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Tassili-in-Ajjer - Tadrart Acacus - Messak



The plateau where the spirit blew

This is the title of the chapter Alfred Muzzolini devoted to the Messak in his book " Les Images Rupestres du Sahara " (1995). The members of the AARS are particularly attached to the Messak: one could almost say that the association was born on the plateau. During our first meetings, most of the communications concerned the new discoveries made by our members in these wadis "where the spirit blew".


H. Barth 
Satellite photograph of the Messak with the Tadrart Acacus and the eastern ramifications of the Tassili-n-Ajjer.  

The explorer Heinrich Barth, the first European to explore the Messak.

Recording by H.Barth of the "Apollo of the Garamantes".

Gérard Jacquet, Giancarlo Negro, Anne Michelle and Axel Van Albada, Gabriele and Rüdiger Lutz, Christine and Yves Gauthier, Jean-Loïc Le Quellec, Annie and Gérard Garcin and many others have held us for hours with the projection of their most recent photographs of astonishing unpublished engravings. But these recent "discoveries" should not lead one to believe that the engravings of the Messak were unknown in Europe before then. Already in 1857, in the description of his travels in northern and central Africa, H. Barth had published some of them, which created great astonishment. And in 1932, an expedition directed by the German ethnologist Leo Frobenius explored the Wadis Tillizaghen, I-n-Habeter and Bergiug Berjuj).

 In 1937 he published "Ekade Ektab", a book on the rock art of the Fezzan, containing many of the photos and the fine recordings done by the painter Cuno.

The engraving of the "Apollo of the Garamantes". Wadi Tilizzaghen.

The "Meerkatzen" (according to Frobenius) or "Gatti mammoni" (according to Graziosi) which dominate the Matkhendouche well.

The engravings on the rock face above the Matkhendouche well (Ekade Ektab, 1978), with the "Meerkatzen" (at the top), the therianthrope dragging a rhino (on the left) and several giraffes.


One of Cuno's recordings in "Ekade Ektab". The therianthrope on the right is dragging a small antelope by the neck.

But it is with the first mission of Paolo Graziosi, in 1938, that the systematic study of the rock art of the Messak begins. This professor of the University of Florence managed to establish a relative chronology of the regions' engravings, after an examination of the superimpositions, patinas and subjects represented.

He identified an older period, with engravings of the "fauna selvaggia" (wild fauna), representing these themes with a great deal of naturalism, expression and movement, in images of an evolved and careful style.

The numerous therianthropes (mythical figures with an animal head), often in hunting scenes, belong to this period. According to Graziosi, these works are followed by those of the "pastoral" phase, very naturalistic cattle, often with a collar and pendants, represented with great artistic feeling. Graziosi thought at first that the peak of the "pastoral" art coincided with the decline of hunting.

But the many superimpositions noted on the Messak sites led him to qualify this position and admit the persistence of hunters' traditions in the "pastoral" art of the Messak. The schematic figurations of the horse period, fairly rare here, complete the sequence of pre-camel works.

After Paolo Graziosi, and before the creation of the AARS, our knowledge of the rock art of the Messak owes much to the late lamented Jan Jelínek and to our friend Giancarlo Negro, each of whom have published interesting works dedicated to this region (see bibliography page).

Finally, one cannot talk about the engravings of the Messak without saying a few words at least about its fascinating plateau. This latter descends from the steep northern and western cliffs towards the Edeyen of Murzuq, without showing any perceptible relief. Only the breaks of the wadis interrupt a horizon hopelessly flat, which gets lost in the infinite. For a very long time now, this plateau has been almost unfrequented, for the aridity of the recent centuries has made survival difficult.

But the stone monuments and traces of paths are relatively common. Who built them, who travelled along them? When the patina of the stones, in the middle and on their edges, is almost total, they are prehistoric. If one looks carefully at these stones on the plateau, one notices that among them are large numbers of worked stones: these are either Neolithic or Palaeolithic.

Unfortunately, under these remains there is a lot of oil! And certain western oil prospecting or exploitation companies working in this desert environment have met with no control on the part of the inhabitants, now too distant from the Messak.

They have worked without any respect for the regional cultural heritage, chipping the corners of the engravings, destroying the prehistoric tracks and many other remains over considerable distances. Luckily, in recent years, the Libyan authorities have become aware of the massacre that certain western companies* have perpetrated on their cultural heritage and have laid down rules.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to hurry to act and reinforce the controls very seriously, for the enormous financial power of these companies can easily allow all the evidence to be hidden.


Bubalus (Homoioceras) antiquus. W. Tilizzaghen

A therianthrope, mounted on an elephant andcarrying
its prey, a rhinoceros, leads a group of elephants.
Wadi Meseknan.

A rhino with its young. Wadi Imrawen.

An exceptional engraving, clearly pastoral. Several
three-forked posts can be made out, from which hang
containers. At the bottom, on the right, is a milking scene
with several cows. A figure in the middle is busy hanging
a container on one of these posts. Wadi Tiksatin.

Most of the engravings are found on cliffs of the wadis
which are often relatively rich in vegetation. El Awrer.

Preislamic tomb with engraved stones. In the foreground, a
therianthrope has been engraved on a standing stone of
the monument. Wadi Tilizaghen.


Prehistoric path on the Messak plateau.

Remains of a Palaeolithic stone-knapping workshop.

Tracks for oil exploitation on the Messak, between
the wadis Beddis and l-n-Erahar.
The grid pattern has an east- west length of 200 m.In the whitest
part, the plateau's surface has been completely destroyed.

An engraving beside an oil company's track in I-n-Elobu.  

Une des pistes pétrolières qui descend du plateau à El Awrer.


* we underline this, because the West is the first responsible for a great number of inexcusable destructions, through its unbridled thirst for oil at restrained prices..

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Last update of this website 20/12/14