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S.Africa arrests suspected trader in prehistoric art

South African police said Monday they had arrested a suspect for 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 tipoff about the sale of a primaeval painting made by the San people, southern Africa’s earliest inhabitants.

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

A 48-year-old suspect appeared before magistrates on Monday and was later released on 1,000 rand ($67 / 56 euros) bail pending further investigations.

“The San art rock may have been chiselled 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 artefact 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.