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Professor Emeritus James David Lewis-Williams

The Order of the Baobab in

Professor Emeritus James David Lewis-Williams Awarded for:
His exceptional and distinguished contribution to the scientific field of archaeology. His research on the rock art of ancient people in southern Africa has contributed valuable information about the life of the San people in the region.

Profile of Professor Emeritus James David Lewis-Williams

Professor Emeritus James David Lewis-Williams was born on 5 August 1934 in Cape Town. After completing his basic education he went on to obtain a BA degree in 1955, BA Honours in 1965 and PhD in 1978 in the fields of geography and social anthropology. He taught archaeology at the University of the Witwatersrand from 1978 to 2000. He has published 19 ground-breaking books and over 100 articles on the subject of rock art. He is recognised as the father of rock-art archaeology the world over.

Prof Lewis-Williams focused his research efforts on the areas of rock art, cultural heritage and the rights of the San people of southern Africa. He developed methods intended for the interpretation of sophisticated San rock art. San rock art is a remarkable art that the San people of southern Africa engaged in ages ago and has become a very significant part of South Africa’s heritage.

Prof Lewis-Williams conducted his research in the 1970s in the Drakensberg, studying the rock paintings there. The interpretation of the rock paintings elsewhere was, as a result, based on the methodology he developed. He also has a profound command of the now-almost extinct /Xam language spoken by the San people.

In 2000 former President Thabo Mbeki invited Prof Lewis-Williams to translate the South African national motto into the /Xam San language. Prof Lewis-Williams has enriched the field of archaeology and thereby assisted humanity to understand its origins better.

His rock artwork is very influential within archaeology and its influence extends worldwide. He has delivered over 100 lectures and seminars worldwide that focus on the subject of rock art. He curated San rock art exhibitions in major galleries across the world, including the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

As a result of his distinction and excellence in the field of rock art, Prof Lewis-Williams has received many awards. He remains the only South African to receive the prestigious James Henry Breasted Prize from the American Historical Association and the Excellence in Archaeological Analysis award from the Society for American Archaeology.

In 2006 he became the only archaeologist in South Africa to receive an Honorary Doctor of Literature degree from the University of Cape Town and an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of the Witwatersrand. He has produced many publications on archaeology. The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art, his renowned bestseller, is a prime example of his work.

Prof Lewis-Williams’s work remains the most seminal in all endeavours to contribute to the understanding of rock art within archaeology.