When the Sahara was green (III)

The Sahara has not been always the most impressive desert in the world. Instead of this kingdom of rocks and sand, desolated and arid, existed in remote times a verdant and populated region. This is the testimony of the civilizations that flourished on the Central Sahara, civilizations that were extinguished when the wind of the desert covered the greenery with a shroud of sand.

Archaeology in the Sahara

During the 1930s started the findings of bones of animals long time extincted in the Central Sahara; terrestrial animals such as elephants, antelopes, buffaloes and bovids, and acuatic ones, such as the hippopotamus, crocodile, fish and molluscs, which made evident that livestock, hunting and fishing existed in the Sahara in those times. At the same time, engravings were discovered in many places: Ahaggar, Fezzan, Tibesti, Kaouar, Adrar des Iforas, etc... They all confirmed the existence of the forementioned animal species. Later attention was attracted by the rock paintings found in Tassili-n-Ajjer, Ennedi, Tibesti, Jebel Uwaynat, etc... Luck played a considerable role in these findings: a french alpine mission whose objective was to perform the first climb to the Teffedest massif, found a group of paintings depicting an encampment on which women dressed with skins are busy next to their huts, in the proximity of a herd of calves, a scene that sheeds light about the uses of a prehistoric human society.

It was noticed that the buffalo was represented in the most ancient depictions of wild fauna, and no longer appeared in the more recent periods; in this newer pictorial group predominated the bovids and in subsequent stages appeared domesticated horses and finally the camels. This showed how domesticated animals replaced the wildlife along the different periods. The camel was introduced in the Sahara, for it is not native from there; it is mentioned by the first time in 46 BC and it is almost sure that it did not propagated significatively until the Christian Era. The camel replaced progressively the horse, for it is better adapted to the desertic conditions.

Engraving of a Bubalus antiquus.

Engraving of a Bubalus antiquus located at Wadi Mathendus in Fezzan. This african buffalo gave name to the most ancient stage of the saharan rock art, dated around 6000 BC.

Engraving of a gazelle.

Lying gazelle, a carving found in Tin-n-Térirt, in the Tassili-n-Ajjer, belonging to the period of the Bubalus antiquus.

In 1956 the interest was reborn due to the discovery of many painting galleries in Tassili-n-Ajjer. Of a sandstone constitution, this eroded plateau possesses a dantesque relief, of a grandiose and wild beauty. The higher parts have been object of a prodigious erosion by action of the waters, that have excavated the sandstone mass to the point of grant it a ruinous aspect of dismantled fortresses and cathedrals, or, in a more advanced phase of the erosion, forming slim spires and enchanted chimneys. The base of these sandstone blocks has suffered a curious erosion, being excavated deep cavities that created caves and refuges under the rocks, well suited to shelter the man from the fury of the elements. The walls of these caves were decorated with thousands of paintings, surpassing in density any other place in the world where rock paintings exist. Some motifs are monumental, for the characters depicted reach 8 meters tall. The paintings belong to diverse periods, encompassing a spectrum of several thousands of years.

The most ancient ones depict a negroid race; the topics are rather strange and the execution is crude. Figures are static, legs are short, women have their navel generally accentuated, and their breasts, always small and conic, are depicted one above the other. In these paintings the heads were symbolically represented as round, rarely with ears, giving an appearance of helmet that encouraged the charlatans of the pseudo-science to affirm that they were depictions of extraterrestrials. In these paintings are often visible scarifications and body paintings, and also masks that today are used in Burkina Faso, which confirms the negroid origin of the race. The presence of the buffalo in these paintings date them around 6000 BC. The depicted topics consist mainly in rituals (women imploring in front of tall characters wearing strange hairstyles) and wildlife (elephants, giraffes and antelopes). These depictions are the most ancient testimony of the art of the negroes and reveal that the cult to the masks already existed in those times.

Great god of Sefar at Tassili-n-Ajjer.

The "great god" of Sefar, in Tassili-n-Ajjer, painted around 5500 BC, during the period of the "round heads", is surrounded by women that raise their arms towards him in an imploring attitude. The scene probably illustrates a cult to fertility, for a parturient lies in the right side of the mural.

Rock art at Tassili-n-Ajjer.

A painting from the period of the "round heads", executed around 5000 BC in Tin-n-Tazarift, in Tassili-n-Ajjer. The personages, whose heads remind of astronaut helmets, seem to float in the space, but they are not related to extraterrestrials, as many have imagined.

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