May 26, 2024 at 9:28 am

South African Rock Paintings Depict Unicorns, But Were They Ever Real?

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Cambridge

This is definitely one of those questions where your heart really wants to shout YES, even if we know in our grown up heads that it’s probably not true.

But the Earth has a long history, and humans haven’t been around for most of it – so, could the depictions of unicorns on South African rocks mean they really existed?

In a new study, author David Witelson claims that expeditions to track down unicorns were common during the colonial era. This could be because of the rupestrian sketches found in prehistoric cave paintings.

After seeing these, Europeans thought they would be heroes if they could be the ones to find the one-horned horses in real life.

Source: Cambridge

In 1797, Auditor-General of Public Accounts at the Cape of Good Hope published a sketch that he said he copied from a drawing found along the Tarka River.

Then and now, skeptics wonder if the drawings were actually of a rhinoceros, or gemsbok, perhaps drawn so that one horn obscures the other.

In the end, experts agreed that the drawing Barrow sent home probably looks nothing like the original – if it existed at all.

Local and indigenous reports of unicorn-like creatures continued, however.

One such account was recorded by missionary Johannes Theodorus van der Kemp in 1084.

“A very savage animal, with a single horn placed on his forehead, which is very long.”

Source: Cambridge

These accounts typically describe the South African unicorn as having stripes and referred to as “kamma,” which means “water” in a local language.

The study author found that in the rock paintings in The Free State shows an animal that resembles a mythical “rain animals” of San lore, which are said to have a single horn and striped flanks.

So, they conclude it could very likely be the case that the “unicorn” is a manifestation of the rain.

When Europeans saw the drawings their minds went immediately to the rainbow-galloping, magical unicorn, when in reality, that wasn’t what was painted at all.

“The strong, superficial resemblance of one-horned rain-animals to European unicorns resulted in a complicated conflation of ideas.”

Source: Cambridge

I mean, it’s bound to happen when you barge into a centuries-old society that’s absolutely none of your business and start copying the drawings like they belong to you.

A little context couldn’t have hurt, is what I’m saying.

But I’m also not saying that maybe it is a unicorn.

Because the mystery should live on.

If you thought that was interesting, you might like to read about the mysterious “pyramids” discovered in Antarctica. What are they?