The World's Largest Rock Art Petroglyph


Robert A Hefner III Bradshaw Foundation
Robert A. Hefner III
In a project of this nature, there is an unfortunate inevitability that some criticism was going to be made. However, if there was no action, the threat to the rock art would remain, and damage would be irreversible
The logistics of the project were also to be carefully considered. This would be the largest rock art mould to be undertaken. The equipment would have to be sent by sea freight from Marseilles to Cotonou in Benin, and then by truck north to Niger. The working conditions would be determined by the heat, and there was the constant threat of sandstorms.
Another obstacle to consider was prejudice. There is a great deal of suspicion surrounding attempts at rock art moulding. This has come about due to the fact in the majority of cases mouldings were made by people who did not entirely master the necessary techniques, which subsequently degraded the originals. Indeed, about 30 miles from the Dabous site, there are traces of such vandalism. For this reason the Merindol team, based in France, were sent out on an exploratory expedition to carry out tests of the silicon polymer material on the rock surfaces where no petroglyphs were present.
There is also the opinion that moulding changes the chemistry of the rock surface and prevents any future varnish study for possible dating methods. This is debateable, but to take this in to consideration, we devised a system of clay patches to go between the rock surface and the silicon polymer paste.
Finally, consideration had to be given to the artistic and spiritual heritage of the present day custodians of this rich and beautiful art. There is an undoubted need to be sensitive, but balanced against the preservation of an ancient legacy of an economy that is both financially and technically unable to provide it for themselves.
bradshaw foundation petroglyph preservation protection niger africa
The silicon sections
bradshaw foundation petroglyph preservation protection niger africa
Cleaning the surface
bradshaw foundation petroglyph preservation protection niger africa
Finished mould of the giraffe carving
bradshaw foundation petroglyph preservation protection niger africa
Metal backing frame
In November 1999 the remote outcrop was transformed into a hive of activity, as the team - the craftsmen of Merindol and the local Tuaregs - commenced the slow and complex process of taking the mould. For the silicone to set it was vital that the stone was cleaned, the clay patches applied, and then sealed. The months of planning and preparation, combined with perfect weather conditions, meant that the moment had finally arrived, when we could apply the silicon and begin to take the mould.
The wet silicon was daubed on meticulously, capturing every minute detail of the carving. Finally complete, a metal frame was laid over the silicon to provide a stiff protective backing for the rubber mould, secured by quick-setting plaster of paris. As the silicon mould lay on top of the giraffe carving, the success of the project hung in the balance. Inch by inch the team carefully peeled it back from the stone. Three hours later, we were able to cut it into sections and lower them to the desert floor where they were reassembled upside down on the platform.


With the moulding process now complete, it began its journey to the foundry in France where the negative mould would be turned into a plaster positive. This would then be completely surrounded by fine sand and injected with gas to petrify the sand. Removing the plaster positive would leave the negative mould, into which would be poured molten aluminium. Once cooled, the hardened sand would be hammered off, revealing the aluminium cast positive. The actual piece was so big that it was cast in 9 panels, which would bolt together.
The true home of the giraffes carvings is the Sahara, and therefore it was appropriate that the first cast should return to Agadez, the small desert town near the actual site, as a lasting monument. The cast, located at the airport, stands as a symbol of the rich heritage of rock art that the area holds, a heritage that hopefully will be preserved for future generations.
bradshaw foundation petroglyph preservation protection niger africa
Assembling the cast
bradshaw foundation petroglyph preservation protection niger africa
The plaster positive
bradshaw foundation petroglyph preservation protection niger africa
The cast at Agadez airport
bradshaw foundation petroglyph preservation protection niger africa
Assembling the sections
bradshaw foundation petroglyph preservation protection niger africa
The Finished Aluminium Giraffe Cast
Dabous Giraffe Index
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