BBC Earth’s Civilisations and Sci Bono’s Wonder of Rock Art showcase Humanity’s Urge to Create

Pretoria artist Celeste Theron was commissioned to paint a mural for the children celebrating the imagery from Lascaux and Southern African rock art.

It’s an amazing and almost startling yet sparkling thing that there’s been an accidental converging of the Sci Bono exhibition Wonders of Rock Art: Lascaux Caves and Africa with the broadcast of the new BBC series Civilisations on DStv’s BBC Earth. DIANE DE BEER takes a closer look:


The Sistine Chapel of prehistory meets the Cradle of Mankind, proclaims a programme presented to the press at the first viewing of these amazing ancient works of art that tell us stories about prehistoric mankind.

It is exactly that reference that makes the exhibition Wonders of Rock Art: Lascaux Caves and Africa such an exciting one. To listen to Dr Tammy Hodgskiss-Reynard, curator of the Origins Centre or Dr Sam Challis, senior rock art researcher at the research institute, their excitement about the exhibitions makes you pay attention to what you are about to see.

And the importance of the exhibition is highlighted when one understands that even Dr Oliver Retout, CEO of the Lascaux Exhibition has never been in the real caves, where no one is allowed anymore because of their fragility. As he speaks about the originality we are about to see, the replica of a part of the cave which was unveiled and specially made for this exhibition, it becomes clear just how exciting this coming together of African and European rock art from different timescapes is for local viewers.

Everything is ready for your own rock art imagination to play.

It’s also a great chance for rock art specialists to enthuse the public, especially children, where a large part of the focus is directed with many interactive activities to draw them into the exhibition and to help with their understanding. In fact, you even get to make your own rock drawing and your handprint can forever be part of a mural specially created for this exhibition.

But what was also clear when being taken through the exhibitions by the experts, it is very important to participate and to pay attention to every written word and all the interactive games – whether you are a child or an adult. It is an exhibition that asks for engagement if you want to fully benefit from what is on display. They make it easy, but you must get in there and pay attention – or don’t bother.

Also, if this is something you are interested in or want to know more about, take note of the many talks part of a public lecture series that are being presented during the timespan (from May to October) at the Sci Bono centre starting from 6 to 6.30pm.

Dr Oliver Retout, CEO of Lascaux Exhibition talks about the miracle of this exhibition where two continents meet.

Here’s a list: 100 Years of rock art research in Mozambique; challenges for the interpretation of Southern Africa prehistory by Décia Muianga on June 14; The  Mind in the Cave: The book behind explaining Lascaux by Sam Challis on June 28; Hunter-gatherers and herders in South Africa: From final to ceramic LSA in the Limpopo basin by Iris Guillemard and Karim Sadr on July 3; Geo-archeology of Ethiopean pottery by Jessie Cauliez on July 17; On the origins of modern cognition and symbolic thinking – roots in the Middle Stone Age by Lyn Wadley on July 19; Rock Art in Uganda by Catherine Namomo on July 26; San religion and rock art by David Pearce on August 2; The Cutting Edge: Khoe-San rock-markings at the Gestoptefontein-Drieskuil engraving complex by Jeremy Hollman on September 6.

It’s an extraordinary event in the heart of Gauteng which we should all be excited about and one that will excite prospective archaeologists in our midst.

While this is happening, the new BBC Earth series Civilisations (the title is a reference to the series written and presented by Kenneth Clark almost 50 years ago and screened in the very early years of the SABC locally, is currently being broadcast on DStv.

Civilisations (Arts)
The three Civilisations presenters:, David Olusoga, Mary Beard and Simon Schama

Dropping in on a live interview (on YouTube) with the three presenters, Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga, you will discover that this one is an attempt to create a series that is of our times. Just as Kenneth Clark is described as a man of his times which watching that first series will surely show you, the latest one simply by having three presenters already has a much larger and, especially important, wider scope.

In recent years, criticism of Clark had to do with his narrow focus, more specifically only on Europe, and even then, Spain was given a miss – to the great consternation of a country that takes great pride in its art, as it should if you think people like Picasso, El Greco, Goya, Dali and the list goes on.

But that was then and Clark being a man of his time is also credited with opening a world of art to the public. He was, for example, as the head of the National Gallery during World War 2 (at the time only in his 30s!), the one who realised that art would be a great escape for Londoners during those horrific times.

But that was then, and in the new series Schama takes us from the Paleolithic cave painting to the studio of contemporary artist Anslem Kiefer. Olusoga has expertise in Empire and military history and spotlights the relationship between global cultures while looking at the notion of progress. As an eminent classicist, Mary Beard investigates the way we see ourselves in art and at the relationship between art and religion by taking examples not only from Roman and Greek art but also material from China, India and Mexico.

The 9-episode series is something extraordinary and dovetails neatly with the above-mentioned exhibitions, again allowing different parts of the world to be compared while we witness above all why art matters. Art, they believe, is a measure of our humanity and that is what they set out to show – magnificently.

For all three it was important for this follow-up series (this time adding the important s at the end of Civilisations) to go to great lengths to find the right conversations for a new generation.

And as both the exhibition and the series show, humanity simply has an urge to create – come what may.

Some of the signage at Lascaux which might be unlocked by someone visiting the exhibition.
  • Wonders of Rock Art: Lascaux Caves and Africa at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre at the corner of Miriam Makeba and Helen Joseph Streets in Newtown until October 1. For more detail, check
  • Civilisations is up to episode 3 and broadcast on Mondays at 8.30pm on BBC Earth, (184). You will probably find the earlier episodes by streaming.