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When we think of ancient cultures, we tend to believe that they were primitive. Africa. This is especially true when we are talking about ancient
The European colonial powers tried to justify their subjugation of
the African peoples by stating that they were primitive and their culture had not value. Thus, the white European men were bringing culture,
education and technology to backward peoples who received great benefits from being conquered and exploited. This was a big lie, since the African The Europeans ended their Many Westerners still
peoples already had highly developed cultures.
way of life, even though it was working for them. regard the Africans as primitive today.
However, the art of the ancient
peoples of northern Africa shows that they already had an advanced culture thousands of years ago. The ancient peoples did not have automobiles, airplanes or computers, but they did have a technology that sustained their environment and their way of life. In addition, they produced great works of art that show skill
in using the materials, as well as artistic talent in designing and executing the paintings and sculptures that we can still find on rocks today in the caves and on the cliff faces of northern Africa. these great works of art are not limited to northern Africa. also found all over the continent of Africa. In fact, They actually
Even the Bushmen of South
Africa, who are considered to be some of the most primitive people in the world today, have produced wonderful rock art. The ancient people painted and carved the things that they knew from everyday life. They depicted people, animals, and objects that were Their work is of great beauty, and it should tell
important to them.
anyone who looks at it that this art was produced by people with an advanced culture and civilization.
Rock art can tell us a lot about the ancient cultures that did not leave any written records. We can learn about the things that were
important to them, since these ancient people considered certain things important enough to paint pictures of them on rocks. number of carvings on the rock faces of cliffs. learning about Saharan rock art today. There are also a
Researchers are still
Thirty thousand rock paintings and
engravings in all mountainous areas are known, half from Tassili in Algeria (Brown, 1998). These paintings and carvings on rocks are found in many They date from prehistoric times, yet they Some of the rock
different parts of Africa.
display a highly developed culture and artistic skill.
art is found inside caves, and some of it is found on the walls of cliffs. Some of the most spectacular examples of Saharan rock art are the depictions of animals. For example, at a location in the deserts of Niger, a rock carving of two giraffes was found. The bigger giraffe figure is slightly larger than African
life, and it has a smaller companion also carved into the rock.
Rock Art experts disclosed this find at the beginning of October 1998, but it was actually found in November 1997 by David Coulson (chairman of the Trust for African Rock Art), Alec Campbell (founder of the National Museum of Botswana), and Jean Clottes (the heritage curator of the French Ministry of Culture and president of the International Committee on Rock Art), and their Tuareg guide. Jean Clottes said that he was amazed by the size of Although some rock art was found before Clottes said, “These are
the giraffe because it was so big.
that was several meters long, this was unusual.
very big, perfectly proportioned, and the technique is expert” (Webb, 1998). The depictions of giraffes were found carved into the rock on top
of a fifty foot high outcrop of rock, and the art covers a rock face that
is about three hundred yards long. Coulson dated the giraffe as being engraved between 6,000 and 9,000 years ago. Smaller giraffe paintings have been found throughout Africa,
and Coulson said that the giraffe appears to dominate the art in most areas all over the continent of Africa. It appears that the giraffe was very The Niger Sahara giraffe
important to many apparently unrelated cultures.
and its smaller companion both have a line coming out from the nose and ending at the form of a tiny man. A painting was found in South Africa
that depicts a giraffe with its head above the clouds and rain falling down on it. A painting was found in Namibia that shows a giraffe's head and A painting was found in Algeria that
neck sticking out from a cloud.
depicts a tiny giraffe with a long neck, and it looks like a tornado going into a cloud. giraffe. An engraving was found in Libya that shows a man feeding a
“'Whatever it was, the giraffe was thought to be possessed of The giraffe engravings were At least two members of the
special powers,' Coulson says” (Webb, 1998). actually known before this team found them. 153 Club saw them in the mid-1980s.
In addition, photograph of the two
giraffes appeared in the Saharan Exhibition Guide of the Abbey at Senanque in the mid 1980s (Webb, 1998). However, the researchers do not want to
reveal the exact location before the carvings have been preserved by cast work. It would be a shame if crowds of people went to see the carvings,
and then they got destroyed. Researchers often divide the Saharan rock art into four main eras: 1) the Era of Hunters from 6000 to 4000 BCE; 2) the Era of Stockbreeders from 4000 to 1500 BCE; 3) the Era of the Horse from 1500 BCE to the 1st century CE; and 4) the Era of the Camel from the 1st century forward. The
paintings from the Era of Hunters show motion, and the animals never seem
to stand still.
They seem to tell a story that is filled with life.
paintings from the Era of Stockbreeders provide evidence of a complex social life (“Mysterious Past”, 1998-99). The paintings of cattle from the
Era of Stockbreeders have coats with many colors, which provides evidence that cattle had been a domesticated species for a very long time (“Peaceful life of Stockbreeders”, 1998-99). The Era of Hunters came after the Bubalus Period (also called the Buffalo Period), which was from the end of the 6th millennium to the mid4th millennium BCE. The Sahara Desert includes significant mountain
ranges, such as the Tassili N'Ajjer, where many rock paintings were found in caves. Before the desertification of North Africa, this was the home of They became scattered as
great numbers of fishermen, hunters and herdsmen.
the desert became inhospitable, and this had a significant effect upon the emergence of Ancient Kemet (Egypt), the states to the West where savanna met forest, and the Mediterranean coast to the North. The rock paintings
show that in the ancient past, the Sahara was fairly moist, and it was populated by humans and many animals. The division of the Tassili rock art
into periods was initially based on the animals represented in the engravings. The painting and engraving may need to be considered entirely
separately if the engravings were done by Libyo-Berber Afro-asiatic peoples and the paintings were done by darker peoples from the south (Brown, 1998). In the earliest phase, which is called the Bubalus Period, the art shows animals that became extinct in the area, including the buffalo (Bubalus Antiquus), elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus. The animals The art
are depicted in a naturalistic style and often on a large scale.
shows men armed with clubs, throwing sticks, axes and bows, but never spears. Later, in the Cattle Period (also called the Era of Stockbreeders),
the depiction of rams and cattle suggests the beginning of a herding economy. Most of the Tassili paintings seem to be intermediate between the There are some faceless (aniconic) figures
Bubalus and Cattle Periods. found at Tassili.
They are located in shelters without the pottery or
grindstones associated with the Cattle Period, so may be contemporary with the Bubalus work. Some round headed figure painting from the Uan Telocat
in the Acacus has been reported to be older than c. 4800 BCE (Brown, 1998). The archaeological data is difficult to correlate with the art work, but human occupation at Tassili started at least around 5500 BCE, and it is assumed that the Bubalus Period soon after and lasted to about 3500 BCE. During the Cattle Period, from the mid-4th to mid-2nd millennium BCE, people hunted game. At first they used crude stone axes and throwing The Cattle or Pastoralist
sticks, and later they used bows and javelins.
Period followed the Bubalus Period, and there are no more depictions of the buffalo. There are other wild animals and, for the first time, cattle. The figures are in stiffer The size
The style sketchier and less naturalistic. poses.
Sometimes the horns are shown in a frontal perspective.
Some paintings from the Cattle Period show herdsmen and cattle Radiocarbon dates
together, and sometimes the cows are shown with collars.
suggest that the Cattle Period was from the mid-4th to perhaps the mid-2nd millennium BCE, but this dating is very uncertain. reflects a fully pastoral economy. The Cattle Period
It is associated with pottery, polished
stone axes, grindstones and arrowheads, and the bones of domesticated cattle, sheep and goats (Brown, 1998). Pastoralism, in the form of domesticated sheep and goats, spread from the Sahara to Cyrinaica and Khartoum in the early fifth millennium. The domestication of the local wild Bos africanus cattle probably also originated in the Sahara, in the fourth millennium. The economic shift to cattle herding was
7 accompanied by a change in settlement patterns, with settlements extending far out into the plain, such as this site at Adrar Bouis in the Tenere desert. . . . Evidence suggests that villages covered a considerable large area and supported a large population, but building materials were insubstantial and left little trace (Brown, 1998). Rock art sometimes confirms the historical records and theories. example, historians believe that the early trans-Saharan contacts were established by the Libyan tribe of Garamantes. The Greek historian For
Herodotus said that they hunted with their chariots the Ethiopian Troglodytes, or "cave-dwellers", who lived in the desert. This description The
fits in with the rock paintings that depict horse-drawn chariots.
first rock paintings of horse-drawn chariots were found in Fezzan in the early 1930s. Since then, more paintings have been discovered in Tassili They seem to form two tracks leading in the After these rock paintings were studied, a
and southern Morocco.
direction of the Niger Bend.
theory was created which says that the Garamantes (or alternatively some other Saharan people) carried West African gold and ivory to the markets of Carthage and Rome (Masonen, 1995). The Horse Period extends from about 1200 BCE, after the Cattle Period. Evidence suggests that the horse was introduced by the Sea Peoples
from Crete around 1200 BCE, and that Cretan influence came with the horse. The Sea Peoples came as allies of the Lybians of Cyrenaica against Egypt. The Horse period is subdivided into three sub-periods: and Horse-and-Camel. Chariot, Horseman,
The rock art suggests that the desert pastoralists The desertification of the Sahara ended the use of The camel may
never had any chariots.
chariots, but people continued to use the horse as a mount.
have been introduced in about 700 BCE, but it took a long time to come into general use. The succeeding Camel Period extends from Roman times to the
present, and the rock art from this period represents existing animals of
the Sahara, including antelopes, oryx, gazelles, moufflons, ostrich, humped cattle (zebu) and goats, and the camel. “The art of the period is small
and highly schematic; the human is represented by a double triangle; the weapon is the spear, although later there is also the sword and firearm” (Brown, 1998) In addition, figures of masked dancers have been found.
The rock art of Tassili has a distinct style, which is different from the rock art found in other places. For example, there is the Tazina Style
of Algeria-Morocco, such as the rock art from the Tazzarine Oasis, in South Morocco. The art of this place was made by a hunting society. It The figures
typically shows graceful animal figures carved into the rock.
are about a foot tall, and they are carved with polished (not pecked or dotted) lines. Researchers believe that this art was made by hunters and Many sites
herders who were fleeing the desertified areas of the Sahara.
between Algeria and the Atlantic show the Tazina style, while other sites show a style that consists of pecked (dotted) designs of the domesticated ox and wild animals, at a time when the economy was shifting from hunting to herding (Brown, 1998). Elephant figures are often found in Saharan rock art in many places and different time periods. For example, an engraving of an elephant from
Bardai, in the eastern Sahara, has been dated as belonging to either the Bubalus or the Cattle Period. 1998). Its height seven or eight inches (Brown,
“There were probably two reasons for the popularity of the elephant The first was that it provided a lot of meat and the
as a rock art theme.
second that it was associated with water and rain, which the Bushmen artists were anxious to influence” (Woodhouse, 1992). While the art sometimes has the purpose of invoking spirits, we should not automatically classify it as primitive. Even if we do not
believe in spirits, this does not prove that the people are primitive just because they do believe in spirits. others would find ridiculous. Everybody has some kind of belief that
For example, every year in December, If you ask
Americans take dead trees into their homes and worship them.
them why they are doing this, they say that a little fat man in a red suit is going to come down the chimney at night and leave presents in their stockings. When you point out that their house does not have a fireplace,
they might explain that Santa Claus is magical, so he can come in through the door or the window. good. He is a god who knows if you have been bad or Also,
If you are bad, then he does not leave you any presents.
every year in March or April, Americans leave baskets out at night so the rabbit can leave candy for them. made out of chocolate. This rabbit lays eggs, and the eggs are
Maybe you do not believe in the Easter Bunny, but
you still tell your children all about him, and you still leave a basket out one night a year so he can leave you candy. house by magic, too. The rabbit gets into your
These yearly rituals are obviously the signs of a
primitive religion, yet Americans are certain that they have the most advanced culture in the world. If you ask Americans to prove that they have an advanced culture, they talk about automobiles and airplanes and computers. If you ask them
about art, however, they usually talk about European men who lived about four hundred years ago: Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and so forth. Most
Americans cannot think of the name of an American artist.
Americans should not regard the great African artists as primitive, just because we do not know their names. that the culture is advanced. The rock art thus tells us that African peoples developed a culture We have their pictures, and they prove
that could support great artists.
They produced enough food for the
artist, so that he or she did not have to hunt wild animals, or herd cattle, or gather plants, or do farming. They also placed a high value on This is
the art, since they were willing to work to support that artist.
evidence of a highly advanced culture, even if they did not have the modern technology of Europe and the US today.
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