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Rock art of North Africa

North African rock art

In addition to the inventory and remnants of meals, primitive Africans left behind a lot of rock carvings, which locals call “inscribed stones” (Hajerat mektubatVery numerous on the territory of North Africa, they have been the object of research by G. B. Fleman for 40 years. But since his classic work on “Inscribed Stones” was published in 1921, science has been enriched by many new discoveries and published works. E. F. Gauthier, A. Breuil, M. Reigas, and T. Monod studied the technique, subject matter, and dating of rock carvings in various regions of the Sahara. Libya – P. Graziosi and L. Frobenius; Eastern Barbary-M. Solignac; Southern Oran-R. Vaufray. Although the description and systematization of rock carvings is far from complete, we currently have a sufficient number of sources to consider them as a whole.

Based on the works of G. B. Fleman, three groups of images are distinguished.

  • Some of them, undoubtedly carved in flint, are characterized by wide and deep lines, uniform and covered with mystery. First, the engravers applied the image with strokes, then with an awl they pinned a clear dotted line, and only then, with the help of careful polishing with a stone tool, they obtained a continuous and clear line.
  • These images are covered with other drawings, much smaller in size, filled with rough dotted lines and extremely schematic; they are usually accompanied by Libyan-Berber letters or inscriptions and depict animals that are still found in Barbary (some animals, such as the camel, appeared here relatively recently).
  • The third group includes very easily outlined drawings of modern execution, accompanied by Arabic inscriptions. Obviously, they were executed after the 7th century AD.

Images of animals and people

The first most ancient group of images causes the greatest controversy. To determine their age, we lack the elements used, for example, by A. Breuil in classifying French and Spanish drawings of the Aurignacian, Madeleine and Solutreux periods, which were located in the cultural layers of these periods, among accurately dated remains of fauna and inventory. Animal images in Barbary do not allow us to draw the same exact conclusions about the time to which these drawings relate, as, for example, in France, since the Maghreb fauna has undergone relatively few changes. Finally, the inventory found in the vicinity of rock carvings cannot serve as a serious basis for dating them, since it usually belongs to different periods and often has nothing to do with the drawings.

However, in Southern Oran, the drawings invariably coexist with the Neolithic remains of the Capsi tradition (Capsi epoch 3000-1900 BC), “in the absence of tools of all other periods of the Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic or Neolithic” (R. Wofrey). Perhaps further research will show that this coincidence is not accidental.

Image of an ancient buffalo on rocks in the Southern Oran region (Algeria). The Neolithic era.

Image of an ancient buffalo on rocks in the Southern Oran region (Algeria). The Neolithic era.

The most typical is the image of bubalus antiquus with huge horns, which lived at the end of the Pleistocene. G. B. Flaman, who connects the disappearance of this animal with the onset of the desert, sees in these drawings proof that rock art belongs to the Neolithic era. But the bubalus (buffalo) could, like the elephant, survive until a later time. Images of elephants are very numerous, but it is debated whether we are dealing with the ancient elephas atlanticus or the modern species elephas africanus, which lived in Africa from the Pleistocene to complete destruction during the era of Roman civilization. The drawings also depict antelopes, lions, panthers, giraffes, ostriches, as well as domestic animals, especially sheep with a round object on their head that resembles the disk of Ram Amon. It is not so easy to explain the origin of this emblem, which also appears in images of cattle, and it is still not clear whether it should be considered a symbol of the sun. The question of the origin of the ram cult has also not yet been resolved. Some researchers identify him with the Theban god, and R. Wofrey speaks in this connection of a “derivative cult”. Others believe that the ram depicted in the rock paintings of the Sahara “has nothing in common with the god Amon, who was not yet born” (G. Germain), and believe that the cultures of Egypt and the Maghreb had some common source.

Some drawings show animals in groups. Of greatest interest are the ancient buffalo battle scene from Al-Rish (south of Aflu) and the image of a wild boar being chased by lions and jackals found in Kef Misiuer (a mixed community Ued-Scherf).

Some images of people are of great historical and documentary significance. These people, judging from the drawings, undoubtedly wore phallic cases and clothes made of animal skins; some marked their leaders with a crown of feathers, which was undoubtedly the privilege of the nobility; others decorated themselves with necklaces and bracelets. They painted their bodies with ochre. The weapons used were bows, arrows, boomerangs, and shields.

Among the rock carvings of man, the most remarkable from the source point of view is, of course, the drawing of a man from Ksar al-Ahmar (near Geriville in Southern Oran), waving an object that is easily recognizable as a polished stone axe.

Rock art dating

Images of people and livestock. Tassilin Adjer (south-eastern Algeria)

Images of people and livestock. Tassilin Adjer (south-eastern Algeria)

If no one disputes the fact that rock art lasted for many centuries after the advent of our era, then this consensus disappears when trying to date, at least approximately, its first manifestations. In fact, researchers often complicated the problem they were facing by passing off a working hypothesis as generally accepted conclusions. Currently, the conclusions of G. B. Fleman, made by him on the basis of differences in the methods of performing rock paintings and the thickness of the patina layer, are no longer recognized. The accuracy of dates established by comparing rock carvings with dated archaeological sites depends, of course, on the correctness of dating the latter. As for paleozoological drawings, their significance is often exaggerated, since it is impossible to prove that a particular drawing depicts, for example, the last buffalo or the first camel. In addition, what is associated with the camel, in particular its history, continues to be so mysterious that researchers do not dare to attach its image in rock paintings of crucial importance for their dating. The classification of Adrar-Akhnet drawings proposed by T. Monod into two periods-before the appearance of the camel and after-did not receive unanimous support. Only the image on the drawings of the domestic horse serves as an indisputable indication of the time of their occurrence-not earlier than the second half of the second millennium.

In fact, the problem boils down to determining whether the oldest rock carvings predate the Neolithic or not. Naturalists M. Boule, M. Solignac, L. Jolo and some researchers of the prehistoric period, in particular A. Kuhn, answer this question in the affirmative and date the primitive drawings to the Upper Paleolithic (Capsian period), and Abbe A. Breuil, who is very prone to identifying shades, even ventured to introduce the term “Epipaleolithic”. But most of the researchers, including G. B. Flaman, A. Obermayer, and especially R. We are convinced that the rock art belongs to the Neolithic period. At the same time, however, they do not go to such an extreme as St. Gzell, who at one time attributed it to the period of about 3 thousand years BC. e.Numerous arguments were given for and against each of these statements. Currently, science has not yet said its last word, but it can already be stated that opinions are indisputably inclined in favor of the Neolithic.

As for the numerous comparisons between the rock paintings of North Africa and those found in Spain and especially in South Africa, and the identification of similarities between North African drawings and some works of Aegean or Egyptian art, they lose their scientific significance as soon as they are used to establish by analogy the origin of Maghreb drawings, which is still, and perhaps forever, shrouded in mystery.

The prehistory of the Maghreb to some extent gives an idea of its history. When studying them, too often you have to be content with only an approximate chronology. If scientists are not able to come to precise conclusions about primitive peoples, then it is no less difficult to study the historical Berber people, although they, if not ethnically, then socially represent a living and stable reality.

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