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Late Pleistocene Rock Art along the Egyptian Nile

Côa in Africa

By Dirk Huyge
Page 1 of 2

Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Bruxelles

The recent discovery (2004-2007) of a vast open air complex of Late Palaeolithic rock art in Upper Egypt, announced in the Project Gallery of the British journal Antiquity (Huyge et al. 2007), has aroused worldwide interest making it already well-known among the international rock art community. The particular circumstances of this find, which is, at least in part, a rediscovery, have been detailed in the above-mentioned Internet publication and will not be repeated here.

Late Palaeolithic naturalistic-style petroglyphs in Egypt are thus far known from two locations: at Abu Tanqura Bahari at el-Hosh (henceforth ATB11) and Qurta (see map below). At Qurta three sites have been localised bearing this type of rock art: QurtaI, II and III (henceforth QI, QII and QIII) (Fig.2, Fig.3). In all, slightly less than 200 drawings have been identified: about 35 at ATB11 and about 160 at Qurta. As the recording of the sites progresses, this number will definitely increase. Both at ATB11 and at Qurta, bovids are the major rock art theme (Fig.4, Fig.6). These animals are undoubtedly aurochs or Bos primigenius. No less than 70 percent of the rock drawings represent this species. Other types of fauna include birds (at least 7 examples) (Fig.7), hippopotami (at least 3 examples), gazelle (at least 3 examples) (Fig.7), fish (2 examples) and donkey (1 example). In addition, there are also (at least) 9 stylised representations of human figures (mostly shown with pronounced buttocks, but no other bodily features) (Fig.8).

The ATB11 and Qurta rock art is quite unlike any rock art known elsewhere in Egypt. It is clearly substantially different from the ubiquitous ‘classical’ Predynastic rock art of the 4th millennium BC, known from hundreds of sites throughout the Nile Valley and the adjacent Eastern and Western deserts.

(left) Map of the Egyptian Nile Valley, showing the location of el-Hosh ATB11 and Qurta.

egypt rock art

Localisation of Qurta I, II, & III

egypt rock art

General view of Qurta I

In a general way, this rock art bears the following main characteristics:

As far as the spatial organisation of the art is concerned, there are no evident scenes (compositions displaying a narrative content). Compositions are limited to the juxtaposition of a few images (like two opposed bovids and a bird frieze composed of three drawings at QII). Figures seem rather to be conceived as individual images. In contrast to the rock art of the Predynastic period, there are no imaginary ground lines present. Images can be drawn in all possible directions (and quite often the head is represented upward or downward) (Fig.9);

Quite often the animals are shown in dynamic poses, their backs curved and their legs bent as if in motion. In this respect they are also different from Predynastic images, which are mostly extremely static;

From a technical point of view, both hammering and incision have been practised to create the images. In a considerable number of cases, both techniques have been combined to create or complete a drawing. Some of the figures are almost executed in bas-relief;

The dimensions of the drawings are exceptional. Quite often the bovids are larger than 0.80m. The largest example even measures over 1.80m. In this respect the Qurta rock art is again quite unlike the rock art of the Predynastic period, in which animal figures are only exceptionally over 0.40-0.50m;

Often natural features, such as the relief of the rock surface and/or fissures in the surface, have been integrated into images. One typical example of this is a large bovid at QII, where a (only slightly modified) natural vertical crack in the rock surface has been used to render/suggest the back part of the animal;

Naturalistic images of animals are combined in this rock art with highly schematised human figures;

Quite often the drawings are clearly deliberately left incomplete. Elaborately engraved bovids, for instance, lack front legs or are otherwise incomplete. In a number of cases animals (both bovids and hippopotami) show numerous scratches over the head and neck, which, evidently, must have some kind of symbolical meaning

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