|XAM Skylore of the Karoo Desert, South Africa

Jarita Holbrook, J. M. de Prada-Samper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be the largest radio telescope facility in Africa when it is completed which is estimated to be a decade into the future. The |Xam group of the San people of South Africa lived in the region of the Karoo Desert where the Square Kilometre Array is being built. Several European countries are part of the SKA collaboration (Spain, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Malta, France), Asian countries (China, India, Japan, and South Korea), the Americas (Brazil, USA, and Canada), Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, making up 20 major partners (SKA Communication and Outreach Team, 2015). In the 1870s the folklore, cultural practices and way of life of the |Xam were documented through interviews with a handful of |Xam individuals, mostly men that were serving prison sentences in Cape Town. Considered extinct since the early 1900s, in 2011 de Prada- Samper discovered that |Xam folklore, although transformed, is alive in the Afrikaans-speaking "Coloured" population in that region of the Karoo. In 2014, the SKA created the “Shared Sky” art exhibit to highlight the celestial art of the indigenous people of South Africa along with those of Australia where the second part of the telescope is being built. It offered the authors an opportunity to collect interviews with storytellers in the Karoo focused on local astronomy and skylore. Among the information the storytellers gave, they included details of the Milky Way, the Pleiades, and how to predict weather by the moon, but no mythological narratives about these heavenly bodies were recorded. An analysis of the information recorded points to the connections still present with the 19th century lore, though the original language has been lost and contemporary elements have been incorporated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-86
JournalMediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2016


  • Square Kilometre Array (SKA)
  • Indigenous Astronomy
  • Karoo Desert
  • the | Xam ( South Africa)
  • the San (Bushmen)
  • "coloured" people
  • Milky Way
  • Pleiades
  • Moon


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