabwe. South African Archaeological Bulletin 45: 1727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Garlake, P. S. 1995. The Hunter's vision: the prehistoric art of Zimbabwe. London: British Museum Press.Google Scholar
Goodall, E. 1959. The rock paintings of Mashonaland, in Summers, R. (ed.) Prehistoric rock art of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland: 3111. Salisbury: National Publications Trust.Google Scholar
Goodwin, A.H.J. 1946. Exhibition of prehistoric art in southern Africa. Cape Town: Jointly published by The South African Association of Arts & The South African Archaeological Society.Google Scholar
Guy, R. D. 1972. The honey hunters of southern Africa. Bee World 53: 159–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hall, R. N. 1912. The Bushmen, the first human occupiers of Rhodesia. Proceedings of the Rhodesian Scientific Association 11: 140–50.Google Scholar
Holm, E. 1957. Frobenius’ cigars. South African Archaeological Bulletin 12: 68–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Howse, P. E. 1970. Termites: a study in social behaviour. London: Hutchinson University Library.Google Scholar
Huffman, T. N. 1983. The trance hypothesis and the rock art of Zimbabwe. The South African Archaeological Society Goodwin Series 4: 4953.Google Scholar
Lee, D. N. & CWoodhouse, H.. 1970. Art on the rocks of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Purnell.Google Scholar
Lewis-Williams, J.D. 1981. Believing and seeing: symbolic meanings in southern San rock paintings. London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Levin, H., Branch, M., Rappoport, S. & Mitchell, D.. 1985. A field guide to the mushrooms of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik.Google Scholar
Marshall, J. & Ritchie, C.. 1984. Where are the Ju/wasi of Nyae Nyae? Cape Town: University of Cape Town Centre for African Studies Communications No. 9.Google Scholar
Mason, R. J. 1958. New prehistoric paintings in the Brandberg, South West Africa, and the Waterberg, Northern Transvaal. Lantern 7: 357–81.Google Scholar
Mguni, S. 2001. Research into the formlings in the rock art of Zimbabwe. Antiquity 75: 807–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mguni, S. 2002. Continuity and change in San belief and ritual: some aspects of the enigmatic ‘formling’ and tree motifs from Matopo Hills rock art, Zimbabwe. Unpublished MA Thesis. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand.Google Scholar
Mguni, S. 2004. Cultured representation: understanding ‘formlings’, an enigmatic motif in the rock-art of Zimbabwe. Journal of Social Archaeology 4: 181–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nalepa, C. A. & Bandi, C.. 2000. Characterizing the ancestors: paedomorphosis and termite evolution, in Abe, T., Bignell, D.E. & Higashi, M. (ed.) Termites: evolution, sociality, symbioses, ecology: 5375. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Noirot, C. H. 1970. The nests of termites, in Krishna, K. & Weesner, F.M. (ed.) Biology of termites (vol. 2): 73125. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
Noirot, C. & CDarlington, J.P.E.. 2000. Termite nests: architecture, regulation and defense, in Abe, T., Bignell, D.E. & Higashi, M. (ed.) Termites: evolution, sociality, symbioses, ecology: 121–39. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nonaka, K. 1997. The role of edible insects in the dietary life of the ‘ Gui’ and ‘Gana’ San in the central Kalahari Desert. (Journal title in Japanese) 3: 8199.Google Scholar
Pager, H. 1971. Ndedema. Graz: Akademische Druck-und Verlagsanstalt.Google Scholar
Pager, H. 1973. Rock paintings in southern Africa showing bees and honey gathering. Bee World 54: 61–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pager, H. 1976. Stone age myth and magic: as documented in the rock paintings of South Africa. Graz: Akademishce Druck-und Verlagsanstalt.Google Scholar
Parkington, J. E. 1989. Interpreting paintings without a commentary. Antiquity 63: 1326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Parry, E. 2000. Legacy on the rocks: the prehistoric hunter-gatherers of the Matopo Hills, Zimbabwe. Oxford: Oxbow.Google Scholar
Patie, H. P. 1974. Bees or birds? Rhodesian Prehistory Society 6: 23.Google Scholar
Rudner, J. & Rudner, I.. 1970. The hunter and his art. Cape Town: Struik.Google Scholar
Smith, A. B. 1994. Metaphors of space: rock art and territoriality in southern Africa, in Dowson, T.A. & Lewis-Williams, D. (ed.) Contested images: diversity in southern African rock-art research: 373–84. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.Google Scholar
Turner, J. S. 2000. Architecture and morphogenesis in the mound of Macrotermes michaelensis (Sjöstedt) (Isoptera: Termitidae, Macrotermitinae) in northern Namibia. Cimbebasia 16: 143–75.Google Scholar
Van Der Westhuizen, G.C.A. & Eicker, A.. 1994. Field guide: mushrooms of southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik.Google Scholar
Vinnicombe, P. 1976. People of the eland: rock paintings of the Drakensberg Bushmen as a reflection of their life and thought. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press.Google Scholar
Uys, V. 2002. A guide to the termite genera of southern Africa. Pretoria: ARC-Plant protection Research Institute.Google Scholar
Walker, N. J. 1996. The painted hills: rock art of the Matopos. Harare: Mambo Press.Google Scholar
Woodhouse, H. C. 1990. Bees and honey in the prehistoric rock art of southern Africa. The Digging Stick 6: 57.Google Scholar