The Wonders of Rock Art: Now at Sci-Bono

by | May 22, 2018 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Johannesburg City Centre, Museums and Buildings | 7 comments

The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is a science museum in Newtown, in the middle of the Joburg CBD. The museum is housed in a cavernous, 110-year-old former electrical workshop. Somehow I’ve never blogged about it before but last week I received a perfect opportunity when I was invited to the launch of Sci-Bono’s “Wonders of Rock Art: Lascaux Cave and Africa” exhibition.

Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in NewtownThe Sci-Bono Discovery Centre during the opening of the Wonders of Rock Art exhibition.

The Wonders of Rock Art

The Wonders of Rock Art is a collaboration between Sci-Bono, Wits University, the French Embassy in South Africa, and the French Institute of South Africa. There is a lot going on in this exhibition and I can’t begin to explain it all. But in short, there is a life-sized reproduction of France’s Lascaux Cave, which has been nicknamed “the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory”. The Lascaux Cave was discovered in 1940 (by a bunch of teenagers chasing a dog) and is filled with one of the world’s most stunning displays of prehistoric rock art.

Lascaux rock art painting at Sci-BonoA reproduction of Lascaux’s “Panel of the Black Cow”. The reproduction was painstakingly created using the same materials the original Cro-Magnon artists used 17,000 years ago.

Photographing LascauxReproducing the reproduction.

The exhibition also includes a fascinating section on Southern African prehistoric art — the oldest known human-made art in the world.

Storm shelter reproduction in Dawn of Art at Sci-BonoA reproduction of the spectacular “Storm Shelter” rock paintings in South Africa’s southern Drakensberg region. The San people created Southern African rock paintings as long as 27,000 ago and as recently as the early 20th century.

Looking at ancient Southern African art -- ostrich eggsMore Southern African art: Visitors check out reproductions of 60,000-year old ostrich eggs, which were decorated with geometric line markings and pieces of shell. The eggs are believed to have been used as water containers.

The Lascaux exhibition has already toured the world, with openings in Europe, the United States, and Asia. But the Sci-Bono version of the exhibition is the first to incorporate Southern African prehistoric art. It’s fascinating to see all the similarities and differences between the European and African art.

Highlights of the Wonders of Rock Art Exhibition

I love the reproduction of the Lascaux Cave, which you can actually walk into and look at the paintings under two different lighting conditions. But my favorite part of the Lascaux section is the smaller-scale, 3D version of the cave, which you can peer into and get a real idea of the size of the space compared to the artists who painted there. It’s remarkable that ancient humans crawled into this underground cave, which has no natural light, and painted these masterpieces. No one knows why they did it.

Inside 3D Lascaux CaveA 3D reproduction of one of the larger halls in Lascaux. Humans never lived in this cave — it was too dark and the air quality was poor. The prehistoric artists used hundreds of tiny oil lamps to light the cave as they painted.

I loved all the interactive activities in the Southern African section, which is named “The Dawn of Art”. The rock-art painting was particularly fun, as was the big board where everyone can leave their fingerprint.

Painting rock art at Sci-BonoPainting “rock art”.

Heather's rock art
My own attempt.

French Ambassador at Sci-BonoThe French Ambassador leaves his fingerprint.

Heather fingerprintAnd me. (Photo: Kevin Millner)

And finally, my favorite: The mural outside. Sci-Bono commissioned artist Celeste Theron to paint a rock-art-inspired mural on the wall of the museum. The mural was in progress for few weeks before the exhibition and I came a couple of times to watch Celeste paint. She was live-painting on the day of the launch.

Celeste Theron and Sci-Bono muralCeleste and the mural, a week or two before the launch.

Celeste Theron at Sci-BonoThe day before the launch.

Celeste and muralLaunch day. I’ll have to go back one more time to see the fully finished piece.

The Wonders of Rock Art exhibition runs from now until 1 October 2018. Tickets cost R130 for adults and R70 for children.

I wrote this post in partnership with Sci-Bono and the sponsors of the Wonders of Rock Art exhibition. Opinions expressed are mine.


  1. Alison Simon

    We went to southern France last year to see all the caves. They were amazing. And now that you’ve posted this, I need to go to S. Africa and see these caves. I had no idea that there were two of them. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Catherine

    Heather, have you ever been to the Makgabeng near Bochum in the Limpopo? If you are interested in rock art there is the Makgabeng Farm Lodge run by Fortune and Lorraine and they can organize a private visit for you with a great rock art specialist named Jonas Tlouamma. Completely off the beaten track. You can tell Fortune and Lorraine that Catherine in Geneva is sending you on. Thanks for your article.

  3. autumnashbough

    Wow, how cool! I love that it’s so interactive, too. Great for kids.

    • 2summers

      Yes! That’s what I like about it too.

  4. Adeline

    Would love to go to the exhibition. 2 people.

  5. Nina

    I love this museum and would love to go with the girls… I would love 3 tickets 😉

  6. Krotoa

    How.about inviting the real Rock Art painters of South Africa…Khoisan people themselves…it would be a marvelous experience to interact with them personally .


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