The Acacus Mountains are a range of mountains in the extreme south west corner of Libya in the Sahara, an area that is often known as the Fezzan. These mountains continue geologically into south eastern Algeria where they are known as the Tadrart. In the 1980s Algeria’s Tassili n’ Ajjer, which is just over the border from here, was listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as was Libya’s Acacus. More recently, the Acacus in Libya and the Tadrart in Algeria were listed and combined as a trans-frontier World Heritage Site thus linking the two geological parts of the whole into one site. The Acacus are, like the Tassili, the eroded remains of an old sandstone plateau. These remains take the form of canyons, rock towers and giant arches, as well as, flat topped mountains among which are large numbers of rock arts sites. The oldest rock engravings here are from the large Wild fauna period (Early Hunter period) and could date back around 12,000 years. The earliest paintings are, as in the Tassili n’ Ajjer in Algeria, from as much as 8,000 or 9000 years ago. There are however many different styles and periods of art in this region, including the Pastoral period or style which lasted for thousands of years.
Only 100 kilometres or so to the east of the Acacus is another plateau area, the Messak Sattafet (and Messak Mellet) which is the eroded remains of a huge ancient crater, the Murzuq crater which is visible from space. This geological phenomenon plays host to one of the richest concentrations or rock art in Africa, yet it is not part of the Acacus or Tadrart-Acacus World Heritage Site which is situated well to the west. There are no paintings in the Messak, only engravings and many of the engravings are believed to be very old, perhaps as much as 10, 000 years or more. The area is known for its larger than life size engravings of animals such as elephant, rhino and bubalus, the prehistoric buffalo with huge horns which became extinct round 5,000 years ago. The Messak is also known for its engravings of dog-headed men often depicted copulating with giraffes and elephants.
Several human figures dressed in white capes accompanied by bird, possibly ostrich or peacock, Akakus Mountains, Libya
Horse chariot and rider, Akakus Mountains, Libya
Painted panel depicting a mixed hunting and domestic scene, Akakus Mountains, Libya
Painted panel depicting a huntign scene with hunters and dogs confronting animals, Akakus Mountains, Libya
Detail of painted panel depicting a group of hunters confront an animal with bow and arrows, Akakus Mountains, Libya
Detailed painted giraffe depicted from the rear. Akakus, Libya
Painting of 2 human figure chasing after a group of animals, Akakus Mountains, Libya
Painting of a rhinoceros, Akakus Mountains, Libya
Painting of 3 human figures, one of which has large out-sized arms outstretched. The other two wear white aprons, Akakus Mountains, Libya
An engraving of an elephant at a slow trot, Akakus Mountains, Libya
Outline elephant engraving, Messak Plateau, Libya
2 animal engravings on the side of a boulder. Back animal appears to be a young elephant. Front animal has a mix of characteristics including 5-6 toed feet, and what looks like the face of a lion, Messak Plateau, Libya
Messak. Details of polished elephant and human engravings (from 54) the man is apparently ready to throw a throwing stick (boomerang). Early hunter period.
Messak. Oblique view of rock art site – at the foreground (right) is an engraving of an elephant facing left. Next to the elephant is a tiny human figure.
Messak. Tuareg guide standing beside so-called panel of “fighting cats”.
Multiple cow engravings, Messak Plateau, Libya
Multiple animal engravings including several ostriches and possible cow. To the far right a more recent etching of a possible script is visible, Messak Plateau, Libya
Multiple animal engravings. Possible jackals and antelope. Messak Plateau, Libya
A giraffe walks left and an aurochs walks right in this engraving on a cracked rock, Messak Plateau, Libya
3 detailed bas relief engravings of giraffe walking right, Messak Plateau, Libya
Outline engraving of a giraffe, Messak Plateau, Libya
Panel of multiple detailed giraffe engravings, Messak Plateau, Libya
TARA is an international, Nairobi-based organisation committed to recording the rich rock art heritage of the African continent, to making this information widely accessible and, to the extent possible, safeguarding those sites most threatened by humans and nature. To achieve its mission, TARA works closely with communities where rock art is found as well as with national and international heritage bodies including the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
“Africa’s rock art is the common heritage of all Africans, but it is more than that. It is the common heritage of humanity.”
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