Tadrart Acacus has thousands of cave paintings in very different styles, dating from 12,000 BC to AD 100. They reflect marked changes in the fauna and flora, and also the different ways of life of the populations that succeeded one another in this region of the Sahara.
The massif of Tadrart Acacus, a vast mountainous region (more than 250 km2) which is today a desert, is situated in the Fezzan, to the east of the city of Ghat. It contains some of the most extraordinary scenery in the world and has its unique natural wonders: dunes, isolated towers emerging from the sand and eroded into the most bizarre shapes, petrified arches, and canyons carved by ancient rivers.
Cave paintings and carvings of various styles are scattered throughout almost all the valleys, representing hunting or daily life scenes, ritual dances and animals. The site also includes the Murzuch desert, which bears traces of the different phases of the Palaeolithic.
The Italo-Libyan archaeological missions, which have run continuously from 1955 in Tadrart Acacus under the guidance of Fabrizio Mori and Paolo Graziosi, have catalogued, besides settlements comprising important stone and ceramic material, numerous rock-art sites, including hundreds of engravings and thousands of paintings.
Tools have been unearthed across an area covering thousands of kilometres. In the Tadrart Acacus Mountains, cave paintings and carvings of various styles are scattered throughout almost all the valleys, representing the various cultural groups that lived there during long periods of prehistory.
Like Tassili n'Ajjer (Algeria), various periods, corresponding to successive climatic phases which brought about underlying modifications in the flora and fauna and, thus, in the ways of life of the local population, may be distinguished. They are characterized by very definite artistic styles:
- during the naturalistic phase, corresponding to the last phase of the Pleistocene epoch (12,000-8000 BC), one sees numerous outline engravings, representing the large mammals of the savannah: elephants, rhinoceros, etc.
- during the round-head phase (c. 8000-4000 BC) engravings and paintings coexisted. The fauna was characteristic of humid climate; magic religious scenes appeared.
- the pastoral phase, from 4000 BC, is the most important in terms of numbers of paintings and engravings; numerous bovine herds are found on the decorated walls of the grottoes and shelters.
- the horse phase, from 1500 BC, is that of a semi-arid climate, which caused the disappearance of certain species and the appearance of the domesticated horse.
- the camel phase (first centuries BC) saw the intensification of a desert climate. The dromedary settled in the region and became the main subject of the last rock-art paintings.