Website Category: Rock-art and Pre-history
Area: approx 32,000 km2
Criteria: (iii) cultural tradition
Location and Values: The rock-art sites of Tadrart Acacus are found in a vast area of desert landscape around (and mostly to the north of) the town of Ghat in south-western Libya. The area includes the Acacus mountain range, and borders the Tassili N’Ajjer world heritage site in neighbouring Algeria. Together with the Tassili N’Ajjer it is the premier rock-art area in the world, with hundreds of engravings and thousands of paintings.
The rock art of Tadrart Acacus dates back as far as 12,000 years. This incredible open-air gallery tells the story of the changing fortunes of this part of the Sahara and the people who have occupied the area over the millennia. It is a story that traces the environmental effects of climate change which can be divided into distinct periods according to the characteristics of the rock-art legacy. The oldest art belongs to the so-called Wild Fauna Period (10,000-6,000 BC) characterised by the portrayal of animals – elephants, giraffes, hippos and rhinos – that inhabited the area when it was much wetter than today. Overlapping with this era is the Round Head Period (8,000-6,000 BC) when human figures appear alongside painted circular heads devoid of features. At this time people were living as hunter-gatherers, but this gradually gave way to the Pastoral Period (5500-2000 BC) characterised by art that depicts the introduction of domesticated cattle, and a more settled existence with human figures handling spears and performing ceremonies. As the climate became progressively drier and long-distance travel more important, the art of the Horse Period (1000 BC – AD 1) shows the introduction of horses and horse-drawn chariots. Finally, the most recent period of rock-art in the Sahara (from about 200 BC to present) is the Camel Period, as these animals have played an increasingly important role.
Slideshow of the Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus: The slideshow features a collection of stunning photos provided by David Coulson at the Trust for African Rock Art, the premier organisation working for the conservation of this extraordinary heritage. It shows some of the incredible landscapes that provide a backdrop for this open-air gallery, and detailed studies of specific engravings and paintings from each of the main periods outlined above.
Google Earth View: : To view satellite imagery of the rock-art sites of Tadrart Acacus on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing. Although it is obviously not possible to see any art work in these images, it is worth taking a few minutes to explore the extraordinary landscape and rock formations of the area.