Website Category: Rock-art and Pre-history
Area: 72,000 km2
Criteria: (i) creative masterpiece (iii) cultural tradition(Also natural criteria)
Location and Values: The Tassili N’Ajjer world heritage site covers a vast area of desert landscape in southern Algeria, stretching from the Niger and Libyan border area, north and east of Djanet, as far as Illizi and Amguid. It includes the whole of the Tassili N’Ajjer mountain range, as well as the sands and dune areas in the extreme southeast of the country, adjoining the Libyan Tadrart Acacus world heritage property. The site is listed under both natural and cultural criteria, and, from a cultural perspective ranks as the premier rock-art site anywhere in the world.
It is the home of more than 15,000 rock paintings and engravings, dating 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 Tassili n’Ajjer:
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 area to the east of Djanet 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.
PLEASE HELP SAVE THE THREATENED ROCK ART OF THE SAHARA! TARA, the Trust for African Rock Art, is based in Nairobi, Kenya and is committed to recording Africa's rich rock art heritage. TARA's aim is to make this information widely available and accessible and, to the extent possible, preserve today's most threatened sites, however remote, across the African continent. TARA is raising funds for urgent work on the Sahara's endangered rock art. Please donate what you can by clicking here.
Further Information: An excellent illustrated article on the rock art of Tassili N'Ajjer by David Coulson and Alec Campbell can be downloaded by clicking here.