Stories in the Sand

Artful images on Namibian stamps depict the country’s colourful plant and animal life, traditional cultures, history and landmark events. Many people are unfamiliar with Namibia—until they visit on our motorcycle safaris and fall in love with it.

Here we uncover stories long buried in Namibia’s sand.

stories in the sandThere’s bound to be many relics in something that’s 20 million years old, so it’s no wonder the Namib Desert has surprised archeologists. Considered to be the oldest desert in the world, it’s held some of history’s best-kept secrets. Visible only in isolated areas, little known facts about the area’s geography and inhabitants have come to light in Gondwana Namib Park where an ancient river has eroded russet sandstone, revealing archeological treasures.

Once dunes, the sand was compacted into sandstone when the weather became more humid and its inhabitants preserved in perpetuity. Tunnels of ants, termites, beetles, and spiders have been identified. There’s even a very ancient spider web!

Fossils of rodents and reptiles and other prehistoric extinct animals have allowed scientists to conclude that the landscape at the time didn’t look much different than it does today.

Most surprising, are fragments of large eggshells laid about 16 million years ago by ostrich-like birds. The gigantic eggs weighed over two kilograms and held up to 1.7 litres, eclipsing today’s 1.5 kg/one litre ostrich eggs. These prehistoric ancestors to modern ostriches suggest that the bird actually originated in Madagascar and spread to Eurasia.

Fossils which don’t resemble any types known so far are currently being examined by experts.

stamp the lion man twyfelfontein - mrt malto II 2008 webOriginating in more modern times between 6,000 and 2,000 years ago during the Late Stone Age, Twyflefontein in north-central Namibia, is known for its rock engravings and paintings. Over 2,000 engravings with 5,000 individual figures have been identified to date, often superimposed on each other.

A trickling spring once attracted herds of animals during the dry season, which in turn drew hunters. Fractures in the rock formed over hundreds of millions of years of upheavals created flat surfaces which became canvasses on which these hunter-gatherers recorded their history.

Initially considered to be a record of events or strategic maps, they are now recognized as having important ritual and religious significance, depicting a means to enter the natural world and to record the shamans’ experiences in that world. The animals repeatedly engraved in the rock represented the shaman’s out of body experiences and entreaties to the gods for rain (giraffe), food (ostrich), protection (rhino), and luck for the hunt (zebra).

These rock faces could even have been considered portals to another world, with the engravings serving to help the shaman focus energy to induce a trance.

Engravings of human footprints and animal tracks next to or inside tunnels or deep fissures could indicate paths and entrances into the spirit world.

Today’s visitors are promised an incredible experience as they try to decipher the magic and myth of those who walked here before.

Source: Stamps and Stories, Vol. 1, 50 Stories on Namibia’s Postal Stamps, Gondwana Collection Namibia, & NamPost, 2012