In southeast Algeria, North Africa, there is a mountain range by the name of Tassili n’Ajjer in the Sahara that is composed of about 300 natural rock arches – and an incredible amount of rock paintings. These rock paintings date as far back as the Neolithic, and include depictions of horses, giraffes, crocodiles, and humans in the midst of cattle herding and hunting!
Some of the earliest pieces of rock art are actually less “paintings” and more “etchings”, as the artists seem to have sketched out images of local wildlife and human interactions, including some wildlife that now are extinct from the area.
In the picture here, there appear to be two female dancers, several big-horned rams, a camel with rider, and… a jellyfish!? Clearly, the jellyfish is rather out of place in this scene, but it attests to geological assertions that the Sahara was habitable for humans during the Neolithic period. In fact, much of the Sahara desert was covered in grasslands and lake basins, with giraffe, crocodiles, ostrich, hippos and antelopes living along the plains.
As usual, there are many theories as to why the Neolithic hunters chose to create so many paintings and etchings on Tassili’s rock arches. Some believe that it was a way to show appreciation to the gods, a symbolic representation of religious beliefs, while others have – perhaps not surprisingly – proposed that the humans in the pictures are actually aliens.
Whatever the reason may have been for creating the extensive rock art at Tassili, one thing certainly remains clear: humans have a penchant for artistic expression, regardless of the time or place. Perhaps they were merely creating art for art’s sake?
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Tomorrow: Crossbow history