The University of Arizona

First Direct Radiocarbon Dating of Lower Congo Rock Art (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Geoffroy Heimlich, Pascale Richardin, Nathalie Gandolfo, Eric Laval, Michel Menu


Lower Congo rock art is concentrated in a region that stretches from Kinshasa to the Atlantic coast and from northern Angola to southern Congo-Brazzaville. Although Lower Congo rock art was identified as early as the 19th century, it had never been a subject of thorough investigation. Presently inhabited by the Ndibu, one of the Kongo subgroups, the Lovo Massif is situated north of the ancient Kongo Kingdom. With 102 sites (including 16 decorated caves), the massif has the largest concentration of rock art in the entire region. In 2008 and 2010, we were able to collect pigment samples directly on the panels of the newly discovered decorated cave of Tovo. Unlike the Sahara and southern Africa, both extensively prospected, rock art of central Africa is still widely unknown and not dated. Radiocarbon dating of rock art in Africa is a real challenge and only a few direct dates have been obtained thus far. After verifying that the pigment samples were indeed charcoal, we proceeded to 14C date them using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). The results indicate dates between cal AD 1480 and 1800, confirming that the occupation of Tovo Cave was contemporaneous with the ancient Kongo Kingdom.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16098


African rock art; Kongo Kingdom; radiocarbon dating; pigment

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