At the end of February TARA’s David Coulson took part in a rock art and cultural survey up the length of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. The survey was organized by Royal African Safaris and the Turkana Basin Institute and was intended to explore the potential of high-end cultural tourism in some of the country’s wildest areas. Starting in Maasailand on the west side of the Rift the team flew north by helicopter stopping to record archeological and rock art sites on the way.
At the end of their second day they reached Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, an area known the world over for the richness of its human fossil sites.

Nabuyatom, island crater at south end of Lake Turkana

Here they met up with world famous palaeontologist, Richard Leakey, who flew them to his northern campus near the Ethiopian border.
Later they flew across the lake to visit Nariokotome where in 1984, Richard’s team discovered Turkana Boy, the name given to the remains of a 1.6 million-year-old pre-modern human they found here.
They also stopped at rock art sites that David knew.  

The wild scenery of the Suguta Valley and Lake Turkana in Kenya’s Great RIft Valley

On the return trip back south the team flew down the wild Suguta Valley over huge dune fields reminiscent of the Sahara Desert.

See more images from this trip on our Facebook page:

Rock Art Sites in Zimbabwe

TARA’s David Coulson recently visited  and recorded new rock painting sites in Zimbabwe as well as revisiting sites he had recorded over 20 years ago. The expedition was made possible by a rock art Safari guided by David that was organised by Pierre Jaunet of Catalina Safaris at the beginning of May this year. While some of the sites were sites already documented by TARA in the 1990s, and more recently in 2016, David was also able to document two remarkable shelters that appear to be little known and only rarely visited. 

Zimbabwe’s rock paintings (Bushman/San paintings) are some of the most interesting and remarkable on the African continent, and some are thousands of years old dating to well before the Bantu people’s migrated southwards from central Africa. The art is amazingly diverse involving a lot of complex people scenes and a lot of geometric symbols as well as a multitude of animals. On an academic and scientific level TARA collaborates with the National Museums and with the University of Zimbabwe. 

Rock Art Sites in Zimbabwe

New Sites rock art sites recorded in May in eastern Mashonaland
MANEMBA  This site was reached by walking for a couple of miles from where we left the landrovers through semi arable land with patches of undergrowth and occasional baobabs to the base of a huge granite mound ably 500 feet high and about a mile long. These hills are regular geological features in Zimbabwe and are known locally as “whale-backs” as they resemble the smooth grey backs of those ocean giants emerging from the deep. 

Climbing steeply up the granite slope we could see above us two long, low caves, like giant eyes, half way up the mountain, and were aware that one of these was probably the rock shelter we were looking for. As it turned out it was the upper shelter that was the painting site – about 70 metres  long but only around 10 metres deep. All along the back of this were hundreds of red, black and orange paintings, none of them particularly big, but some of them beautifully drawn and very detailed. 

There was a line of the most beautifully painted Buffaloes I’ve ever seen, each animal about 35 cms long, several magnificent looking warriors with head dresses and quivers full of arrows and several elephants and lions. There were also a number of depictions of shamans in trance. In that the available living area beneath the shelter was not at all deep I suspect that this may gave been a ritual rather than a living site. The paintings were probably at least 2000 years old and maybe older. 

CHAREWA The second “new” site we visited (Charewa) which I had never heard of or seen in any rock art publication  was an even bigger shelter, perhaps 100 metres long, near the base of another  granite whale-back, full of hundreds of beautiful paintings including a number of huge, in some cases life-size, elephants, mostly white. 

Meanwhile in the centre of the shelter’s rear wall was a huge long yellow animal facing right, perhaps 3 or 4 metres long. The creature had short legs and most resembled a hippo, generally regarded by the Bushmen (San) as a powerful rain animal, meaning that it was believed to have the power to bring rain. 

At the left end of the shelter were two cream coloured elephants, near life-size, with dark outlines, and painted over their bodies were a number of beautiful smaller infilled paintings of antelope, buffalo, giraffe and elephant. In my experience this site is one of the most important bushman sites we have recorded anywhere in Southern Africa. 

Rock Art Sites in Zimbabwe Rock Art Sites in Zimbabwe Rock Art Sites in Zimbabwe Rock Art Sites in Zimbabwe Rock Art Sites in Zimbabwe

Rock art Safari in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Pierre Jaunet and David Coulson of TARA had talked for a number of years about collaborating on a rock art safari in Zimbabwe. Not only is the rock art here exceptional but the bush country with its granite mountains is incredibly beautiful. Visiting the sites involves a lot of hiking through rugged landscapes adding to the enjoyment and adventure. This year we (David Coulson & Pierre Jaunet) organized our first one (an all-French group) and plan to do one or two each year for those interested, going forward. Pierre is bilingual and French is my second language.

Pierre specialises in old style, comfortable safaris but not “luxury” ones in a modern sense. Transport is in 4×4 Landrovers and there is a lot of enjoyable walking and hiking to get to the sites. When driving we pull in under a huge old fig tree at lunchtime and Pierre has a special metal table that folds out from the side of his Landrover (specially adapted) where he prepares and serves delicious French, alfresco lunches at “midi” of tomato salad, avocados, french cheese, prosciutto etc. And a glass of white wine or cold beer for those who want (there are fridges in the landrover). In the evenings we pull in at a little inn or hotel somewhere, nothing fancy but always comfortable and convenient. We can also arrange to camp if need be.

In the evenings I talk to the group about the art and the places we are going to as well as well as my many personal adventures traveling and exploring the African continent over the last 30 years. Meanwhile Pierre also has a wealth of his own stories particularly from the time when he owned a Catalina Flying Boat and took clients, like Bill Gates, on safari in it, landing on Africa’s lakes and rivers.

Rock art Safari in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Rock art Safari in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Rock art Safari in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Rock art Safari in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Rock art Safari in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Rock art Safari in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Rock art Safari in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Rock art Safari in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Rock art Safari in Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

Chad Expedition

During the course of November 2017, David Coulson of TARA led a 4,000 kilometre expedition to the Tibesti Mountains in northern Chad, the highest mountains (3,415m) in the Sahara Desert. The expedition/project was funded by the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) which included two rock art expeditions to northern Chad over 18 months.

The first was to the Ennedi Mountains in November 2016, and the second was to the Tibesti last month. The recent trip was also supported by a small grant from the National Geographic Society in Washington DC. The central Sahara is one of the richest repositories of ancient rock art on earth and dates from a time when the Sahara was green and full of people and animals.

The aims of the expedition were:

  • To document rock art sites using both high resolution digital photography, D-Stretch Enhancement and Photogrammetry
  • To sensitise individuals from the University of Ndjamena and from the Ministry of Culture concerning the rock art of this region as well as its importance and vulnerability.

As part of the sensitisation activities, TARA has designed and produced an exhibition which is now in Ndjamena and will soon be opened at the National Museum where TARA will be represented by Terry Little.

Also accompanying the expedition was a distinguished group of TARA supporters, including a well known international travel journalist, Lucia van der Post, who had been commissioned by the London Financial Times to write a story on the trip.

The expedition consisting of six Toyota Landcruisers left Ndjamena on Nov 3rd and routed up the eastern side of the country via the town of Abeche, not far from the border with Darfur (Sudan). After crossing the 16th parallel, the group camped just for one night at the edge of the Ennedi mountains (see map below) in an area rich with rock painting sites, mostly dating from the Pastoral period of Saharan rock art (2,000-5,000BC). From here the expedition travelled north west via Faya Largeau in the direction of the Tibesti, crossing huge tracts of desert and eventually reaching a massive crater known as the Trou au Natron, whose rim is at 9,000 feet above sea level. The crater is 700m deep and maybe 8 kilometres wide.

The return journey took the expedition through the southern foothills and canyons of the volcano, Emi Koussi (3,415m), the highest mountain. Amongst this wilderness of cathedral-like peaks and rock towers are some wonderful and important rock art sites. Some of these, David Coulson, TARA Chair, had seen on his first Chad visit in 1996.

Expedition Cars crossing sand desert.

Red cliffs, Ennedi Mountains.

Mt Emi Koussi (3,415m) on horizon.

Pastoral period paintings with more recent white camels.

High in the Tibesti Mountains.

Looking out of a painted cave.

Pastoral period paintings c.5,000BC.

Chadien archeologist, Dr Nangkara Clison with Dr Ahmed Oumouss.

Decorated figures, probably painted around 7,000 years ago.

Photographing rock paintings at an important cave site.

niger safari, rock art safari, royal african safaris, david coulson

TARA’s David Coulson recently led a Royal African Rock Art Safari to northern  Niger’s Air Mountains. The group was accompanied by Rhissa Agboulah, Minister of State for Security in Niger, an old friend of David’s. The group flew into the capital, Niamey, on the Niger River, and then on to Agadez by internal flight where the safari began. Agadez was for many years  known as the Gateway to the Sahara.

niger safari, rock art safari, royal african safaris, david coulson

The Air Mountains are composed of ancient volcanic craters and the many thousands of rock engravings testify to more fertile times dating back several millennia. The first destination for the group was Dabous, an ancient lakebed between Agadez and the Algeria border. Situated on an outcrop above this lake is one of the world’s most spectacular pieces of rock art, a 6,500 year old life-size carving of two giraffes. After TARA documented the site in the 1990s, it was hailed internationally as one of the world’s greatest pieces of prehistoric art.

The visitors were traditionally welcomed at Dabous by a large group of Tuareg pastoralists, mounted on camels and accompanied by chanting women. The following day the TARA group continued their journey, stopping near the little town of Iferouane where they camped near a recently discovered rock engraving site known for a remarkably Christ-like image which dominates the site.

The group traveled through a wide variety of desert environments including some of the world’s highest sand dunes and were shown several exceptional rock art sites. The largest of these was Iwellene which boasts several thousand rock engravings and covers an area of at least 10 acres. The oldest of these are two life-size engravings of elephants, each engraved on its own boulder. The engravings may well be more than 10,000 years old. There is also a large rhinoceros from a similar period. Some of the most exceptional art here dates from the so-called  Libyan Warrior Period (roughly between 1,500 and 2,500 years old)

The Sahara has one of the richest rock art concentrations on earth, almost all of it dating from a different climatic era when the Sahara still supported large human and animal populations. When the Sahara began to dry up some of these cultures moved to the Nile Valley where they helped found the great civilisation of Ancient Egypt.

Royal African Safaris is an international Safari company with both a North American and an African base. David Coulson is a Fellow of Royal African Safaris. See

niger safari, rock art safari, royal african safaris, david coulson


niger safari, rock art safari, royal african safaris, david coulson


niger safari, rock art safari, royal african safaris, david coulson


niger safari, rock art safari, royal african safaris, david coulson


niger safari, rock art safari, royal african safaris, david coulson

Woodabe men dancing the Yaake- part of Gerewol celebrations

In October 2015, TARA Chairman David Coulson led a special private 10 day Safari to Niger’s Aïr Mountains. The expedition was accompanied by Minister Rhissa Agboulah, special Advisor to the President on Security. During the safari, which began in Agadez, the group were greeted and entertained by traditional Wodaabe and Tuareg dancers including 70 Tuareg on camels in all their finery and near Iferouane they attended a traditional camel race through the desert.

TARA Safari team in the Nigerienne Sahara

Meanwhile David took the group to visit important rock engraving sites in the northern Aïr that he first recorded 20 years ago. The area is now one of the safest parts of the Sahara to visit but tourism continues to suffer as a result of bad publicity concerning Niger’s neighbours. The visitors were all given a great welcome by nomads and villagers they met.

Rock art- Niger

TARA offers a number of rock art safaris every year as a way to raise money to support efforts to document and preserve African rock art. Find out about upcoming safaris here.

Date: 03 Nov 2015