South Africa arrests suspected trader in prehistoric art

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KAMBERG, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 16: Bushmen, or San, cave art depicts the sacred Elan and dancers, painted on the rock with Eland blood by shaman, and preserved by the South African government in the remote Drakensburg mountains, August 18, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: Bushmen, or San, cave art depicts the sacred Elan and dancers, painted on the rock with Eland blood by shaman, and preserved by the South African government. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

South African police say they arrested a suspect accused of attempting to sell rock art that may have been ripped from the wall of a cave.

An elite police unit known as the Hawks made an arrest last week following a tip about the sale of a primeval painting made by the San people, southern Africa’s earliest inhabitants.

The search led to the discovery of the artifact and the arrest of its alleged trader, in Port Shepstone in southern KwaZulu-Natal, police said.

The 48-year-old suspect made his first court appearance on Monday and was later released on 1,000 rand ($67 / 56 euros) bail pending further investigations.

“The San art-rock may have been chiseled from a sandstone cave,” Hawks spokesman Philani Nkwalase told AFP.

Previously called Bushmen, the San people have a presence in South Africa that dates to more than 25,000 years.

They bequeathed a breathtaking collection of paintings in caves and mountainsides, some of which have UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The seized artifact depicts two antelopes and a man holding a stick or a spear. The sale price was not disclosed.

Police have called in archaeologists and forensic scientists.

“The experts should be able to tell us how old it is and who the buyers would be,” Nkwalase said.

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