Africa to the semi-arid tropical savanna of the Sahel in the south. But due to a 20,000 year climatic cycle the landscape of this arid expanse of sand and rock has shifted over time, from desert to savanna grassland. Archaeology has revealed early human occupation, notably from about 12,000 years ago. And it was roughly at this time that the first engravings of animals began to appear. It seems that rock art may have been one of the first markers of human presence.
The Aïr Mountains, or Aïr Massif, is a triangular massif located in northern Niger within the Sahara. On the edge of this massif stretches the Ténéré Desert - 'Ténéré' literally translated is ‘where there is nothing’ - and throughout this remote region of sand and rock there are many clear examples of life, in the form of rock art.
Dabous giraffe petroglyphs - the largest prehistoric animal carvings known. These carvings have now been studied in detail by the Bradshaw Foundation and the Trust for African Rock Art, under the auspices of the French rock art researcher Jean Clottes.
The giraffe carvings, however, are but the jewel in the crown; this remarkable area of contrasts contains thousands of rock art sites. Jean Clottes describes it as a 'boundary zone'. For prehistoric cultures, boundary zones - places where two worlds come into contact - often had a special significance. Rock art, when it is found in an exceptional place such as this, can assume another kind of significance altogether.
This is the case in the Arakou region of Niger, where the vast golden dunes of the Sahara flow into the dark sun-baked rocks of the Aïr Mountains. The rocks are adorned with a multitude of carefully designed and skilfully executed petroglyphs. The engravings, thought to be between two and three thousand years old, assume their significance and meaning from their privileged and chosen location here at the convergence of two worlds.