When the Sahara was green (IV)

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

Later, were the bovid herders who created the most perfect saharan rock paintings. These scenes include depictions of the everyday, naturalist and dynamic; leading of livestock, encampments with cattle tied to the fences, hemispherical huts made of esparto, ceramic vessels, hides for carrying water, tied to the apparels of load oxen, women combing themselves or dancing frantically surrounded by their peers who applaud. They are either naked or wearing a mere loincloth, or sumptuously dressed, with fur stoles, feathers in the shoulders or some sort of bloomers, and showing complex and voluminous hairstyles. Men take care of cows and hunt pachyderms and wild beasts. In some paintings are depicted fightings with bows, supposedly because of disputes on the possession of cattle. Many men wear only a loincloth and hats like the ones used by the fulbe of the Sahel, while others seem to be dignitaries, dressed with wide coats and headdresses topped with feathers. The presence of armed groups, uniformed and lead by a chief, shows an organized hierarchy.

Rock paintings of Tassili-n-Ajjer.

This detail belongs to the groups of paintings found in Ihéren, in Tassili-n-Ajjer. Giraffes, antelopes, bubbalus, oryx, gazelles, ostriches and two elephants partly erased fill the scene. Due to the perfection of its naturalistic expression, this is one of the most notable saharan rock paintings.

Rock paintings of Tassili-n-Ajjer.

Another detail of the great mural found in the refuge of Ihéren, in Tassili-n-Ajjer. Depicts the capture of a ram by a lion that holds the prey with his paws, while a group of hunters approach the lion to attack him with spears.

To some extent, it is possible to glimpse how social life was in the bovid period in Tassili-n-Ajjer. In an encampment of huts, these appear drawn ones beneath the others; the first one is unoccupied and in the rest there is a woman and children at the entrance. This setup would fit with a polygamous society, with the first hut reserved to the owner of the enclosure, to which the women would go in turns at the arrival of the dusk, while in the others would live the women with their children. This is exactly what the fulbe of the Sahel have been traditionally practicing. Other scenes refer to the rules of herding, such as the ritual sacrifices of rams and cows before the herd, exorcism of sick cattle and the annual purification of the herds. In Tassili-n-Ajjer no human skeletons nor burial sites that could be attributed to these herding peoples, have been found in the vicinity of the paintings; it is unknown what these peoples did with their deceased. In Akakus, neighboring region east of Tassili-n-Ajjer, it was found a mummified child wrapped in animal skin. In the clayey plains of Talak, the corpses were thrown into the detritus pits of the camps, or buried in retracted position in crowdings of hundreds of bodies.

In the artwork from this period appear depictions of the major part of wild animals that marauded the Sahara in that time: elephants, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, giraffes, antelopes, lions, ostriches, wild donkeys and aardvarks. From this bestiary one can relive how was the environment that they inhabited. Hippotamus, depicted in a scene of hunting with canoe, supposedly inhabited active rivers, while elephants would require a fertile terrain to assure the average 200 kg of forage that they eat in a day. The herds, on which the bovids predominated and goats and sheep were secondary, were numerous and even so the grasslands covered their needs. The bovids belonged to two species: the cows with long horns that form a lyre shape, and the cows with short, thick and arquate horns. Zebues are never depicted, so it probably was of late introduction. Well developed udders and harmonious bodies indicate an advanced degree of domestication and the existence of generous pastures. Goats and rams seem to have been of a secondary importance for these peoples. Also domesticated dogs appear in the paintings, coexisting with their owners.

In the refuges, the food waste is poor in wildlife remains, which indicated that their primary meat source were the herds. Remains of fish have not been found, despite fishing was supposedly practiced in the rivers that ran at the foot of the plateau. In the sites at Djanet and in the Erg Admer spines of catfish have been found; in this last location, fishing nets were found as well. Ceramics or grinding stones for grain indicate an additional diet based on wild plants. Supposedly, agriculture was not practiced. According to carbon 14, these herding peoples would have inhabited the Sahara between 4000 and 2000 BC. In the refuges a variety of objects mixed with the ashes of the fireplaces allow to glimpse the uses and customs of these herders: small perforated discs cut from the shells of ostrich eggs, that women used to make collars, silex punches used to make the holes and bone punches used to sew the skin clothes, which suggests that they were occupied in these tasks while watching the pot that boiled in the fire. Women possessed as well triangle-shaped earrings and pendants made from shale, while men used to wear bracelets made from the same matter.

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