In the heart of the Sahara lies the Tenere Desert. 'Tenere', literally translated as ‘where there is nothing’, is a barren desert landscape stretching for thousands of miles, but this literal translation belies its ancient significance - for over two millenia, the Tuareg operated the trans-Saharan caravan trade route connecting the great cities on the southern edge of the Sahara via five desert trade routes to the northern coast of Africa.
Dabous Giraffe Rock Art Petroglyph
One of the finest examples of ancient rock art in the world - two life-size giraffe carved in stone
And before the Tuareg? Life in the region now known as the Sahara has evolved for millennia, in varying forms. One particular piece of evidence of this age-old occupation can be found at the pinnacle of a lonely rocky outcrop. Here, where the desert meets the slopes of the Air Mountains, lies Dabous, home to one of the finest examples of ancient rock art in the world - two life-size giraffe carved in stone. They were first recorded as recently as 1987 by Christian Dupuy. A subsequent field trip organised by David Coulson of the Trust for African Rock Art, brought the attention of archaeologist Dr Jean Clottes, who was startled by their significance, due to the size, beauty and technique.
The two giraffe, one large male in front of a smaller female, were engraved side by side on the sandstone’s weathered surface. The larger of the two is over 18 feet tall, combining several techniques including scraping, smoothing and deep engraving of the outlines. However, signs of deterioration were clearly evident. Despite their remoteness, the site was beginning to receive more and more attention, as these exceptional carvings were beginning to suffer the consequences of both voluntary and involuntary human degradation. The petroglyphs were being damaged by trampling, but perhaps worse than this, they were being degraded by grafitti and fragments were being stolen.
Damon de Laszlo
The obvious answer to was to preserve the giraffe carvings because of their artistic significance, but also their placement within a palaeo-African context
The Chairman of the Bradshaw Foundation, Damon de Laszlo, saw that 'the obvious answer to this was to attempt to preserve them, not only because of their artistic significance, but also their placement within a palaeo-African context ie. a greener Sahara, and how this ties in with our 'Journey of Mankind' Genetic Map.' This preservation would take the form of making a mould of the carvings, and then cast them in a resistant material.
The point of this was two-fold; now was the time to take the mould because the carvings were still – just – in a perfect condition, and by publicising the importance of the carvings, their value would be realised and their protection prioritized. By chance, a year earlier saw the publication of 'Zarafa' by Michael Allin, depicting the fascinating tale of a giraffe from the Sudan being led across France in 1826 – the Dabous giraffe would travel to France nearly two hundred years later, but in a slightly different fashion.
One of the major aims of the Bradshaw Foundation is to preserve ancient rock art, but with a project of this nature and scale, we obviously needed permission from both UNESCO and the government of Niger. Moreover, it was important to ensure that the project would be carried out at the grass-roots level, with full involvement of the Tuareg custodians. Finally, consideration of the future preservation had to be catered for, and for this reason a well was sunk near the site to provide water for a small group to live in the area, a member of which would act as a permanent guide - to show where to mount the outcrop, where to best view the petroglyphs without walking on them, and to ensure no damage or theft.