Please find here a brief overview of how „Tracking in Caves“ developed from the initial idea in 2008 to the conference in May 2017.
In winter 2008 the basic idea of Tracking in Caves-project was born. The Tuc d’Audoubert monograph had just been sent to the editor, but the important number of tracks in this cave had not been touched in detail. Tuc d’Audoubert is one of the most important caves with prehistoric art worldwide and contains more than 400 footprints. When discussing this deficit of the new monograph, the conversation drifted towards indigenous trackers in Namibia … and the idea was born.
Contacts with the tracking communities in the Tsumkwe region were picked up and intensified over the following years. Megan Biesle, anthropologist working with Kalahari people since the 1960s, gladly volunteered as a supervisor and consultant. Finally, the elders of the Nya Nya conservancy proposed three trackers Ui Kxunta, Thui Thao and Tsamkgao Ciqae who were willing to venture into this experiment. At the same time the access to the caves with prehistoric footprints in France that had been publicised before, was assured. The whole package was moulded into a research application to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft that accepted it in the end of 2012.
Tracking in Caves
Supported by the funding of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft the initial Tracking in Caves-project was conducted as a test study with open result. During the first two weeks in Namibia team-building aspects were important. Well prepared, the team passed the following two weeks in South-western France to study prehistoric footprints in four caves – Niaux, Pech-Merle, Fontanet and Tuc d’Audoubert – following a straightforward documentation protocol.
The results are encouraging: in every cave new imprints were detected, and for every field of footprints plausible, unspectacular interpretations resulted.
Thanks to the positive results, new questions popped up as an obligation to continue.
During the first project period in 2013 a TV documentary had been filmed that was broadcasted on ARTE TV in Germany and France. On the side of this there was intense reporting on the project in Namibian, German, French and other international media and scholarly journals. With the participation of journalists from DIE ZEIT and GEO the good media coverage was kept up also in the following step, „the homecoming“.
3D scanning in Pech-Merle
In 2013 a first step in the direction of a hybrid science of reading prehistoric human tracks was made. Due to the fact that high resolution scans of the studied footprints are missing, some footprints from Tuc d’Audoubert and – more importantly – the entire field of prehistoric footprints in Pech-Merle were scanned in the frame of a digitisation award that was sponsored by AICON 3D Systems and the Institute of Geography at the University of Cologne. The dataset is the base of a master thesis at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nurnberg.
The second important step in the project was the ‚homecoming‘ of the results of the initial Tracking in Caves-project to Namibia. With the TV-documentary, that had been filmed during the first stage, and the technical equipment on board, the project team travelled through northern Namibia and Bostwana to present the film in different communities, mainly consisting of San. The screenings were accompanied by talks of the trackers who conveyed the message that traditional knowledge is precious, relevant and of use for science. It turned out that the art of tracking is a competence that is in danger to be lost soon due to changes of living conditions and livelihood. Contacts to other trackers were made, and during several workshops the methodology of age, sex and other feature determination was elaborated and fed into scientific papers co-authored by all team members.
future project orientation
Several papers have been finished and published, and applications for the continuation were submitted; among them an application for an international conference of Prehistoric Human Tracks. The VolkswagenStiftung finally accepted the proposal and accordingly in 2017 this conference can take place in the Neanderthal Museum and at the University of Cologne. Other project proposals aim at research that runs over up to three years, perpetuating earlier investigations on tracks and also opening new fields of research. All of these are endeavours to combine conventional archaeological knowledge and methods with indigenous knowledge and methods.