Rock Art

Definition

The term 'Rock art' refers to engravings and paintings, both of historical and prehistoric age, made on rocks. The word "Art" is a bit deceptive, for very often these engravings and paintings are not very artistic and they don't convey any universal principle. But, whether they are artistic or not, these images are of great importance to historians, prehistorians and anthropologists who attempt to date them and discover why they were made.

 

Signs engraved on the ground in a rock-shelter.
The sandal shape is very frequent throughout the Sahara.
Terarart ti-n-Tanetfet - Acacus - Libya.

   

Nevertheless, among all these representations, some of them - to our 21st century eyes - are authentic works of art, worthy of the greatest masterpieces in the history of art. What is astonishing is that relatively recent works are often less artistic that older ones.

Detail of a scene in the Iheren style,
unfortunately very damaged. The person
on the right is accompanied by a sheep.
Iheren - Central Tassili - Algeria

 



These pages are not addressed to specialists but to people wanting to share with us and/or discover our passion
the Saharan rock art..

For more specific documents we suggest to visit our web page "AARS Publications".


Pre-Islamic monument, Djanet - Algeria

As one travels around in the Sahara, one is struck by the great many signs - scattered over almost the whole territory - of the human frequentation of this region apparently a very long time ago.

Pre-Islamic monuments, grinding-stones abandoned in the dunes and cattle engraved on the rock faces conjure up a Sahara inhabited and a climate which allowed small groups of nomadic herders and hunters to make a living. In some regions, one can find real galleries of rock art which prove the presence, in a more or less distant past, of populations freed from essential survival needs, thanks to animal domestication.

This "invention" guaranteed them a sure supply of food, with the consequent development of social hierarchies.

Saharan rock art also lets us see the richness of the symbolic world of these populations. Using these images, some authors have even assumed the existence of an old Pan African heritage which would have influenced the art of ancient Egypt, and which is found in several of today's sub-Saharan populations.

Rock art is spread throughout the world, and the artistic talent of our ancestors is evident in the famous "galleries" of Australia, South Africa, France, … But Saharan rock art has something else to offer: it allows us to see man's extraordinary adventure over the last millennia, during his evolution from the Palaeolithic* to the Neolithic and from there up to the historical era. A period during which man "invented" and developed different methods of adaptation to an environment shaped by extreme climatic changes..

* We don't want to assert here that Saharan rock art goes back to the Palaeolithic, but rather that in the oldest works, of "Bubaline" and "Round Head" styles, a symbolic world is represented which probably derives from that of the Palaeolithic populations.

Tabelbalet - Algeria

Gebel Eghei - Libya

Jabbaren - Tassili de Tamrit (Algeria)

Wadi Tillizaghen - Messak Setaffet - Libya

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Last update of this website 20/12/14