Archive for the ‘Gilf Kebir’ Category

Restrictions and new rules on travel to Gilf Kebir

August 5, 2010

Horizons Unlimited

There is a discussion on the above forum at the moment about travel restrictions and additional regulations for travel to the Gilf Kebir area. I know some of those participating in the conversation, and it looks as though the restrictions may be applied, so if you’re planning a trip to the area it may be worth investigating further.

Colloquium Notes: The Signs of Which Times?

June 9, 2010

Colloquium notes: The Signs of Which Times?

The Signs of Which Times? Chronological and Palaeoenvironmental Issues in the Rock Art of Northern Africa
Palais des Academies, Rue Ducale, Brussels
3rd, 4th and 5th June 2010
Colloquium introduction by Dirk Huyge and Francis Van Noten
Colloquium programme
Colloquium abstracts

Apologies that these notes haven’t been posted sooner but I wanted to add some links for those who weren’t familiar with the speakers or subjects. Unfortunately I haven’t added as many links as I would have liked but I wanted to post these notes in a timely manner.


The Signs of Which Times was organized by Dirk Huyge and Francis Van Noten under the auspices of the Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences. Its scope, the rock art of the entire Saharan region, attracted a mixture of some of the most illustrious names in rock art research together with those who have just completed or are just completing their research at post-graduate level.

As its name implies, the colloquium was intended to address the issues of chronology and environment in rock art studies. It is perhaps worth stating my own reasons for attending the colloquium. Although rock art is not one of my primary interests I would very much like to use it as a dataset integrated with other archaeological datasets because rock art is present in several of my research regions, an ambition which is fairly impossible at the moment (due to lack of absolute dates with which it can be tied into other archaeological data). I am also seriously interested in how research into localized manifestations of climate change, in the form of geographically discrete environmental conditions, would open up an understanding of when and how people would have been able to move through and use the Saharan landscape.

Around one third of the papers were in French, as were the following discussions. As speakers were allocated 15 minutes rather than the usual 20 minutes many decided to ensure delivery of all the information by speaking very quickly – I was fine when this was done in English but struggled hopelessly with machine-gun French, because my French is terribly rusty. Fortunately most of the other delegates were either bi-lingual or impressively multi-lingual so I was in a small and somewhat irrelevant minority. Moral of the story: if you want to engage in North African rock art studies either as a serious research topic or as a serious hobby you really need to speak French, which is probably the lingua franca of rock art in North Africa. This is absolutely not a complaint. It is, however, very important to take note of the obvious caveat that my following review is a somewhat lopsided one. I am making generalizations about a colloquium in which there were some lectures where I only had a superficial understanding of the main points of the presentation.

If anyone who attended wants to make any corrections please feel free!

Much of the research presented was preliminary, and as a formal Proceedings of the colloquium is planned I have not given any detailed summaries of the papers presented. The following is an overview of some of the themes and trends revealed by the colloquium. I will give details of the Proceedings and when its publication is planned when I know more myself.

Conference Overview

Each paper was allocated 15 minutes, and at the end of each session there was a half hour discussion period which was well used.

The colloquium was opened by Paul Bahn who discussed the history of rock art studies in north Africa, and raised the problem of modern vandalism to rock art sites. Although there are some big names in north African rock art they tend to be known mainly amongst other north African archaeologists. Paul Bahn is something of a poster boy for rock art so his opening address was a good way of reinforcing the profile of Saharan rock art research.

If I could go back in time and add a wish list item to the introductory lectures, I think that I would have found it of considerable use to have had a summary of the current state of rock art research in North Africa, as a logical follow-on to Paul Bahn’s lecture. There have been many suggested and detailed chronologies for rock art sequences in the Sahara and it would have been good to have had these in the back of the mind for contextual purposes. It has to be said, of course, that everyone else at the colloquium was probably already fully aware of these!

There were, as at all conferences, strong papers, weaker papers and four no-shows including Savino di Lernia, Selima Ikram, Ahmed Skounti and John Darnell (Darnell’s and Skounti ‘s PowerPoint’s were presented by others who were also presenting their own research). I was particularly sad that Di Lernia was absent because his paper had the potential of uniting some of the more disparate data, and I have read so many of his papers that it would have been good to hear him in person.

The main approaches in the papers presented focused on the creation of relative chronological sequences of rock art, of which there were six methods discussed: superimposition, animal types, (e.g. savanna or domesticated), human activities (e.g. hunting or herding), patination/varnish, stylistic composition and weathering. Nearby archaeological remains were also referenced. The value of micro-erosion techniques was discussed but was largely rejected as a valid method. In other words, many of the presentations were concerned with identifying reliable ways of putting different rock art scenes in relative sequences using one or more techniques. The resulting sequences are relative, meaning that they suggest which styles are older than others but cannot fit them into a calendrical (absolute) sequence. It is the inability of rock art research to date rock art which isolates it so thoroughly from other datasets and keeps it at a stage which is almost equivalent to the culture-history approach of the 1950s and 1960s where, in the absence of scientific dating methods, archaeology was dedicated to the building and, where possible, the cross-referencing of relative sequences. When radiocarbon dating was invented, and calibrated using tree ring data, it became clear many sequences were too short or too long, and were often placed in the wrong periods as a result for the belief that ideas diffused from more advanced cultures. It may well be found that rock art chronologies will experience similar revisions in the future. Unfortunately, most of the rock art regions being discussed at the colloquium were too far apart from each other for conversations about cross-referencing of sequences to be possible.

Susan Searight’s short presentation highlighted many of the problems with relative dating techniques, but there were many promising approaches presented over the three days. Examples of presentations looking at local relative sequences include Maria Guagnin’s use of patination and palaeolake data in Libya, Andras Zboray‘s use of superimposition and weathering in the southwest Western Desert of Egypt, Joachim Soler i Subils’s presentation about new work in the western Sahara (click here for an earlier paper), Per Storemyr‘s use of varnish to assess geometric rock art in the region of the First Nile Cataract, Lauren Lippiello and Maria Gatto’s use of style, patination, palaeoclimate and superimposition at Khor Abu Subeira South (Aswan) and Francis Lankester’s use of stylistic comparisons with Nile iconography to develop a chronolgy of boat engravings in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. As a result of many of these presentations it seems clear that the value of varnish/patina as a way of dating rock art is highly variable and completely dependent upon localized conditions. Where used it is clear that a very sound research design is required. Dirk Huyge, Heiko Riemer and Karin Kindermann all made use of surrounding archaeological data (pottery and lithics) to attempt to refine dates for nearby rock art. The strongest proposals were those where a number of different types of method were available to the researcher.

As well as relative sequences the potential value of scientific applications to the dating problem were discussed. Dirk Huyge presented the results of luminescence (OSL) and radiocarbon dating on rock art at Qurta. Qurta has lovely naturalistic rock art sometimes picked out in bas relief – you can read about it and see some of the images here and here. The main technique used, luminescence dating, measures the time when light last reached a deposit. The technique was used on the sediments sealing engraved rock art which had been concealed by hill-slope deposits. The dates from the layers beneath the upper deposits span a period which gives a terminus ante quem (time before which) for the rock art. Although the dates span a wide period for each of the sealed layers tested they area all squarely located in the Pleistocene (late Palaeolithic) and possibly at least 15,000 years old. The results seem to be confirmed by radiocarbon dates taken on microfaunal remains from another engraving at the same levels from which the OSL (Optically Stimulated Luminescence) dates were taken. They confirm again the Pleistocene age of the rock art. The circumstantial arguments that the team advanced in their Antiquity article are therefore now supplemented with real proof. These dates are also consistent with the surrounding archaeology which has produced no artefacts more recent than the Palaeolithic, and the art itself which shows animals which were more consistent with Pleistocene rather than Holocene conditions. There were no challenges to either the techniques employed or the dates themselves, in spite of the presence of the team’s OSL specialist who was on hand to answer any questions. Susan Searight says that scientific dating is soon to be tested on a rock art panel in Morocco. Sadly, Joachim Soler i Subils reported that radiocarbon tests in the western Sahara were unsuccessful.

One of the key strengths of the colloquium, which was the sheer vastness of its geographical scope, was also a minor difficulty common to most gatherings of this type. The work being carried out across the Sahara has very different histories. Some areas have been studied for many decades, whilst others are in the very earliest stages of exploration. Some areas have, as Susan Searight put it, good archaeological data with no rock art whilst others have good rock art data with very little archaeological excavation in the vicinity. Some sites were in the western Sahara, some in Libya, others in Egypt, all of which have very different climatic, geological and geomorphological influences at play. An excellent summary of eastern Saharan climatic and environmental conditions by Stefan Kroepelin was unmatched by anything equivalent for central and western regions. There were only two lectures which attempted to define similarities and differences over broad areas of the Sahara to address the idea of possible linkages amongst groups who could have moved over 100s of kilometres. Most of the research presented was, as you would expect, very localized. This was inevitable but it also highlighted how fragmented the state of knowledge about the use of the Sahara by the rock art painters actually is.

Much of the colloquium was devoted to presenting new field work findings, and these papers were truly fascinating. I was particularly struck by the uphill struggle facing the Universitat de Girona team in the western Sahara. Not only is their rock art quite unlike that of any other project’s, but the lithic assemblages retrieved in the vicinity don’t fit into any existing scheme. This really is life on the starting blocks. At the other end of the scale the work in the Gilf Kebir has been going on for decades but new discoveries have now been made by the ACACIA group in the vicinity of the Wadi Sura, and by Andras Zboray throughout that area and are being slotted into the bigger existing framework of knowledge about the region.

The colloquium was less useful on the subject of delivering new information about the past environment. Most of the speakers were using palaeoenvironment as a way to assist with dating. There were few examples where the environment was the main subject against which the rock art was set. As mentioned above, Stefan Kroepelin’s excellent presentation on eastern Saharan climate and environment was an exception, providing a good overview of the environmental conditions based partly on a palaeolake sequence from Wadi Bakht in the Gilf Kebir (south west Egypt), and promising new and very detailed results from lake cores from Ounianga (Chad) in the future. I was hoping that the colloquium would attract other climate specialists working with archaeologists so that the latest palaeoenvironmental research from other areas of the Sahara could be discussed, but these were lacking which was a real shame. Di Lernia has done a considerable amount of work trying to tie in archaeology with environmental change so it was a particular regret that he failed to attend. Andrea Zerboni’s presentation of research taking place in the Tadrat Acacus and Messak Settafet (Libyan central Sahara) explained how geological and environmental data are being used together to improve an understanding of Holocene climate change and how these are being used for dating. I would have been interested to hear much more about the lake data. Hopefully more information about this piece of work will be revealed in the Proceedings.

Apart from Tilman Lenssen-Erz‘s paper looking at art production as epistemic regulation in a sociological system in Ennedi using costly signalling theory, Stan Hendrickx’s discussion of Early Dynastic iconography and John Darnell’s suggested sequence of development from art through iconography to hieroglyphs there was little attempt to interpret any of the rock art discussed. This is completely in keeping with the scope of the colloquium which did not have interpretation in its brief.

One of the horror stories revealed by a number of presentations at the colloquium, highlighted by Paul Bahn in the opening lecture and later reinforced dramatically by other members of the colloquium, was the amount of deliberate damage to rock art sites that has been inflicted. This raised the important issue of the conflicting interests of conservation and risk management whilst allowing the public to have access to the sites. The examples presented by Paul Bahn of rock art which has been painted out by someone as revenge for being fired by a tour company, and by Stan Hendrickx of the deliberate destruction of the Naq el Hamdulab royal scene made people gasp out loud. Fortunately photographs taken by Egyptian archaeologist Labib Habachi (whose biography I am currently reading) and stored in Chicago House in Luxor have recorded the Naq el Hamdula scenes. This highlights how important it is to record rock art before either accidental or deliberate damage occurs.

In the light of this it was particularly good that several presentations looked at ways in which rock art is being recorded for posterity using a number of different techniques. For example, Frank Forster’s presentation of the work being carried out at the Mestekawi-Foggini cave (which the ACACIA team refer to as Wadi Sura II) uses 3D laser scanning, digital photogrammetry, and non-destructive investigation of pigments as part of a series of techniques used to record the cave. At Hierakonpolis the threat of quarrying, graffiti and vandalism has made recording existing rock art important, and Fred Hardtke presented his work in this field, using a portable set up involving a camera on an extendable pole linked to a laptop to enable out -of-reach rock art to be photographed.

I was immensely impressed with the way in which different teams are willing to work together. This was particularly highlighted when discussions on the south-western area of the Western Desert of Egypt came up (four of the papers). Heiko Riemer and Andras Zboray referred to each other’s work, and Andras Zboray and Stefan Kroepelin operated an accomplished double-act when answering questions about the environmental context of Zboray’s proposed chronology. The enthusiasm, mutual respect and humour which came over during these discussions made the bad old days of academic one-upmanship seem offensively sterile by comparison. It was also good to get a sense of team members working together. In Algerian rock art research three members of the CNRPAH team delivered a paper together and two Dirk Huyge’s Qurta team were on hand to ask questions about luminescence dating and fauna. Although the cost of traveling to foreign venues is naturally prohibitive these two cases illustrated the value of having multiple team members on hand to contribute to papers and discussions. The half hour coffee breaks and the hour and a half lunch breaks gave everyone the opportunity to mingle and to discuss both their own research interests and those of others. British politicians could learn so much from this 🙂


Every researcher, in contributing localized sequences right across the Sahara, provided more pieces of a vast puzzle.

Only when the chronological and environmental sequences are aligned will researchers begin to see trends across the Sahara in chronological terms. And only when more detailed palaeoenvironmental studies are carried out will the prehistoric occupation of the Sahara be understood in terms of its natural context. It probably remains for innovations in scientific dating techniques to develop reliable methods for tying in rock art with the much greater corpus of archaeological data which can be tied into a calendrical rather than relative sequence.

The colloquium was a great opportunity for multiple research teams and individual researchers to come together and discuss both specific problems and general ideas and issues. The formal discussion periods and the informal breaks offered great opportunities for these discussions to flourish, and my impression was that this was of immense value to those attending.

I learned an enormous amount and look forward to the publication of the Proceedings. Speedy publication will depend on the ability of contributors to submit their papers in a timely manner, but hopefully there will be an update about a planned publication date before too long.

My thanks

My thanks to Dirk Huyge, Francis Van Noten and the Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences for the colloquium as a whole.

The moderators of each session should be congratulated for keeping everyone to their allotted 15 minute slots (a nightmare job done with subtlety, skill and humour).

Particular thanks to all of the contributors for keeping the audience so thoroughly engaged with each topic, and for having worked so hard to present their research so concisely.

Gilf Kebir

This is slightly off topic, but it was mentioned at the colloquium that Karin Kinderman (she of Djara cave for those of you who follow prehistoric archaeology in Egypt) is now heading up a Gilf Kebir National Park project. It was the first official news I had heard that the Gilf was going to become a national park and I have absolutely no other information on the subject. I will try to find out more, so watch this space.

For those of you have visited the Mestekawi-Foggini cave and wondered how far the paintings go beneath the level of the sand (as I have done many times!) the answer, following excavations, is 1.2m below the surface. Unfortunately a small trial excavation and a core sunk into the sand down to 3.5m revealed no archaeological remains.


The venue was ideal in many ways. The Palais des Academies itself was being renovated but signs directed delegates to the building next door where a room had been filled with chairs and where a large projector screen and a podium had been set up. The weather in Brussels was seethingly hot, and although the room became rather sticky towards the end of the final sessions, it never became unbearable and it easily fitted the number of delegates available – around 100 of us, I would guess. A vast and airy hall was used to serve hot and cold drinks and wonderful lunches. The entire event went without either technical or organizational hitches. As the weather was stunningly good and the building was next to the pretty Parc de Bruxelles complete with wooded areas, open grass and fountains, it was great to be able to stretch the legs and soak up the sun on breaks.

Travel Notes

It was a distinct bonus that the colloquium was on the route of the Eurostar. The Eurostar lacks frills and, during school Half Term in the UK, was full of families changing at Lille to go to Disneyland and Paris. But it knocked the socks off chewing one’s fingernails over volcanoes and strikes and messing around with getting to an airport, hanging around prior to and following check in, and removing half one’s clothing at the security checks – all for a ridiculously short flight. The train from St Pancras (easily accessible by tube and bus from anywhere in London) took 2 hours and whilst seriously lacking anything remotely resembling finesse it was completely fuss-free. NB – if you travel by Eurostar from St Pancras get your money before you go through passport control because there is no Bureau de Change in the departure lounge. We took a taxi when we arrived in Bruxelles Midi but with hindsight we could have taken the tube because it was only four stops from our hotel, the inexpensive but excellent Hotel Chambord at Porte De Namur, which was a five minute walk from the colloquium venue.

Two examples of ostrich with head, neck, legs and tail but no body,
something which was discussed at the colloquium. One of the
suggestions was that the body had been defined with
material other than paint – for example with feathers
fixed into the space. There’s no way of testing this at
the moment but it is a fascinating thought. Click to see
the bigger image (Mestekawi-Foggini / Wadi Sura II cave).

More useful links

ACACIA Arid Climate Adaptation and Cultural Innovation in Africa
Bradshaw Foundation
Carlo Bergmann’s Discoveries
Climate Research Unit
Fezzan Rock Art Project
IFRAO Rock Art Glossary
International Federation of Rock Art Organizations (IFRAO)
International Newsletter on Rock Art
Libyan Desert Rock Art
Nekhen News (Hierakonpolis)
Rock inscriptions at El Hosh, Egypt
Sahara Journal
Stonewatch World-Wide Rock Art
Tassili n’Ajjer
Theban Desert Road Project
UNE -Dating Rock Art

[The photographs used in this post are mine,
apart from the satellite photograph.
All rock art photos are from western Gilf Kebir]

New rock art research at Gilf Kebir

May 26, 2010


Archaeologists are studying prehistoric rock drawings discovered in a remote cave in 2002, including dancing figures and strange headless beasts, as they seek new clues about the rise of Egyptian civilisation.

Amateur explorers stumbled across the cave, which includes 5,000 images painted or engraved into stone, in the vast, empty desert near Egypt’s southwest border with Libya and Sudan.

Rudolph Kuper, a German archaeologist, said the detail depicted in the “Cave of the Beasts” indicate the site is at least 8,000 years old, likely the work of hunter-gatherers whose descendants may have been among the early settlers of the then-swampy and inhospitable Nile Valley.

The cave is 10 km (6 miles) from the “Cave of the Swimmers” romanticised in the film the “English Patient”, but with far more, and better preserved, images.

By studying the sandstone cave and other nearby sites, the archaeologists are trying to build a timeline to compare the culture and technologies of the peoples who inhabited the area.

Heritage Key (Sean Williams)

Prehistoric cave painters in the Sahara Desert gave rise to ancient Egyptian civilisation, according to a German archaeological team. The paintings in a caves in Gilf Kebir, a vast sandstone plateau near the Egyptian-Libyan border, may be over 400 miles from the River Nile. But the team claims it was once a thriving community which later spread east to create Egypt’s famous cities and landmarks.

The plateau, a Martian landscape the size of Switzerland, is home to two famous caves, the ‘Cave of the Swimmers’ and the ‘Cave of the Beasts’ – Watch our amazing video of the caves and their paintings here. The former was discovered by Hungarian explorer LászlĂł Almásy and immortalised in the novel and Academy Award-winning movie The English Patient. But it is the latter which the team believe could unlock the secrets of how ancient Egypt began.

Rudolf Kuper, of Köln’s Heinrich Barth Institute, believes the Cave of the Beasts’ detail dates it back around 8,000 years. He claims its artists’ descendents would eventually emigrate to the Nile Valley to create pharaonic Egypt. “It is the most amazing cave … in North Africa and Egypt,” German expert Karin Kindermann tells AP. “You take a piece of the puzzle and see where it could fit. This is an important piece.”

New Book: Swimmers in the Sand

April 22, 2010

From Miroslav Bárta

Swimmers in the Sand. On the Neolithic Origins of Ancient Egyptian Mythology and Symbolism

ISBN 978-80-87025-26-0, 112 pages
Publisher: Dryada: Prague
Publication date: April 2010
Author: Miroslav Bárta, photographs Martin Frouz

I couldn’t find this on any of the usual online retailers but perhaps it is not available just yet. I for one am interested in getting hold of this title so if anyone finds it available online please let me know.

The origins of ancient Egyptian civilisation have been attracting the attention of archaeologist ever since the beginnings of Egyptology more than 200 years ago. This book presents a new and original interpretation of the rock art in Egyptian Western Desert which is of a key importance for our understanding of the roots of ancient Egyptian civilisation. Indeed, her very origins can be most likely dated to the 6th millennium B.C. In this time and the centuries to follow the paintings in the Cave of the Swimmers known from a blockbuster English Patient and in the Cave of Beasts discovered only few years ago were created. These caves are located in a distant and hardly accessible part of Egypt, on the border of Egypt, Libya and Sudan.

The rock-art preserved in these caves features several unique motifs that will become cornerstone of ancient Egyptian iconography and mythology. Among them may be named the motif of the sky goddess and the earth god, prototypic representation of an ancient chieftain in the much later pharaonic guise or the concept of cave creatures protecting the entrance to the Netherworld.

During the Fifth and Fourth millennia B.C. the vast areas of Western Desert suffered from a major depredation of climate that most likely caused a gradual evacuation of the region and instigated appearance of permanent settlements in the Nile valley which led to genesis of ancient Egyptian culture. The present study aims to present a theory according to which at least some parts of the discussed rock art in the Western Desert was created by an ancient mind that later on contributed to the intellectual emergence of ancient Egyptian civilisation in the Nile valley.

New Book: Gilf Kebir National Park

March 29, 2010

American University in Cairo Press

The first and only guidebook to the Gilf and Uweinat.

Gilf Kebir National Park
Egypt Pocket Guide
Alberto Siliotti
Feb 2010

In the far southwestern corner of Egypt lies one of the most fascinating and least known regions of the Sahara Desert, declared a National Park by the Egyptian government in 2007 for its great archaeological and natural-historical heritage. The Gilf Kebir, a broad massif twice the size of Corsica, and Gebel Uweinat, a 2,000-meter inselberg, were discovered only in the 1920s, and explored in the decades following, but today an increasing number of visitors are able to reach this unique area on long desert expeditions and experience for themselves the special geology and ecology of the place and the extraordinary rock paintings from Neolithic times. Now, in lucid text and colorful photographs, drawings, maps, and satellite images, Alberto Siliotti guides the intrepid visitor to the features of the National park, with notes on what to take on such a long desert trip and what not to leave behind.

Alberto Siliotti is a scientific journalist who specializes in Egyptology. He has written several books including The Discovery of Ancient Egypt (AUC Press, 1998), The Illustrated Guide to the Pyramids of Egypt (AUC Press, 2003), and the popular series of Egypt Pocket Guides.

Colloquium: Chronological and Palaeo- environmental Issues in the Rock Art of Northern Africa

March 1, 2010

The Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences is pleased to invite you to the International Colloquium

The Signs of Which Times? Chronological and Palaeoenvironmental Issues in the Rock Art of Northern Africa
3rd, 4th and 5th June, 2010
Paleis der Academiën — Palais des Académies
Hertogsstraat 1 — rue Ducale 1
1000 Brussels

No website address at the moment

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Welcome Address
Bettie VANHOUDT, President of the Royal Academy for Overseas
Sciences (10 min.)

Francis VAN NOTEN, Member of the Royal Academy for Overseas
Sciences (10 min.)

State-of-The-Art Lectures

Paul G. BAHN (Hull, England) – North Africa’s Place in Rock Art Research (20 min.)

Stefan KRĂ–PELIN (University of Cologne, Germany) – North-African palaeoclimatology and palaeoenvironment


15.30 Joaquim SOLER I SUBILS (Universitat de Girona, Spain) – The Age and the Natural Context of the Western Saharan Rock-Art

Christian DUPUY (UniversitĂ© Tous Ages, France) – Les trois Ă©poques de rĂ©alisation des gravures rupestres de l’Adrar des Iforas (Mali)

Renate HECKENDORF (Germany) – Dating South-Moroccan Rock Art: Problems and Possibilities

Abdelkhalek LEMJIDI (Institut National des Sciences de l’ArchĂ©ologie et du Patrimoine, Maroc) & El Mahfoud ASMHRI (Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe, Maroc) – Les contraintes de classifications chronologiques de l’art rupestre marocain

16.30 Discussion
17.00 End

Friday, June 4, 2010

9.00 Susan SEARIGHT-MARTINET (England) – Holocene Rock Art in Morocco: Hard Facts and Hopeful Hypotheses

Ahmed SKOUNTI (Institut National des Sciences de l’ArchĂ©ologie et du Patrmoine,Morocco), Daniela ZAMPETTI (UniversitĂ  di Roma “La Sapienza”, Italy); NaĂŻma OULMAKKI (Institut National des Sciences de l’ArchĂ©ologie et du Patrimoine, Maroc), Rosanna PONTI (CRETA, Italy), Alessandra BRAVIN (CRETA, Italy), Kamal TAJEDINNE, Marrakech University, Morocco), El Mustapha NAMI (Ministry of Culture, Morocco) & Franca PERSIA (National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Environment, Italy) – Rock Art and Archaeology of Ifran-n-Taska, Eastern Jbel Bani, Morocco: First Results of a Moroccan-Italian Research Programme

Abdeslam MIKDAD (Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine, Maroc) Quelques aspects de l’art pariétal et mobilier préhistorique de la région du Rif oriental (Maroc)

Barbara BARICH (UniversitĂ  di Roma “La Sapienza”, Italy) – The Perceived Environment: Some Clues from Rock-Art Works

10.00 Discussion

Savino DI LERNIA (Italian-Libyan Archaeological Mission in the Acacus and Messak, UniversitĂ  di Roma “La Sapienza”, Italy) – Chronology, Archaeology and Rock Art in the Sahara. An Endless Challenge

Yves GAUTHIER (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France) – L’apport des monuments funĂ©raires Ă  la question des datations et de la chronologie de l’art rupestre du Sahara central

Malika HACHID (Projet franco-algĂ©rien de Datations directes de l’Art rupestre saharien, AlgĂ©rie) & Jean-LoĂŻc LE QUELLEC (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France) – Un projet de datation directe et indirecte des images rupestres du Tassili des Ajjer, de l’Ahaggar et de l’Atlas saharien (AlgĂ©rie)

Tillman LENSSEN-ERZ (Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Cologne, Germany) – Adaptation or Aesthetic Alleviation? Pastoralist Responses to Saharan Aridification

12.00 Discussion
12.30 LUNCH

14.00 Jan RAYMAEKERS & Francis VAN NOTEN (Belgium) – A Stone Stela from the TĂ©nĂ©rĂ©

Maria GUAGNIN (University of Edinburgh, England) – From Savanna to Desert. Animal Engravings and the Changing Prehistoric Environment of the Wadi al-Hayat, Libyan Sahara

Axel & Anne-Michelle VAN ALBADA (Arzens, France) – ElĂ©ments intĂ©ressant la chronologie relative des gravures rupestres du Plateau du Messak au Fezzan (Libye)

Daniella ZAMPETTI (UniversitĂ  di Roma “La Sapienza”, Italy) – Chronological and Environmental Data on Some North-African Rock Art Contexts

15.00 Discussion

16.00 Andrea ZERBONI (UniversitĂ  degli Studi di Milano and C.N.R.- I.D.P.A. & Italian-Libyan Archaeological Mission in the Acacus and Messak, Italy) – Rock Art from the Tadrart Acacus and Messak Settafet (Central Sahara, Libya): Geoarchaeological, Palaeoenvironmental, and Chronological Issues

Frank FĂ–RSTER & Rudolph KUPER (University of Cologne, Germany) – Dating the Rock art of the Wadi Sura II Shelter, Gilf Kebir (SWEgypt): Problems and Perspectives

Heiko RIEMER (University of Cologne, Germany) – Rock Art and Habitation Sites in their Landscape. Archaeological Survey at Wadi Sura, Gilf Kebir (SW Egypt)

Andras ZBORAY (Hungary) – A Proposed Absolute Chronology for the Rock Art of the Central Libyan Desert

16.30 Discussion
17.00 End

Saturday, June 5, 2010

9.00 Salima IKRAM (Department of Egyptology, American University in Cairo, Egypt) – Real or Ideal: Rock Art as a Reflection of the Environment of Egypt’s Western Desert

Erich CLAĂźEN (Bavarian State Department for Monuments and Sites, Germany), Andreas PASTOORS (Neanderthal Museum Foundation, Germany), Karin KINDERMANN (Gilf Kebir National Park, Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, Nature Conservation Sector, Egypt) & Heiko RIEMER (University of Cologne, Germany) – Chronological and Palaeoenvironmental Aspects of Djara’s Rock Art (Egypt)

Dirk HUYGE (Royal Museums of Art and History, Belgium) – The Late Pleistocene Rock Art of Qurta in an African Chronological Perspective

Dimitri VANDENBERGHE (Department of Geology and Soil Science, Ghent University, Belgium), Morgan DE DAPPER (Department of Geography, Ghent University, Belgium), Dirk HUYGE (Royal Museums of Art and History, Belgium), Florias MEES (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium), Gilles VELGHE (Department of Geology and Soil Science, Ghent University, Belgium) & Jan KUÄŚERA (Nuclear Physics Institute, Czech Republic) – A Minimum Age for the Qurta Rock Art (Upper Egypt) through Luminescence Dating of its Sediment-Cover

Per STOREMYR (Conservation Science Consulting, Switzerland) – Attempts at Relative Dating of the Geometric Rock Art by the First Nile Cataract

10.15 Discussion

11.15 Maria Carmela GATTO & Lauren LIPPIELLO (Yale University, USA) – Intra-Site Chronology and Palaeoenvironmental Reconstruction at Khor Abu Subeira South (Aswan, Egypt)

Stan HENDRICKX (Provinciale Hogeschool Limburg, Belgium), John C. DARNELL, Maria Carmela GATTO & Merel EYCKERMAN (Yale University, USA) – Rock Art and Early Dynastic Iconography at Naq’ el-Hamdulab (Aswan, Egypt)

John C. DARNELL (Yale University, USA) – From Rock Art to Rock Inscriptions in Upper Egypt

Fred HARDTKE (Macquarie University, Australia) – Rock Art around Settlements: the Boats and Fauna at Hierakonpolis, Egypt

Francis LANKESTER (University of Durham, United Kingdom) – Dating the Petroglyphs of the Egyptian Central Eastern Desert

12.30 Discussion
13.00 Conclusion

Dirk HUYGE, Member of the Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences (15 min.)


Prehistoric Masterpieces: The Swimmers and The Beast

November 19, 2009

In this article on The Independent Malcolm Jack looks at the rock art of the Gilf Kebir at the Cave of Swimmers (Wadi Sura) and the Mestekawi-Foggini cave. There is an accompanying video.

I have to say that I object to the archaeology being interpreted as  “a long forgotten Egyptian civilization”.  For one thing it isn’t forgotten – work has been carried out there for the last few decades (and was recognized in the inter-war period by Bagnold, Almasy and others). Second, there was no concept of Egypt at that time – the area occupied by mobile groups was a vast expanse of sahelian-type landscape that included no sense of the Egypt-Libyan border.  Finally, it was not a civilization in any proper definition of the term.

The written description gives some idea of what the Mestekawi-Foggini cave is like, although the descriptions of both caves make assumptions about what the cave art depicts:  “tiny people swimming elegantly across the walls” and “what looks a bit like people taking dancing lessons”).  It is also a huge leap to suggest that the “beasts” represent some concept of the transition from life to death.  The accompanying video has a completely different interpretation which, whilst also speculative in the extreme, sounds rather more plausible.

The accompanying video is well worth a look.  It is also available on YouTube.  The commentary is good and the photos and video footage are superb.  It has subtitles so you can follow the video without the sound turned on, if required. The reference to “Cooper” I assume is actually to Kuper, as in Rudolph Kuper, and is just an error in the transcription on the subtitles.

Tracing rock art – shoot first, ask later

November 28, 2007

Regular visitors to my Egyptology News blog will know of my ongoing love affair with the Gilf Kebir area, so finding a video of the place on You Tube was a briefly happy moment – but I nearly had heart failure at the shots of somewhat tracing over an image from the Mestekawi-Foggini Cave (the image on the right is a screen grab from the video, which has since been deleted). Tracing over an image is an intensively invasive procedure which can very easily harm the underlying original. In fact, watching this video it is difficult to see how the small figure beneath was not harmed, and it should be a wake up call to anyone lucky enough to visit these remote and and unsecured rock art sites – don’t do it!

Desert art in danger at Egypt’s new tourism frontier

November 22, 2007

Charles Onians is to be congratulated for this piece on the Middle East Online website.   It really horrifies, and that’s the way it should be.  The deserts are incredibly vulnerable.  No-one lives there, no-one is interested in policing the desert (even if the logistics of doing so were remotely imaginable) and within Egyptian heritage management organizations there seems to be precious little concern for the remarkable archaeology that is slowly being eroded from desert floors and desert walls.  Charles Onians addresses some of those issues in this article, looking in particular at the damage that tourism is inflicting on the stunning rock art of Egypt and Libya.  Tourism in the Western Desert is on the up – perhaps 800 people visited in 2006, but Rudolf Kuper, one of the top desert archaeologists working in Egypt, says that over a 1000 are now visiting annually.

Kuper  highlights some of the harm inflicted on paintings.  Tourists “paint” them in oil or water so that the colours stand out better for photographs.  At Ain Dua bored soldiers shot at some.  One painted cave has been used as a rubbish tip.  Others have had graffiti scrawled on them.  He says that many tourists, and in particular he mentions Cairo-based ex-pats, still have a colonial mentality.  There’s no respect.

So what’s the solution?  Kuper and others, including a Farafra tour operator, believe that education is at the heart of the matter.  A museum in Dakhleh might help, and the declaration of the area under discussion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site would enable measures to be put in place.  But that would require the agreement of Egypt, Libya and Sudan because the area under discussion crosses the borders of all three,  and that seems like a large leap.

I lead tours into the Egyptian desert.  But my god we do our best to make sure that our little gang of tour members not only understand the risks (to the landscape and the past) but why the archaeology matters.  Most of my tours are composed mainly of mature people (in all senses of the word) who love the desert and want to learn more about it.  They listen to my Health and Safety chat (the health and safety of the archaeology and the rock art) and they ask questions, but it’s all common sense and they know that.  And even when I trust my tour members completely, I stay with them at the most sensitive venues in case of harm committed in innocent error.  It’s a responsibility.  What astonishes me is that there are people who pay a lot of money to travel into these areas and then desecrate what they find when they get there.

I am not sure what the value of designating the area as a UNESCO World Heritate Site would really be.  Many countries have celebrated the designation of their sites by UNESCO only to find that that the very designation that sought to protect those sites attracts more attention and a higher volume of tourists.  Protection then becomes even more complicated.

The protection of the archaeology of the desert borders has a long way to come.

A trip to the Gilf Kebir

May 4, 2006

Travel writer Mohamed El-Hebeishy joins a tour to the Gilf Kebir, headed by one of the discoverers of the Mestekawi-Foggini cave in the clifs of the western Gilf, a former colonel named Ahmed El-Mestekawi.    As the tour leaves Dakhleh oasis El-Hebeishy describes the archaeology and the landscape of the places they visit en route including Abu Ballas (hill of pots).  He gives a brief insight into how the landscape would have looked in the prehistoric past when the desert was green enough to sustain gazelle and other game animals, which in turn attracted human groups.  As well as giving good descriptions of some of the places visited he also gives an insight into  what desert travel is like.

Twigger in the footsteps of Almasy

May 28, 2005

Count Laszlo Almasy was a remarkable character who wrote a number of books about his experiences, and about whom a number of books have been written (of which my favourite is the one by John Bierman).  Almasy has inspired a lot of people in different ways.  Having formed one of the pre WWII Zerzura club adventurers before fighting opposite his former friends during the war, he finished his life as the head of the Desert Institute in Cairo, a worthy position for a man who truly understood the desert.  He is best known as t

In this article on The Independent  entitled “In the footsteps of Count Laszlo”, Robert Twigger, a very different kind of explorer, has described his own search for the world that Almasy once knew so well.  Twigger focuses on the peculiarities of desert travel, the attractions of the desert scenery and talks about the rock art.  He describes the discovery of the remarkable Mestekawi-Foggini cave with its vast canvas of glorious paintings, and touches on the prehistoric occupation of this now arid land.  Sadly he makes little mention of the encounter between the recent past and the distant past, a time when the Libyan borders of the Western Desert were explored, mapped and obsessed over by Almaszy, Bagnold, Clayton and their colleagues.