• Rock art, a prehistoric safari

In the Sahara and elsewhere man has left traces of his presence. Factors such as the climatological and ecological changes, invasions of foreign peoples and cultural development of the country have led to an exceptional heritage. About 6000 or 7000 thousands years ago, at the beginning of the Neolithic era, a trip to the Sahara was like a contemporary safari to the zoo. Giraffes, ostriches, elephants, rhinoceros, buffalo, lions, leopards and many more species roamed the savannas and woodlands. 

According to the Association of Friends of the Saharan rock art, the definition of rock art is:  "engravings and paintings, of prehistoric or historic times, performed on rocks,". Rock art is a source of important information iin order to try and understand how people lived at a given era. Henri Lhote (1903-1991) was the first pre-historian studying rock art in Tassili n'Ajjer.   



We basically distinguish five periods of artistic performances:

  • The bubaline period (engravings of wildlife):  this is the most ancient period, the period of the hartebeest, a species of wild ox. Since the hartebeest disappeared about 6,000 years, it is believed that some of the engravings could date back to 8000 years and even up to 10 000 years. Most ancient engravings usually depict wild animals such as elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hartebeest, ox, ... The first paintings were engraved using stones.

  • The round head period (paintings of characters with round heads) from 6500 BC to 4000 BC. These paintings are mainly found in the Tassili n'Ajjer. This period most likely started 10,000 years ago to finish around 5500. According to Henri Lhote the paintings were made between 6000 and 4000 BC. Man appears in almost all the paintings. He did not only survive by hunting and harvesting, but he also tried to raise oxes. Some men have Negroid features. The elephant, giraffe and a wild bovine species are still seen in the paintings. Several phases can be distinguished in this period. This is also the period in which great figures like Jabbaren (6m) and Sefar (3.5m) appear.

  • The Bovidian period (shepherd scenes) from 4000 BC to 1500 BC. This period is characterized by a double use of the paintings. It is the period of the shepherds. The Negroid type is still present, but also other types appear. This period started around the middle of the 6th millennium. As of the 4th millennium a change in flora can be noticed (because of the changing climate). The most artistic paintings date from this period. Paintings depict children playing, people dancing and talking,... From around 1000 years before our era, herds hardly appear in the paintings.

  • The caballine period (horse scenes and chariots) from 1500 before JC to the year 0. In the middle of the 2nd millennium the horse is introduced, meaning that in this period, the climate was more humid after a drier period. Horses are harnessed to a chariot, most of the characters are warriors or hunters. The herds remain, but the oxes make way for goats and sheep.

  • Cameline period (scenes of camels) from the year 0. Characterized by the appearance of the camel and is associated with increasing aridity. The dromedary, desert animal by excellence is found on the walls of all Saharan areas.

In the Sahara arrowheads and harpoons of over thousands of years old can be found. They were carved out of stones, quartz and various gemstones, by hunters and nomads. They were used to kill elephants, hippos, antelopes and ostriches.