Contrary to the misconception that Africa’s mysteries and secrets have now all been revealed and solved there is in reality still a huge amount waiting to be explored and discovered on this continent . Rock art is a good example of this. TARA is still finding and recording new sites every year. In the case of the Sahara we may, for example, have only so far recorded less than half of what is actually out there. Many people do not understand that the Sahara, which may have the largest concentrations of rock art on earth, is as large as the United States of America, but with virtually no roads! Unfortunately, security problems and wars in many countries are not making the task of exploration easier. Every year TARA uncovers new rock art discoveries. TARA is also leading specialist safaris to new yet undocumented areas for people to share in the exploration experience.
1995 – NIGER
TARA’s first Sahara expedition was to northern Niger, the first of many Niger trips over a number of years. On this first expedition David Coulson and Alec Campbell explored sites in the south eastern Aïr Mountains, as well as, visiting two exceptional sites in the northern Aïr Mountains. Almost all the art recorded on this trip dates from when the Sahara enjoyed a different climate with much higher rainfall, vegetation and large populations of wildlife and humans, approximately 2000 to 7000 years ago.
1997 – NIGER & ALGERIA
Niger – On this visit TARA extended its survey to different areas of the Aïr region (Niger) where Campbell and Coulson were able to find and record two life-size giraffe carvings from the late Bubalus/Large Wild Fauna period of Saharan Art (around 6000 years old). The recording of these huge but little known carvings created an international sensation with the carvings being hailed as one of the greatest pieces of prehistoric art ever found. Later on in the trip they crossed the Tenere Valley (ancient river valley visible from space) in order to reach the Djado Plateau and record some of the engravings and paintings in that area.
Algeria – On this trip Coulson and Campbell were able to drive across the border from northern Niger into south east Algeria in order to visit the famous Tassili n’ Ajjer, an 80,000 square kilometres National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site) situated on the border with Libya. The Tassili is today a vast moonscape with no vegetation, formerly supported a large human population as well as wildlife and vegetation. It is one of the richest rock art areas on earth with some engravings going back at least 12,000 years and some paintings going back more than 10,000 years. In addition to visiting the Tassili, they also visited an important area further south called the Tadrart.
1998 – LIBYA
This was TARA’s first expedition to the Fezzan in south western Libya which borders with Algeria including the Tassili n’ Ajjer. Here, the Acacus Mountains are extremely rich in rock paintings and engravings with similar art to that found over the border in Algeria. Coulson and Campbell reached the mountains from the north having driven from Tunisia and Katerina, Tripoli. Owing to the international air blockade on Libya at that time they could not fly directly to Libya. The Acacus Mountains were added to the World Heritage list in 1986 and were later linked with the Tadrart over the border in Algeria though the creation of a Trans-Frontier World Heritage site known as the Tadrart Acacus World Heritage Site. TARA also visited another extremely important rock art area in the Fezzan, an area just as important as the Acacus known as the Messak which by an unfortunate error was never included in the original World Heritage nomination. This Messak is only 200 kilometres to the east of the Acacus and is in effect the sandstone rim of an ancient crater, the Merzuq crater, now mainly full of dunes. This crater rim is scored by a mass of river feds or wadis which drain down towards the Merzuq Basin. Thousands of magnificent engravings were carved on the cliffs of these wadis several thousand years ago.
2000 – EGYPT
At the end of this year TARA organized an expedition to the Cave of Swimmers (Wadi Sura) in the Gilf Kebir which had recently been made famous by the film, The English Patient. To get to the cave, Coulson and Campbell had to cross the Great Sand Sea, one of the largest expanses of dune desert in the world. The Gilf Kebir is situated in Egypt’s Western Desert near the Libyan border. The Rock paintings in this cave and other rock shelters here date mainly from the Pastoral period of Saharan art. Another very rich rock art area south of here which they visited, containing both engravings and paintings, is a mountain called Jebel Uwaynat where the borders of Egypt, Libya and Sudan all meet. Later in their trip they recorded rock engravings in the Nile Valley.