Cookie Consent by Cookie Consent by TermsFeed
 
Bradshaw Foundation, Tassili n'Ajjer, Rock Art, Prehistoric, Painting, Paintings, Engraving, Engravings, Petroglyph, Petroglyphs, Algeria, Africa, Rock Art Network, RAN
Bradshaw Foundation, Tassili n'Ajjer, Rock Art, Prehistoric, Painting, Paintings, Engraving, Engravings, Petroglyph, Petroglyphs, Algeria, Africa, Rock Art Network, RAN
Bradshaw Foundation, Tassili n'Ajjer, Rock Art, Prehistoric, Painting, Paintings, Engraving, Engravings, Petroglyph, Petroglyphs, Algeria, Africa, Rock Art Network, RAN
Tassili n'Ajjer
Tassili n'Ajjer
Prehistoric rock art in southeastern Algeria

Bradshaw Foundation Rock Art Engraving Engravings Namibia Twyfelfontein /Ui- //aes UNESCO World Heritage Site Africa Rock Art Network RAN
Tassili n'Ajjer is a national park in the Sahara desert, located on a vast plateau in southeastern Algeria, bordering Libya, Niger, and Mali. It covers an area of roughly 80,000 sq. km. and contains one of the most important collections of prehistoric rock art in the world; it was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1982. In 1986, UNESCO declared the area a Biosphere Reserve.

The plateau is composed largely of sandstone, and the natural erosion has resulted in hundreds of natural rock arches and other spectacular land formations - the ‘forests of stone’. Because of the altitude and the water-holding properties of the sandstone, the vegetation is somewhat richer than in the surrounding desert, and includes scattered woodland of the endangered endemic species of the Saharan cypress - one of the oldest trees in the world - and the Saharan myrtle. The literal English translation of Tassili n'Ajjer is 'plateau of rivers'. Relict populations of the West African crocodile persisted in the Tassili n'Ajjer until the twentieth century. Various other fauna still reside on the plateau, including Barbary sheep, the only surviving type of the larger mammals depicted in the rock art of the area.

Bradshaw Foundation Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art Painting Paintings Engraving Engravings Petroglyph Petroglyphs Algeria Africa Rock Art Network RAN
Tassili n'Ajjer is a vast plateau in south-east Algeria at the borders of Libya, Niger and Mali
© Ben Smith
Tassili n'Ajjer is an exceptional archaeological site, noted for its numerous prehistoric rock art sites that date to the early Neolithic era at the end of the last glacial period during which the Sahara was a habitable savanna rather than the current desert. The earliest art is thought to be about 12,000 years old, with the majority between 10,000 and 9.000 years old, based on OSL dating of associated sediments. Some 15,000 paintings and engravings have been identified and documented, with depictions of large animals including antelopes, cattle, crocodiles and humans. The human figures depict hunting and dancing. There are also geometric designs.

The rock art's rediscovery

Bradshaw Foundation Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art Painting Paintings Engraving Engravings Petroglyph Petroglyphs Algeria Africa Rock Art Network RAN
Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art
© Ben Smith
The Tassili’s rock art came to the attention of the outside world in the 1930's with French legionnaires visiting and recording the art. Sketches were sent to the famous prehistorian, the Abbé, Henri Bréuil in France, and various expeditions were undertaken during the 1930's, one of which included Henri Lhote, a French archaeologist, who would then return many times until 1970. Today, some of Lhote's reports and practices are considered to be controversial, and his team was accused of faking images as well as damaging the art by wetting the paint in order to capture more vivid photographs. Nevertheless, the publicity made Tassili’s rock art famous.

The people in time and place

Between 12,000 and 7,000 years ago the Sahara's climate was far wetter than it is today. Water flowing from the mountainous regions fed the savanna and woodland, which housed much wildlife. This in turn attracted hunter-gatherers, and pottery found in Niger’s nearby Aïr Mountains has been dated to 11,500 years old. Roughly 7,000 years ago, domesticated animals such as cattle, goats and sheep began to appear, so whilst hunting and gathering continued, some Saharans adopted a pastoral lifestyle. By 6,000 years ago, the climate began to change, becomming much drier; people and their livestock moved away. By 4,500 years ago the Sahara began to resemble the picture we see today.

Bradshaw Foundation Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art Painting Paintings Engraving Engravings Petroglyph Petroglyphs Algeria Africa Rock Art Network RAN
Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art
© Ben Smith
 
Bradshaw Foundation Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art Painting Paintings Engraving Engravings Petroglyph Petroglyphs Algeria Africa Rock Art Network RAN
Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art
© Ben Smith
 
Bradshaw Foundation Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art Painting Paintings Engraving Engravings Petroglyph Petroglyphs Algeria Africa Rock Art Network RAN
Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art
© Ben Smith
 
Bradshaw Foundation Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art Painting Paintings Engraving Engravings Petroglyph Petroglyphs Algeria Africa Rock Art Network RAN
Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art
© Ben Smith
 
Bradshaw Foundation Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art Painting Paintings Engraving Engravings Petroglyph Petroglyphs Algeria Africa Rock Art Network RAN
Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art
© Ben Smith
 
Bradshaw Foundation Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art Painting Paintings Engraving Engravings Petroglyph Petroglyphs Algeria Africa Rock Art Network RAN
Tassili n'Ajjer Rock Art
© Ben Smith
Bradshaw Foundation Rock Art Engraving Engravings Namibia Twyfelfontein /Ui- //aes UNESCO World Heritage Site Africa Rock Art Network RAN
The rock art

The art consists of paintings and engravings on exposed rock faces. The art is representative but almost certainly not simply a reflection of daily life. Compositions depict large animals with diminutive human figures or humans with animal heads. The geometric symbols certainly held meaning for the artists and the people. Dating of the rock art has proved difficult; researchers have used style, content, degrees of fading, superimposition, associated archaeological dates and changing climate to construct a chronology (Coulson & Campbell, 2017).

David Coulson, of the Trust for African Rock Art, provides the current and generally accepted chronology, whilst accepting that this may well change in the future:

Large Wild Fauna Period - 12,000 BP - c 6,000 BP
Round Head Period - 9,500 BP - c 7,000 BP
Pastoral Period - 7,200+ BP - 3,000 BP and possibly later
Horse and Libyan-Warrior Period - 3,200 BP - c 1,000 BP
Camel Period - 2,000 BP – c 1,000 BP and later

Without doubt, more sites are yet to be found at Tassili n'Ajjer, and one may well expect the rock art to be proved even older in some cases as direct dating techniques become more reliable.

→ Rock Art on UNESCO’s World Heritage List
→ Discover more about the Rock Art of Africa
→ Bradshaw Foundation
→ Rock Art Network

Follow the Bradshaw Foundation on social media for news & updates
Follow the Bradshaw Foundation
on social media for news & updates
Follow the Bradshaw Foundation on social media for news & updates
Follow the Bradshaw Foundation
on social media for news & updates
If you have enjoyed visiting this website
please consider adding a link © Bradshaw Foundation
 

 
Bradshaw Foundation Donate Friends
Support our work & become a
Friend of the Foundation
 
 
 
Bradshaw Foundation YouTube
Bradshaw Foundation Rock Art Network Getty Conservation Institute
Bradshaw Foundation Rock Art Network Getty Conservation Institute
Bradshaw Foundation Rock Art Network Getty Conservation Institute
Bradshaw Foundation iShop Shop Store
Bradshaw Foundation iShop Shop Store
Bradshaw Foundation iShop Shop Store