zaterdag 7 januari 2012

Algeria - Tassili n'Ajjer

Located in a strange lunar landscape of great geological interest, this site has one of the most important groupings of prehistoric cave art in the world. More than 15,000 drawings and engravings record the climatic changes, the animal migrations and the evolution of human life on the edge of the Sahara from 6000 BC to the first centuries of the present era. The geological formations are of outstanding scenic interest, with eroded sandstones forming ‘forests of rock’.

Tassili, a mountainous region in the centre of the Sahara, situated to the south-east of the Algerian Sahara and bordered by the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Niger and Mali, is a strange lunar landscape of deep gorges, dry river beds and 'stone forests'. During the prehistoric period Tassili benefited from climatic conditions which were more favourable to human occupation. The abundance of game, the possibilities of animal husbandry and of pastoral life which lay within immediate proximity of impregnable defensive sites constituted the basic factors which favoured population development.
The unique rock formations and networks of steep-sided valleys of the plateau are a result of the alternation of wet and dry periods. At the end of the Upper Pleistocene, for example, there were huge lakes in the region, in what are today the great Ergs. The lakes were fed by rivers flowing down the Tassili, and dry river beds remain from this period. The action of the rivers on the surface of the plateau formed deep gorges and separate plateaux. Over the last 10,000 years the area has become steadily drier, although this process was reversed by a more humid period from 4000 BC to 2000 BC. Wind erosion during dryer periods has formed rock formations which resemble ruins, known as 'stone forests'.
The plants and animals found on the plateau bear witness to former wetter periods. Relict species surviving in wet microclimates include fish and shrimp and, until the 1940s, a dwarf Saharan crocodile, many thousands of kilometres from the nearest population in Egypt.

From about 6000 BC to the early centuries of the Christian era, the various peoples who inhabited this plateau left numerous traces in the archaeological record: settlements, tumuli and enclosures that have yielded abundant ceramic material. However, Tassili owes its world renown to the paintings and the rock engravings of all kinds found since 1933. This art covers several periods, each of which corresponds to a particular fauna, yet each can equally be characterized by stylistic differences, without reference to an ecosystem.
Five different periods can be identified: the naturalistic period, in which the fauna of the savannah is depicted; the archaic period, when small schematic figures or colossal forms assume the aspects of pictograms charged with an evident magical significance; the Bovidian period (4000-1500 BC), the dominant period in terms of the number of paintings, during which the representation of bovine herds and the scenes of daily life, incorporating a renewed naturalistic aesthetic, are among the best known examples of prehistoric mural art; the Equidian period, covering the end of the Neolithic and protohistoric periods, which corresponds to the disappearance of numerous species from the effects of progressive desiccation and to the appearance of the horse; and the Cameline period, during the first centuries of the Christian era, coinciding with the onset of the hyper-arid desert climate and with the appearance of the dromedary. This site has one of the most important groups of prehistoric cave art in the world. The most important group of paintings is situated to the east of Djanet in the National Park; other remarkable works of rock art are located to the north, in the region of the Wadi Djerat near Illizi.

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