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Tassili N'Ajjer, South Algeria
22nd - 30th October, 2011
Almost to the date twenty years ago a pair of freshly married desert novices stepped out of the plane at Djanet airport into the soft sand next to the tarmac, staring incredulously at the lined-up waiting camels and battered Landcruisers. That voyage remains one of our best memories, this year we decided to return to the place where we first became intimately acquainted with the Sahara. The trip was not without apprehension, fortunately totally unfounded, the Tassili N'Ajjer could deliver to our seasoned senses the same wonder and magic as it did on that very first visit...
Day 1. - Djanet
The preparations for the trip were surprisingly easy. Contrary to several accounts circulated on the internet, we all had our visas in hand within two weeks of receiving the invitation letters from our local arrangers, Essendilene Voyages. The domesitc flight tickets could be purchased on-line with Air Algerie (once they took the effort of loading the winter timetable, about two weeks before our planned departure...). Long gone are the days of direct flights (filled with tourists) from Europe to Djanet, at present Air Algerie operates only four or five flights per week from Algiers, combined with either Tamanrasset or Ouargla.
We met up with Danielle and Koen at Algiers airport friday afternoon, and we all took the late night flight to Djanet via Tamanrasset (Martin arrived a week earlier, to visit the Ahaggar before joining us at Djanet). The only bit of discomfort was the endless filling of immigration forms, as one is required for both departure and arrival even on domestic flights. To make our lives more interesting, we had to disembark at Tamanrasset to go through both arrival and departure screening again (and of course more forms...). There were only a handful of other tourists on the flight, most of whom disembarked at Tam. we finally arrived to the basic but very clean and pleasant premises of Essendilene at 3am to spend the remainder of the night there.
After a late wake-up and finally meeting Martin, we spent Saturday morning on the local market purchasing supplies for the trek. I was much relieved to see that Djanet is still the same pleasant sleepy backwater as we have remembered it, not much changed in the past 20 years. There were news of an influx of large numbers of refugees fleeing the neighboring conflict in Libya, but they were certainly not in evidence as we drove and walked about the town.
Finished with our shoping, we packed our gear for an afternoon departure, leaving all unnecessary items (like civilised clothing) behind with Essendilene. After a quick lunch we set out to visit the famous 'crying cows' of Terarart about twenty kilometres south of Djanet. As we drove along the wadi, the evidence of recent running water was everywhere, in places the sand was still damp. We were told that there were been big rains over the plateau about two weeks earlier, with water flowing the full breadth of the wadi accross town. This was good news, as we could expect good drinking water in the gueltas during our trek, reducing the reliance on carried water.
The Terarart panel of engraved cattle are among the finest in the entire Sahara, executed in bas relief in a very refined style, I know of no parallels. Who made them (and when) is a bit of a mystery, as all other cattle pastoralist engravings of the central sahara are of a much cruder workmanship.
Late afternoon we collected our gear in Djanet and drove out to camp at the foot of Akba Tafilalet, the pass leading up to the plateau. Our donkeys together with their keepers and Omar, our guide were waiting there, and by sunset we settled in for our first desert night.
Day 2. - Akba Tafilalet - Tamrit
At dawn we woke up, packed our gear, and watched in amusement as the donkeys were loaded with our various bags and packs. Invariably the selected loads were inbalanced, so loading and unloading was repeated several times, with all the expected comotion and yelling. I could not help but think of Rosita Forbes, and the lovely way she described the complete chaos surrounding the start of any African journey...
It took a good hour to get all the animals loaded, the sun was quite high by the time we all set out for the pass. As usual, the donkeys soon disappeared out of sight, as we ascended in a more leisurely way along the zigzagging trail on the first step of the pass.
We were up on the terrace above the first climb in under an hour. There was abundant green vegetation everywhere, we met the only other people we have seen during our trek here, a nomad family feeding their camels and goats on the fresh pasture.
We continued in the narrow gorge of the Tafilalet, and soon came upon the first of several fine clear pools, all perfect drinking water. On the path, the trained eye of Koen spotted a clear cheetah footprint, the first of several to be seen on our trip. There appears to be a healthy population in the Tassili National Park, but as they are nocturnal and can easily hide among the rocks at the sound of the first human intrusion, they are almost never seen.
Just before we started the ascent on the second step, we met a pair of dassies (rock hyrax), which most unusually stayed still long enough for me to change to the telephoto lens. In the fresh mud along the gueltas (and sometimes inside) there were many fresh animal tracks, including barbary sheep, gazelle and jackals.
We were making fast progress, soon we were on the final climb. In about three hours after start we were up on the flat top of the plateau.
After some rest we continued along the flat plateau top to the upper part of the Wadi Tamrit, to see the well known Tamrit antelopes (they are roan antelopes, Hippotragus equinus, whose range is now much farther south). Looking at the paintings this time with a much more expereinced eye, I could discern many more very faint scenes around the main group of antelopes, including a cluster of fine human figures, only visible with the help of dStretch.
This shelter is a very good illustration of the high expectations and subsequent disappointment generated by the copies of the Lhote mission, as well as the ongoing polemies regarding the degradation of the paintings due to the copying techniques. Having seen the amazing differences between real-life paintings and the copies of Harald Pager on the Upper Brandberg, I now have much more appreciation for the effort of the Lohote mission. While it is unquestionable that the wetting of paintings to make them stand out better for copying did some irrepairable damage, overall my impression after this trip is that the supposed degradation of the paintings is much exaggerated, usually by authors with a second agenda. The antelopes are a clear case. The copy published by Lhote (A la decouverte des fresques du Tassili, Arthaud, Paris, 1958) shows a total of ten antelopes apparently in perfect state of preservation, and one would expect the same scene in the shelter. However on the spot only three of the antelopes are readily visible in the quality suggested by the copy, one is invariably led to the conclusion that the paintings have faded since the copy was made. However if looking carefully at the published photo of J.D. Lajoux (The Rock Paintings of Tassili, Thames & Hudson, London, 1963) it is clear that the shelter was substantially in the same state as now in the early sixties. Enhancing present day photos with dStretch reveals the same antelopes as on the copy, Lhote and the artists having done a good job in accurately tracing the faintest parts of the paintings. Clearly the intent of the copies was not to present the scenes as they appear today, but to try to reproduce any remaining paintings in their original state if possible.
We continued up the wadi towards our campside on the far side of Tamrit, encountering the first cypresses and plenty of fresh vegetation on the way.
After lunch and a short pause at the campsite (the same spot where we first camped 20 years ago), we set out for the large shelter of Tan Zumaïtak about a kilometre away from camp.
The Tan Zumaïtak shelter appeared to be in good condition with no readily visible change since our last visit, all the unique paintings stand out clearly. This shelter is arguably the best preserved ensemble in the central Tassili region, only rivalled by the "Great God" at Sefar. We spent a long time photographing the shelter, noting many details skipped on the earlier visits.
With the sun creeping low, we moved on to the lower Wadi Tamrit, famed for the big several thousand year old cypresses. There was abundant water everywhere, and we found the watercourse in the valley to be flooded in many places, with a big lake in between the biggest trees.
We just had a brief time to visit the large shelter with paintings in the middle of Wadi Tamrit. There were traces of many more paintings than I remembered, on our previous visit we only saw the single "horned devil" figure. Enhancing the images with dStretch once back home, I was delighted to recognise in one of them Lhote's famed hunting scene. Somewhat removed from the rest, Magdi found a curious composition of shapes made out of red dots, that don't seem to make any coherent sense even when viewed with dStretch.
I could have spent much more time at the shelter, but dusk was rapidly upon us, so we made a hasty retreat to camp, reaching it just before full darkness set in.
Day 3. - Tamrit - In Itinen - Tin Tazarift
Packing camp and loading the donkeys proved to be a more efficient exercise than the day before, after a leisurely breakfast we set out towards Tin Tazarift, while the donkeys followed on a more direct route.
After about an hour we reached the edge of the most amazing and grandiose landscape of the Tassili, the stone maze of Titeras N'Elias. Here the rectangular faults in the sandstone were widened and deepened by water and wind to form a petrified city with streets and avenues, towering skyscrapers and natural arches.
There is an important shelter hidden in the maze, containing a large panel of overlapping paintings from several periods, the latest a four wheeled chariot drawn by two galloping horses. Even with dStretch it is not easy to make out the strange apparently partial figures in the underlying layers.
There are several other lesser paintings in the immediate vicinity, including a small hollow that does not really qualify as a shelter, with the ceiling covered with a procession of dozens of small human figures, apparently all from the cattle pastoralist period.
The maze of Titeras N'Elias is bordered on the north by the In Itinen wadi, with two large painted panels on both sides. While the locality is called differently, these paintings are really a part of the previous group, a mere hundred metres from the others. The better known panel contains relatively recent camel depictions with plenty of tifnar script and a lion hunt scene, but the more interesting ones are the large faint ghost-like figures from the early roundhead period on the opposite side of the wadi. With dStretch it is possible to make a little more sense of this panel, the 'ghosts' are in fact a composite of two different layers, with the two anthrophomorphic figures covered by a large indistinct animal of the same style and colour.
For the next four kilometres our route was on the flat featureless plateau top. Near a small wadi filled with plenty of fresh grass, we encountered a pack of feral donkeys. Apparently they are quite common, we have seen several later on our trip, always keeping their distance and following our progress with a curious gaze. Soon another rocky area loomed on the horizon, we reached In Etouami, really a 'suburb' of Tin Tazarift.
The principal site of the locality is a very large shelter, with a multitude of rather faint paintings spanning practically all of the principal styles and periods.
Tucked away in one corner, partially covered by human figures from the late historic period, there are several extremely fine scenes of cattle and human figures. Lajoux records the locality on his map, but no illustrations are given. Malika Hachid published photos of these scenes (Les premiers Berberes, Alger, 2000) but the details are indiscernible. They are mostly very faint, but with dStretch they become perfectly visible.
Nearby there were several other shelters, containing mostly faded paintings of a very diverse nature, including a strange geometric shape, a possible pig and a fine panel of roundhead paintings.
Before reaching Tin Tazarift, we passed a shelter that mainly contained paintings from the camel period, with many tifnar scripts and a row of what appears to be very elaborately executed houses. Close to an enigmatic object, we found a very fine painted ostrich of an earlier epoch, a rather rare theme among the Tassili paintings.
After a quick lunch and a short siesta at our campsite, we set out to visit the sites of Tin Tazarift, starting with the well known shelter containing the larger than life size 'floating' roundhead figures. While such 'horned' roundhead figures are known from several sites on a much smaller scale, the dimensions of this scene is unique on the Tassili.
At a large nearby shelter there are several other unique scenes. It is possible to make out the outlines of a very large animal, unfortunately it is too damaged to make out what it is. On one of the numerous overpainted layers, there is a group of curious animals which Omar called hedgehogs (probably following some publication), but I'm not very convinced... To the left of the shelter there is a strange animal with two curved claws or horns where one would expect a head. These creatures are generally identified as warthogs, or as imaginary composite animals (Bernard Fouilleux et. al, Quelques images inÚdites de la Tassili N'Ajjer, Sahara 21, 2010).
Continuing in the maze, we passed by the famous "Lotori" scene of Lhote. The panel is so faint that on the spot it is very hard to see anything, even dStretch reveals only a portion of what is shown on the Lhote copies. I recall that the scene was pretty much in the same state twenty years ago, as Lajoux did not publish a photo of this panel it is hard to say how it may have appeared before being copied by the Lhote mission. Recently Jean-Loïc Le Quellec rather convincingly demonstrated that the scene is in fact made up of several layers, with the cattle herd totally unrelated to the small anthropomorphic figures and the large fist shaped object. Thus identification with the Fulani lotori ceremony is almost certainly incorrect (Rock Art in Africa, Mythology and Legend, Flammarion, Paris 2004).
Continuing, we saw several shelters with cattle pastoralist paintings of varying quality, and the 'large masked figure' which unfortunately seems to have deteriorated very significantly since Lajoux took the photo some fifty years ago. The body decoration stands out clearly on the Lajoux photo, while presently it is almost indiscernible even with dStretch.
While many shelters contain faint and damaged paintings, there are always small details that prove to be unique, like the archer resting on one leg, the cow-headed anthropomorph, or the fine sheep and the tiny gazelle (note the re-drawn hind legs).
Nearby there is another unique panel high up on the rock face, with an elongated female figure apparently floating on her back. There are several large, barely discernible barbary sheep under this painting, only visible when enhanced with dStretch.
In the previous two hours we traversed the entire northern part of Tin Tazarift, to emerge on the western side overlooking the broad wadi and the flat plateau beyond. Following the wadi a little we soon entered another 'street' leading back towards our camp via the southern part of the area.
There was a cluster of sites right at the entrance of the street, under some rocks offering a perfect climbing platform for Viki. I don't recall seeing these on our single previous visit to Tin Tazarift in 1993. One of the panels contains an animal that appears to be an aardvark. A nearby scene was very dificult to make sense of, even with dStretch it appears to be a very complex panel of overpaintings.
A little further in we saw a very large shelter with some unique yellow cattle, a strange double headed giraffe and several other panels, which I did not recall seeing before. This site displayed some of the most vivid colours of any of the paintings we saw in the area, probably because of their protected position on the ceiling of the shelter.
We continued to another well known site (which we did se previously), the panel with several large roundhead style figures and a small scene on the left which was interpreted as a pair of archers inside an "Egyptian style" boat. Certainly the animal heads on the two ends of the crescent shape are reminescent of Egyptian vessels, however the boat interpretation is by no means certain, and in absence of any other similarities, an Egyptian connection can be ruled out.
With the sun having set, we started moving back towards camp, with a few sites left along the way, including a very fine panel of polychrome cattle, a large roundhead figure (which appears to have been covered by some varnish layer in one of the UNESCO sponsored conservation attempts), and another panel with what appeared to be very weathered unusual polychrome roundhead figures. Looking at the latter with dStretch revealed that the figures were partially obscured by a large yellow horned animal, that is practically indiscernible on the spot.
The last site was within shouting distance from camp, hidden in a narrow corridor. It contained several panels of small roundhead figures, plus two large figures which have been covered by some varnish. Large pieces have already flaked off, confirming the fears that these conservation attempts may actually do more harm than good. A portion of the small figures panel was also varnished, the untreated parts appeared to be in distinctly better condition.
With the approaching darkness we walked the last few hundred metres to our campsite to finish off another fine day.
Day 4. - Tin Aboteka, Tin Tazarift - Sefar
The next morning we set out to visit Tin Aboteka less than an hour away. As it was a similar distance to Sefar, we did not pack the camp as we were to return for lunch before moving on to our evening destination. Along the way we spotted several ant nests which look like miniature volcanoes built of sand, all the loose material excavated from the underground passages. In several places fresh grass was sprouting from the sand which still clearly showed the impact of the large raindrops of two weeks earlier.
Tin Aboteka is at the south-western end of the same eroding belt of sandstone that contains Tin Tazarift and Sefar, we did not have the opportunity to see it on either of our previous trips. It has fewer paintings than the other principal central Tassili localities, but several of them unique, dispersed among rock towers much taller than at Tin Tazarift.
The principal site is a very large shelter, dominated by a life sized painting of an archer. There is nothing comparable at any of the other sites. It is hard to assign any style or period in absence of clear analogies (though there are some cattle pastoralist paintings that show some resemblance, but on a much smaller scale), however the panel is undoubtedly one of the greatest masterpieces of the Tassili.
There are several other shelters in the vicinity with paintings from all the principal periods. While most of them are weathered and not very spectacular, one always finds some very fine details.
At the edge of the area overlooking the flat plateau towards the Lybian border, we saw alongside a group of fine gazelle a large barely discernible figure done in outline. dStretch reveals a weird bulbuous head, muscular legs and feet, with the faint outlines of the hands and arms just visible.
At a short distance there is the other principal shelter of Tin Aboteka, dominated by a large bear-like amimal, which could also be a striped hyena, painted over an earlier antelope. Below the animal there is a large roundhead human figure with a stiped body, surrounded by smaller figures (and a mask just under the left shoulder).
At an adjacent shelter we saw a small but excellent panel of cattle pastoralist paintings, the finest set of this style at Tin Aboteka.
We continued to one of the most curious panel of paintings at this locality. Apparently they are of the early roundhead style, the strange shapes have varously been likened to flowers or mushrooms (there is a hoard of speculative literature on the web discussing the 'magic mushroom' representations of the Tassili). On the top the featured with a red center and yellow outline appear to be quite unambigous fishes, and in the lower part there are two similar shapes with the "mushrooms" sprouting from their bodies. So far all known such representations are associated with masked figures.
In a small hollow above a low shelter we saw a remarkable analogy. The hollow was filled with a procession of human figures in the same style and manner as at the comparable site at Tireras N'Elias. Obviously the similar environment triggered a similar composition. The main feature of another site is a strange animal appearing to be a bit like an opossum (which of course it cannot be) or something similar. The big surprise came when viewing this site with dStretch, revealing a large figure, very clearly a baboon executed in now a very faint yellow outline.
We finished at a very large shelter which at some time must have been covered with paintings, but now only a few patches remain, the rest were removed by weathering. On the extreme left once there was a very large white animal, now only the rump is visible and some smaller figures. The center is dominated by a historic lion with a curious curved tail, however standing back it is possible to discern two very large antelopes in a faint outline.
There are several more interesting details at this site, including strange bicolour cattle with a white stripe in the middle, an apparently pregnant female figure with an animal's head (or a mask) and several more curious human figures.
We returned to our Tin Tazarift camp for lunch and a short siesta. Mid-afternoon we packed our bags, the donkeys were loaded, and we set out for the short hour's walk to Sefar, passing several of the natural arches for which Tin Tazarift is well known for.
On our way we passed the Tin teferiest wadi, where Omar showed us two shelters, one containing some damaged cattle period paintings, while the other some rather curious ones from the historic period. Unfortunately he did not know the whereabouts of the large roundheaded figure that Lajoux published, attributed to this locality. It may have become too faint to warrant a visit, or simply fell out of memory and needs to be re-located.
We soon reached Sefar, and found the wadi filled with a chain of gueltas full of a bit murky, but still drinkable water.
After dropping off our packs we went back to see the big shelter covered with paintings along the far side of the wadi (called "the amazons' shelter" by Lhote) next to our campsite. This site contains the most mumerous paintings of any shelter at Sefar, it must have had some special significance (and is the only site in the main wadi). It contains hundreds of figures forming several layers, the photos below are a mere sampling of all the scenes.
While the state of preservation is generally good, dStretch helps to see many of the smaller or fainter details, especially the very fine line drawn figures, many of which are scattered about the site. Some unexpected details are also revealed, like the very faint rhinoceros under the 'amazons'.
Day 5. - Sefar
With two nights at the Sefar camp, we could afford ourselves a lazy morning, only getting up when the heat of the sun started to be felt. After breakfast and a couple of games with stone and charcoal pieces and a sand board, we set out to see the northern half of Sefar, one of the biggest concentration of paintings in the entire Sahara.
The initial group was a series of shelters, or rather painted walls of the 'streets' in the rectangular grid formed by erosion, centered on the row of larger than life roan antelopes (Hippotragus equinus) from the archaic period. Next to the antelopes we have spotted a rather faint animal in outline, which on close scrutiny proved to be a well recognisable rhinoceros, to my knowledge the only one from this early archaic period.
There are numerous other panels of varying quality in the immediate vicinity, all with paintings made in the same style. Most show human figures, some individual others in groups, with some rather difficult to interpret postures and scenes. A strange recurring theme among the human figures is an unidentifiable egg shaped object, with intricate interior decoration.
In a small side street Omar showed us a painting that I have not seen before, not even in any publication. The panel consists of only three of the strange egg shapes, dStretch brings out well the interior decoration, but that does not bring us any closer to figuring out what they could represent...
After another two corners we were facing the most important shelter of Sefar, the 'great god' basking in the perfect reflected light of early morning (parts of the panel are lit by the sun later in the day). The panel appeared substantially the same as we remembered it, fortunately there seems to be no apparent deterioration of the paintings. Once paintings covered the entire wall, but most of the ones on the right have faded (though dStretch does reveal what the eye no longer sees). The best preserved part is on the left, where a large overhang provides more protection.
A short distance from the 'great god' panel, there is another similar open area with a large panel of archaic paintings, including a group of strange generally circular shapes. There is one figure which appears to wear a mickey mouse hat (this double bulge frequently re-appears among paintings of this period), while another appears to carry one of thesese shapes in place of the head (but dStretch reveals that they are two distinct layers, with the shape painted over the figure which had the same 'mickey mouse' head), all painted over a very large indistinct animal
On the left of the panel I spotted and photographed indistinct strange shape, even with dStretch it is quite hard to make out what it is. It is definitely an animal formed out of several concentric outline shapes of differing width and colour, the best fit appears to be a hippopotamus, an unique depiction whatever it is.
Moving further, we passed a small but very fine panel, a round head family scene with the large figures about 20cm tall. sStretch gives more clarity to the number of oval and crescent shapes that appear to be an integral part of the composition.
In another shelter we saw the well known cattle pastoralist couple, but also noted a pair of very weathered roundhead figures at the left of the shelter, a scene that I was not aware of from any publication.
Opposite the previous scene on the far side of the 'street', a large low shelter contains a very complex panel of paintings along its entire length, with numerous overpaintings from several periods.
A further shelter some distance away contains a large archaic barbary sheep, with several unusual figures of the round head period, including a very difficult to interpret ensemble, a group of apparently overlapping figures, but the unbroken outline clearly indicating a single intentional composition.
It did not quite register on the spot, but looking at the photographs back home a curious pattern became quite evident. Up till now, the central part of Sefar with the grid-like pattern of narrow 'streets'and small openings contained paintings principally from the archaic period, characterised by large round headed figures and wild animals made out with a dark outline and a white infill. From here onwards in the Northern areas, cattle pastoralist paintings started to appear, eventually becoming the dominant style with only a few scattered paintings from the earlier periods.
One of the finest pastoral paintings at Sefar is hidden in a small narrow crevice, with a panel of very fine running archers along the vertical rock wall, in a perfect state of preservation.
On the left of this same panel, a few metres from the running figures, there was a very faint, barely discernible figure that appeared to be of the roundhead type. dStretch reveals a remarkable painting, the body similar to that of many previously seen ones, but with a very strange head unlike anything comparable.
Close to the panel of the running figures, but out in the wider street, a small hollow contains on the ceiling (in a very hard to spot place) a figure generally interpreted as a woman giving birth. On the spot one can only sense some traces of surrounding pigment, but dStretch reveals a number of surrounding figures, making interpretation less than straight forward.
Further on, in a typical setting on the side of a larger open 'square' we saw a very large and complex panel, principally of roundhead style paintings. They were faint and damaged, but with dStretch it is possible to see tha many unique elements only existing at this site.
Continuing for some distance in one of the 'streets' leading north, we came upon the 'shelter of the headless man', named so by the Lhote team on account of the very visibly headless figure a little to the right of the main panel, dominated by a monkey-like figure. The indistinct animal on the left could well be a warthog, one of the rare examples. (dStretch does not help in this case, the missing pigment did not fade but has eroded away due to sandblast.)
At a short distance there is another site with some archaic type images, unfortunately all fairly damaged and hard to make out. Once there was a very fine panel of barbary sheep and antelopes, and a large indistinct dark patch appears to be an interesting human figure with zigzag body decoration, unfortunately treated with some varnish during one of the 'restoration' attempts that has darkened and almost completely obscures the finer details. There is also an adjacent large life sized roundhead figure.
A little further, in a long narrow street, a large shelter contains the finest panel of cattle at Sefar. The panel contains two curious circular structures associated with humans, a little reminescent of the cattle pastoralist 'homestead' scenes at Uweinat.
At the left of the shelter some distance from the cattle herd there are some faint roundhead paintings, and even further Viki spotted a panel of strange locust like small figures.
At this point, we reached the edge of the 'rock city', the country opening up towards the north, with low dunes piling against the rocks. In a shelter below a large rock almost completely filled with sand, we found a very fine panel of antelopes and small horned roundhead figures, almost impossible to photograph because of the lack of space.
Nearby we saw a shelter which we passed by twenty years ago, but it was mostly obscured by blown sand. Now the fine roundhead figures were cleared and fully visible.
Out towards the open country a large rock pillar had a conspicious shelter, on my enquiry Omar said that there are only traces of paint, nothing of interest. In retrospect I'm glad to have insisted on taking the effort to look, the rather unimpressive red pigment traces emerged with dStretch to be another 'great god' figure, about two metres high.
Starting our way back towards camp, we passed a large wall full of small roundhead figures, some horned, some holding some strange elongated, broom-like objects.
Along the side of a large open area there were some very faint paintings, uninteresting on first look, but on close scrutiny the shapes of several undisputable fishes (probably an african lungfish, Protopterus species). At the right of the shelter a strange animal turned out to be an anthropomorph holding a bow.
At the far end of the opening we found a cluster of myrtle bushes (Myrtus nivellei), a vestige species of the mediterranean flora still surviving on the Tassili. They were full of ripe blue berries, Omar immediately harvested a large bunch of fresh shoots, the tea brewed from it is used as a remedy by the Touareg for sore throat and various other ailments.
Before reaching camp we passed by a large site with numerous but very faint cattle pastoralist paintings. By this time all of us were suffering from a case of serious rock art overload, so we only made a brief pass without really looking at the finer details. However processing the photos with dStretch reveals a very elaborate site with numerous well preserved scenes, including what appears to be a 'haircut' scene (in right of photo at lower left).
Despite what we managed to see over the morning, it was just past midday when we arrived back to camp. After lunch we took a lengthy siesta at camp, relaxing by the little pools in the bed of the wadi. The gueltas were teeming with life, mostly tiny bivalve shrimps (a few millimetres accross) and the same waterbeetles as we saw on the Brandberg, but there were also numerous tadpole shrimp (Triops cancriformis), bizarre creatures that could have walked right out of the Cambrian Burgess shales. Their eggs can remain dormant for up to twenty years, and are thought to spread on the feet of migratory birds, being fairly common in the gueltas of the central Sahara. They are about 4-5 cm without the tail spikes, and can be caught quite easily once one gets the hang of it. Posing for the camera is another thing, they wriggle vigorously trying to get back to the water...
Mid-afternoon we set out again, this time to visit the sites in the southern part of Sefar. We started at the southernmost site, the well known row of three striking masks at the rear of a fairly shallow shelter.
Nearby there is the other well known cattle pastoralist scene with a depicted pig. Unlike most sites at Sefar (and the Tassili as a whole), it is not located in a shelter, but on the side of a rather inconspicious low rock outcrop. While the animal above the unquestionable pig is also referred to as such by the guides, the body proportions are the same as the cattle to the right, and the head also appears to be of a cattle despite the lack of horns. There is also a large animal below the pig made out in outline, only visible with dStretch. The head is very indistinct, the body shape and proportions sugest a hippo, but the head is disproportionately small and narrow.
Moving further in among the rocks, we find a long shallow shelter with several panels of paintings. On the roof of a deeper part on the left, there is what was undoubtedly a very fine panel of cattle pastoralist paintings, unfortunately it is much faded in places, from Lajoux's photographs it appears that the damage is recent.
On the vertical wall to the left of the cattle paintings, there is one of the best known scenes from Sefar, a panel of cattle pastoralist paintings with a fire making scene in the middle. This scene is in a disappointing state, however Lajoux's photos show it to be in a perfect state of presentation. At present large patches of the surface pigment are missing, with the scene only properly recognisable after processing with dStretch which also reveals a very fine giraffe in outline to the left of the human figures.
The same scenes on Lajoux's published (1963) photographs:
We passed by a large promising shelter that only contained some very damaged paintings. The best was a large roundhead figure with zigzag body decoration, more evident on the dStretch enhanced image.
A small scene at this same shelter looked intriguing on account of the unrecognisable traces of yellow pigment and the little red figures. dStretch reveals aside the yellow animal a row of oval shapes, perhaps baskets or utensils.
The finest cattle pastoralist paintings at Sefar are located in a narrow lane among a maze of rocks, far above reach from the present surface level. The valley floor must have been well above the present level in antiquity, as most other paintings are on a readily accessible level, it rather unlikely that any kind of ladder or scaffolding would have been used to make these paintings.
In an adjecent lane we have seen another well known scene, the pair of spotted giraffes, flanked by a very fine panel of cattle. dStretch reveals a further pair of giraffes to the right, made up entirely of small red spots like an impressionist painting.
At this point we have reached the farthest point, and started meandering back towards the central area where our camp was located, along a rapid succession of smaller sites of varying quality and themes.
We reached the 'main street' of southern Sefar, a broad open area about ten metres wide and over two hundred mertes long. There is a row of shelters with paintings every dozen metres or so along the southern (shaded) side, with a mix of roundhead and cattle pastoralist styles. Close to a large group of archers apparently attacking an invisible foe, there was a strange apparently blended roundhead human figure and animal. Omar called it a centaur, evidently repeating the term he heared from somewhere. with dStretch it is quite clear what I already suspected on the spot: the "centaur" is a running figure superimposed on an earlier barbary sheep, with differential weathering creating the strange appearance.
The 'main street' ends with a large deep shelter that is dominated by the large (over 1 metre) figure of the "masked lady". There is also an adjacent fine panel of cattle pastoralist paintings, which includes one of the very rere depictions of a domesticated dog. dStretch reveals a few surprising and enigmatic details.
Leaving the 'main street' we passed by the very faint, almost invisible painting which Lhote called the 'greek warrior'. The large figure was already damaged but still readily discernible when Lajoux took his photo in the late fifties, by now it is almost invisible, especially when fully exposed to the afternoon sun. There is no remaining trace of the smaller figure that appears on Lhote's copy. This is one of the rare cases where even dStretch is of little help, this scene was almost completely obliterated by repeated moistening during copying.
Fortunately the shelter that Omar left to the end as dessert is still in pristine condition. It is situated in a deep overhang close to the main wadi, within shouting distance from the camp. The procession of three women with extensive body decoration, and the row of 'dancing figures' on the right part of the shelter were apparently so well preserved that there was no need for any moistening to make them stand out, hence they have survived without any damage. All the scenes at this site are unique, nothing comparable is known from Sefar or elsewhere on the central Tassili.
Adjacent to the large shelter towards the wadi, in what may be considered a continuation of the same site, there is a panel with a couple of fine small gazelle, antelopes and some human figures. Unfortunately much of this panel is very weathered, there is clearly much more, but in this case the even dStretch does not improve much over what is visible with the naked eye.
Further down in the same shelter there is large white archaic animal figure, which on close scrutiny is clearly identifiable an elephant, with trunk and big ears. Around the corner is another similar but larger white animal, probably also an elephant but the head is obliterated by water damage (not from copying, but from rainfall that pours down the rock). Adjacent to it there is a small bizarre creature in white paint, and some other scenes.
As we left the shelter, there was a strange shrieking cry from the far side of the wadi, clearly the warning sign of some animal. As we were debating what creature it could be ranging from eagle to jackal, one of us spotted the silhouette of the culprit, a hyrax sitting on a rock almost directly into the setting sun.
We finished off the day with the largest site of Sefar, a huge panel about twenty metres wide filled with paintings principally of the archaic period, dominated by an enormous white bubalus on the right of the panel, and a 'great god' figure on the right. There are innumerable smaller figures and superpositions, with no more sites for the day and the camp just a few hundred metres away, we could spend as much time as we wanted before dusk to take in the finer details. Koen spotted an animal among the later additions and overpaintings that was undoubtedly a porcupine, a subject not known from elsewhere as far as I'm aware.
Day 6. - Sefar - Tin Kani - Alanedoumen
At sunrise we started to pack the camp, a lengthy affair made longer by our donkeys wandering off apparently quite far despite their tethered feet, it took young Omar almost an hour to herd them back to camp for loading.
Mention should be made of our other faithful companions who followed us everywhere. It seems that the flies of the Tassili are a very special breed. While at Uweinat we have become accustomed to them in great swarms during the day, at sunset they always settled. Not here. They were buzzing about even in the darkness, entering the tents if one was not careful, and being a general nuisance. The only time there were no flies about was when we started walking. Being the lazy creatures as they were, they comfortably settled on our backs and backpacks, hitching a ride and taking to the air in huge swarms as soon as we stopped.
Once the donkeys were back and the bags were packed, we set out towards the south east on our walk of about 16 kilometres to Alanedoumen, a little over half way on the route from Sefar to Jabbaren. At first we walked mainly over a generally featureless flat reg, only interrupted by a few rocky patches.
After about four kilometres we approached Tin Rassoutin, a prominent rocky outcrop visible from afar, with a large shelter along its western approaches which we did not see twenty years ago.
At first look the shelter appears to contain only historic era paintings, however on close look one may find several fine fainter details from the earlier periods. One particularly strange depiction is a half quadriped, half bird creature, the like of which I have never seen published or elsewhere.
As we continued past the prominent outcrop, we passed one of the rare engravings of the Central Tassili, two facing cattle on a boulder in the bed of a small wadi.
After another couple of kilometres the appearance of country began to change, we entered the region of Tin Kani, full of massive rock pillars with narrow lanes between them. We passed two rock art sites, both of which we have seen before. The first one was not particularly exciting, the second had a couple of fine archaic roan antelopes, but neither would be worth a major detour.
A little further on, Omar led us to a remarkable large shelter which we have not visited previously. It is over 20 metres long, with a mix of archaic and cattle pastoralist paintings along its entire length, however the most interesting part is on the extreme left, dominated by two large archaic animals. The one on the right is clearly a Hippotragus, however the bizarre creature on the left is not readily identifiable. This is the only such large-scale depiction in the central Tassili, though there are several more further North. It was rather convincingly suggested that all these strange beasts are in fact warthogs (Bernard Fouilleux et. al, Quelques images inÚdites de la Tassili N'Ajjer, Sahara 21, 2010), but the debate is not firmly settled. There are a couple of archaic roundhead figures associated with this creature, and a more indistinct smaller but similar creature at lower left.
The last site of Tin Kani towards the west is a large shelter in the lee of an isolated rock outcrop. There are paintings of varying quality from several periods, including a panel of fine giraffes, and a curious white bird, perhaps an ostrich.
As we left the site and crossed a nearby wadi with vegetation, Danielle spotted a group of gazelle making their speedy escape on our approach. They were so quick to disappear behind some far rock outcrops that only the first few of our party managed to see them. Soon after we stopped for lunch and a short rest before moving on for the last couple of kilometres. We reached the principal wadi of Alanedoumen by mid-afternoon, and Omar suggested to make a loop of the sites before going to camp in the wadi. The most important site is not a very spectacular one, with fairly crude camel period paintings. However it also contains a pair of adjacent horse drawn chariots, the best examples from the central part of the Tassili.
A little further there is a very fine large engraving of a rhinoceros on an area of smooth rock. It is not easy to make it out, and is practically impossible to photograph properly. As we started to camp, I was fortunate enough to snap a reasonable photo of one of the fat tailed lizards which are abundant, but usually disappear in a crevace before one can snap a photo.
We returned to the wadi a few hundred metres below camp, where there were a couple of further sites, with cattle pastoralist paintings. The first site had a fine engraved bubalus on the floor of the shelter and a couple of interesting details, while the second was a large panel of cattle.
We reached camp with a good hour of sunlight to spare, after securing our spots and pitching the tents we wandered off to see the solitary cypress growing near the camp. Our donkeys were busy munching on the fresh green grass growing in the wadi, with so much food about there was hope that perhaps they would not wander off too far by the morning.
We had a curious tree growing next to our 'mess hall' at camp. From a distance it looked like a regular acacia, but from close the particularly nasty two inch thorns became evident. We made a mental note to keep a wide berth when going back to the tents in the darkness...
Day 7. - Alanedoumen - Ozaneare - Jabbaren
Morning started with a sharp yell, followed by a loud comotion. It turned out that as Koen rolled up his matress after sleeping out in the open, he found a big black scorpion underneath. Young Omar wanted to kill it on the spot, but I managed to obtain a reprieve for the duration of getting the camera. Fortunately by the time I was finished with the photos, feelings have subsided and everyone went back packing, the creature was able to make a quiet getaway.
Despite the interruption by the scorpion, we were much quicker in packing up than the day before. With the donkeys in sight, we started out with Omar and Baba, while young Omar and Ibrahim were to take the donkeys by the direct route to our campsite at Jabbaren. Our objective was Ozaneare, an important rock art locality on the north eastern part of a broad flat bottomed wadi. We took Baba because he was more familiar with the area, Omar admittedly saw it only superficially many years before.
After walking for about an hour we reached the western end of the broad flat bottomed valey, where Baba showed us some paintings, mainly of the camel period. There were a couple of interesting scenes, but these were clearly not the paintings we were looking for.
Both Baba and Omar were convinced that we were at Ozaneare, however the paintings we have just seen appeared to be marked as Rayaye on Lajoux's map, a copy if which was me. This term was understood by our guides to refer to the valley with two cypress trees about half kilometre away. Ozaneare was marked on the map to be in the middle of the broad valley, about three kilometres away. Omar and Baba knew of no sites there, but we decided to go and investigate anyway. As we walked along the generally flat bottom of the valley, the sharp eyes of Baba spotted some very faint snake tracks, which he proceeded to folow till a small boulder. Sure enough, after he snatched up the rock rapidly, we saw a small tightly coiled sand viper (Cerastes vipera) underneath. At least it appeared small to me, but in Omar's opinion it was a fairly big one, this species is smaller than the closely related horned viper which we saw in the Gilf Kebir. Our Touaregs wanted to kill it, it took quite some pleading for them to consent to leaving it in peace. Omar was once bitten in the foot in his youth and barely survived, he was certainly no friend of snakes...
After the snake encounter we crossed the valley center, and found a large shallow guelta occupying the lowest part. To make the picture complete, there even was a wild duck swimming in the middle, unfortunately it made a hasty retreat as soon as we aproached before any photos could be taken.
We soon reached the edge of the dissected rocky terrain where we suspected the paintings. Omar and Baba, very visibly driven by professional pride, spent a good two hours searching among the rocks, but apart of one very faint and damaged set of paintings (including a strange horned anthropomorf) among some modern nomadic encampments, found absolutely nothing (now I know, we were looking about a kilometre too far North...).
As time passed, we had to reluctantly conclude that there was little chance of finding the Ozaneare sites without knowing their exact location. We still had a good 15 kilometres to go to Jabbaren, so at noon we set out towards the South East of the deep broad valley, from where Baba asured us there will be an easy flat route direct accross the plateau to Jabbaren. Poor Omar was very upset on having failed us, it took quite a bit of convincing to assure him that we were not so, after all we have seen so many wonders already that we could well afford one small hiccup in the plan.
There are few live cypress trees (and the remains of several dead ones) dotting the main watercourse of the lower end of the valley. Near one of them, at the bottom of a ravine leading down from the plateau, there was a lare murky guelta, with a series of low shelters above offering some protection from the sun that was particularly scorching on this day. We decided to stop for a longer lunch break here, to continue on the flat plateau top after the worst of the midday heat was over.
Before three we started climbing up the rocky slope out of the valley to the plateau above. The top was indeed flat and offered a good fast going. We set a direct course to Jabbaren, at this point about ten kilometres away.
We reached a smal cluster of rocks at about the half-way point in little over an hour. Here Baba showed us a shelter that contained among other paintings a pair of exceptional ostriches, including one without any readily recognisable body, very similar to the bodyless ostriches of Wadi Sora in the Gilf Kebir.
We covered the remaining distance in less than an hour, and soon spotted our donkeys grazing in an adjacent valley. The Jabaren camp is in a largish depression with a flat sandy bottom, flanked by low rocks, and a small wadi with two small cypress trees. Young Omar and Ibrahim have prepared everything, we staggered in just in time for sunset and the well earned evening bar that followed it. We were to spend two nights here, spending a relaxed day visiting the Jabbaren sites following the two days of walking.
Day 8. - Aouenrhet - Jabbaren
The rock art sites of Jabbaren, the richest area of the central Tassili after Sefar, lie among a cluster of low eroded rock outcrops on the edge of the terrace bordering the Wadi Amazar, draining towards Libya to the South East. Aouenrhet, really a suburb of Jabbaren, lies within sight accross the wadi about a kilometre away. To reach it, one must descend into the deep valley, and climb up on the far side. We started there in the morning, leaving Jabbaren proper for the afternoon.
The most important site at Aouenrhet is on the Northern side of the elevated cluster of rocks (actually the highest elevation we reached on our trip). It is a very large shelter, almost qualifying as a cave, with a panel of large and small scale archaic and roundhead figures covering the rear wall.
The most conspicious is a large masked figure, in a contorted body posture that is remarkably similar to postures seen on some "Uweinat roundhead" and Wadi Sora style paintings. It has shapes resemblinh mushrooms extending from its arme and legs, a feature that appears to be associated with all masked figures, also noted at Tin Tazarift. It is flanked by a large white roundhead figure (with a similar figure lying partiannl obscured under the masked one). To the right, there is a large animal, apparently an elephant, and several more large and smaller roundhead figures. On the extreme left, a strange creature is apparently a composite of two front ends of some animal (like the similar figure at Tin Tazarift).
Continuing to the Eastern side of the rocky outcrops, we passed by several shelters with paintings of varying quality, mostly of the cattle pastoral periods with a few roundhead figures.
A large shelter facing to the South East contains the only explicit sexual scene I'm aware of in the Central Tassili, quite an orgy by the look of it. Apparently it did not quite meet the acceptable publishing standards of the times, as neither Lhote nor Lajoux mentions it. There are also a couple of archaic animals and other cattle pastoral figures scattered about the much damaged panels.
Moving along the periphery of the rocks from one outlier to another, there were several further sites, generally from the cattle period, all very faint or damaged. One very faint panel revealed what I recognised to be Lhote's hippopotamus hunt panel. While the human figures are most likely indeed sitting in boats, their association with the single hippo I could see (there were supposedly two) was not at all clear to me.
In the shelters before and after the hippo, as well as on a similar eroded facing rock wall, there are about a dozen or so very damaged and faint panels of paintings. While none of them are spectacular, dStretch reveals several interesting or unique details.
Just around the corner Omar led us to one of the most well known sites, the "White Lady of Aouenrhet". Once it must have been a magnificent panel of paintings, but it was probably already faint and weathered by the time the Lhote mission discovered it. The repeated moistenings to reveal the details while copying have caused much subsequent deterioration, however with dStretch it is still possible to make out the principal details with some difficulty. What one may not appreciate from the Lhote copies, there is a multitude of small cattle pastoralist figures superimposed on the earlier principal paintings.
As we made our way slowly back clockwise along the Western edge of the rocks, we saw several shelters with faint cattle pastoralist and almost unrecognisable archaic paintings. Only one site warrants special mention, what appeared to be just another of the inconspicious shelters revealed a unique ostrich, with its neck twisted in a loop, I have never seen anything remotely similar before.
We soon reached the small clear area where the Lhote mission had its campsite. The elevated platform in the middle was supposedly Lhote's bed, though it looked suspiciously small for a six foot person. Nearby Omar showed the monogram of Lhote engraved into a rock face - apparently someone who was not a great fan tried to erease it some years ago.
The rear wall of the campsite is a continuos long shelter with several degraded paintings, with the exception of the ones on the extreme right. There are a pair of strange horned cattle, dStretch reveals that in fact it is a row of long necked gazelle or perhaps giraffe superimposed on the earlier cattle, which have long straight horns. A little above and to the right, there is a well preserved unique composition of strange shapes or structures which don't readily lend themselves to any interpretation.
At the other end of the campsite, there is perhaps the most intriguing and bizarre panel of paintings in the entire area (the very reason the camp was located here). They are archaic, in part of the same style as the "white lady" not far away. In absence of any analogies it is very hard to make any sense out of the figures and the composition.
The most interesting scene is at bottom left, five figures with similar heads that apparently form a composition. An elongated female figure (with breasts depicted on the back) appears to drag another figure, which has natural body proportions. The heads of the two figures immediately below partially overlap the long female. I would not even attempt to guess the meaning of the round, snail like shape with human head and hands... The figures are on the scale of 10-15 centimetres, much smaller than how they appeared in my memory. Their overall presentation is good, the colour combinations used makes it very difficult to use dStretch, several filters are needed to reveal different elements.
To the left of this group, there is a larger female figure with prominent pointed breasts, similar to the style of the "white lady", partially overlain by a long thin white figure of the style of the previous group. The panel is closed to the left by a large (about one metre) figure wearing an elaborate headdress or mask. The body was either executed in white outline only, or any infill had completely disappeared, as even dStretch does not reveal any traces of other colours. There is another figure of the type of the first group on the lower part of the panel.
Above and partially underlying the principal group on the lower left, there are groups of small figures executed in red, which clearly represent an earlier phase, yet they cannot readily be fitted into the principal rock art styles of the region.
To finish off our tour of Auoenrhet, Omar led us to a large shelter which we did not pass on our previous visit. It contained a large panel of paintings, unfortunately so much weathered that despite my hopes, even dStretch cannot make much sense out of them. The red blobs appear to be the hair or caps of large figures which by now have almost completely disappeared.
It was close to midday, we returned to the Northern side of the Wadi Amazar to have a longer pause and lunch, before continuing with the Jabbaren sites in the afternoon. The principal sites are tightly clustered among a group of eroded rock outcrops right on the edge of the wadi. There are two broad east-west 'avenues', with narrow 'streets' at right angles, all following the grid like fault lines in the rock.
Next to our shady lunch spot there was an isolated cluster of rocks, with shelters running all around the base. On the western side we found a stunningly beautiful panel of cattle pastoralist paintings, which we have missed on our previous visit. dStretch reveals that an indistinct figure on the right of the panel is in fact a lizard, a unique depiction among the usual cattle and human figures, not unlike the agama I spotted on a rock nearby. There are further cattle pastoralist paintings all around this rock island, but none coming close to this first one in quality of detail and state of preservation.
On the far side of the rock island there are a group of enigmatic paintings, which may be likened to medusae, accompanied by a group of small antelopes. To the left of these, there is a delightful little scene of an oryx being hunted with a dog. The detail is extremely fine, it is clearly visible that the hunters carry arrows tipped with transverse arrowheads.
The entrance of the southern 'avenue' of Jabbaren is just a short distance away, it starts with a largish open area on the southern side, surrounded by shallow shelters, with paintings of the cattle pastoral period throughout, in varying state of preservation.
Among the numerous mostly damaged cattle paintings, there are two scenes worth mentioning. One is centered on what appears to be a homestead with utensils hanging from the ceiling, with an adjacent group of girls and some other finely detailed figures.
The other one is a better preserved portion of a much larger panel, the rest of which was much damaged by rainwater flowing down the rock face. The depicted group of human figures shows extremely fine detail, of note are the animal skin skirts and aprons worn by several of the female figures.
The entrance to the first 'street' is just beyond, leading out to a steep drop at the edge of the wadi. The western side is dominated by a large shelter that contains a single enormous figure, the famous "Great Martian God" of Jabbaren. Unfortunately this huge archaic roundhead figure, originally about four-five metres in dimension, is in a much damaged state. However despite Omar's claims to the contrary, comparing present ones with the photos of 20 years ago, I cannot really discern any further deterioration since our own previous visit. The naming of the figure was intended as a pun by the Lhote team, however it gave rise to the multi-million dollar business venture of Erich von Däniken who built several books and movies around the concept that the paintings were a work of aliens, enthusiasticaly received by an apparently rather receptive niche audience.
On our first visit we were coming from the opposite direction nearing the end of the visit, with dusk falling by the time we reached here we did not have the time to appreciate the fact that the other side of the 'street' is one huge continous shelter with paintings of all periods along its entire length of about fifty metres. The scenes below are a mere sampling of the better preserved and more interesting paintings of this huge continuous panel.
A narrow path leads accross along the edge of the cliff dropping in to the wadi to the next 'street', which is both shorter and narrower, but also having shelters on both sides. Right at the end there is a very faint panel, with only traces of paint discernible, Lhote's "Antinea". Re-reading Lhote's account it is evident that this panel was found in pretty much the same state. Various filters of dStretch show details which the copiers missed because they were either invisible or too indistinct to have been recorded.
The small shelters in the centre of the 'street' contain relatively few, but well preserved paintings, some of whict are rare or totally unique, like the likely aardvark, the figure with painted ot tattoed face and arms, the bodiless ostriches of the flock of sheep.
There is one bizarre creature that appears to be without parallel. It clearly has a body of a cow (the prominent udder is clearly visible on the dStretch enhanced images), with the neck apparently merging into a body of a snake twisted under the belly, ending in head with ears but apparently a snake tongue (a feature echoing the art of the Brandberg).
Leaving the side street, we continued up the south 'avenue' to the point where it started becoming narrow. We passed a few sites with some damaged cattle paintings, and soon reached the finest cattle pastoralist shelter at Jabbaren, a large high shelter with paintings covering the entire surface.
The best preserved paintings are on the upper left, with groups of opposing archers intermingled with cattle, and strange crescent-shaped objects (possibly boats, though given their orientation and context this can not be stated with the confidence of Omar...). There are also three ostriches with their body outline scratched after having been painted. On account of the lack of patination, this appears to have been done relatively recently.
The right side of the shelter is relatively more damaged, but here too there are some very fine scenes.
We walked on to the end of the avenue, which is marged by a small shelter containing some human figures of the type common in the Acacus, but only a vew examples exist in the Tassili. They are thought to be historic, though their association with a cattle appearing to be part of the same scene raises some questions...
One of the highlights of Jabbaren is hidden some distance inside a narrow rock crevace between the two avenues. A shelter along the side of a little elevated platform contains some very fine cattle pastoralist scenes, including the figure of a running archer that could have adorned an ancient greek vase.
Near the western end of the northern 'avenue' there are two large important shelters. The first one contains two large birds (most likely ostriches) drawn on a very disproportionate scale, the wings are just short stubs at the base of the neck.
The adjacent shelter contains a large animal executed in red paint, variously identified as a bear or a hyena (though the apparent long tail would contradict both). It is very similar in style and execution to the large animal at Tin Aboteka. Recently it was suggested that it might be a honey badger, a reasonably good fit for the overall shape of the animal.
At the rump of the animal, partially obscured by it, there is a double row of very faint human figures wearing some conspicious headgear. Lhote called them "the procession of judges", unfortunately at present they are so faint that even with dStretch it is very hard to make out any details.
A short distance away on a vertical section of rock along the side of the 'avenue' there is a very fine panel of archaic roundhead paintings, including several very well preserved 'martian' female figures, and several of the smaller 'horned devils'.
Continuing up the 'avenue' we passed a panel of paintings that was fully on the sun, impossible to photograph properly. This was one of the very rare scenes of cattle pastoralist people hunting wild animals, apparently gazelle or antelopes.
The final site, a low deep shelter contained only a few paintings, including a curious creature usually referred to as a crocodile or a monitor lizard. With full honesty, I'm not even sure which one is the front and the tail...
We soon emerged out into the open, very close to where we started off after lunch a couple of hours earlier. We still had two major sites to see before sunset, removed about a kilometre to the west along the edge of the Wadi Amazar from the principal area.
The first site was a herd of polychrome cattle in a narrow lane leading out to the wadi edge. It was noted by Lhote for the exceptional combination of colours and patterns, it is one of the finest cattle herd depictions on the Tassili. Unfortunately this site had deteriorated significatnty, on Jajoux's photograph the site is bright and fresh looking, while today many of the cattle are only revealed after image enhancement.
The last site we saw is arguably the finest at Jabbaren, situated along a shallow shelter at the base of a long thin rock wall, made even thinner at the base by erosion. It has paintings from a variety of periods, but the most striking ones are the perfectly preserved 'martian' type archaic roundhead figures, some of them carrying handled baskets or utensils on their heads. To the right there are several minor scenes continuing till a natural arch in the rock wall.
A unique bearded figure starts the sequence of paintings on the left, flanked by an unidentifiable animal that on first look appears to be an okapi, but that is rather unlikely. The three-lobed head is very unrealistic, presumably the central lobe is the nose and head while the two side lobes are the ears, with a lower horn visible. Further right there is a strange creature with several humps on the back and a hippo-like head. Unforetunately dStretch does not help, too much of the pigment is gone. However the whiteish background above is revealed to be the lower parts of a very large ostrich, and a pattern of small red figures becomes visible, unrecogniseable on the spot. Above the humps, there is a very strange abstract shape with no recognisable interpretation.
The group of 'martian' roundhead figures starts immediately to the left, and is the finest and pest preserved ensemble of this style. To the right and partially obscured by a roundhead figure, there appears to be a fish (though this attribution has recently been disputed).
Closeup photos reveal many finer details. The bearded figure on the left is wearing a quiver. What on first look appears to be a clear chronological key to the entire early phase of the roundhead style quickly turns totally confusing. The foot of a yellow infilled roundhead figure is clearly superimposed on the 'martian' female figure with a basket on the head. This yellow figure in turn is partially overlain by a 'horned' dark infill figure (of the Tin Tazarift type). However this figure is clearly superimposed by another 'martian' type figure that is of the same style as the lowest layer of the sequence... The only logical explanation is that the three styles were contemporary.
Immediately right of the natural arch there are a further two faint and damaged scenes, after which the paintings cease, despite a further ten metres of suitable rock surface.
Having finished with the rock art sites, we set course for our camp, about a kilometre away. As we walked in the narrow corridors among the rocks, the front of our party startled a large male barbary sheep, which ran away with a loud clatter into the next lane. Climbing up on the top of the dividing rocks, most of us could glimpse it again for a split second as it was standing on an outcrop looking towards us, before disappearing again in the maze of rocks. It was a fitting ending to this fine day, we reached camp in the light of the last rays of the seting sun.
Day 9. - Jabbaren - Matalen Amazar - Akba Arum - Djanet
Being our last day, there was long packing in the morning before we could start loading the donkeys. We took our group photo before saying good bye to to young Omar and Ibrahim as the donkeys started immediately down the pass, to continue to Djanet after dropping our bags, leaving Baba to keep an eye on our belongings until the cars arrive.
Before descent we were planning on visiting an area on the far side of the Wadi Amazar which Lajoux called 'Matalen Amazar', but this name meant nothing to Omar. Lajoux reported a large masked figure very similar to the one at Aouenrhet, and also a lovely scene of locusts executed in white paint. Insects are a very rare subject in Saharan rock art, we were all very keen to visit this panel. Omar did not know these sites, but he enthusiastically agreed to go looking for them, he was very keen to make up for the fiasco at Ozeneare. We had a general idea, and assumed that once there the terrain will be quite indicative of where to make a search.
We left the direct route towards the pass, making a straight line for the Wadi Amazar. Near the wadi edge we passed a shelter with some faint paintings in it. Omar had never seen them before, at present we are not sure if this was a recorded site or not. The paintings were not marked with a row of stones that is customary with all known sites.
The subject matter was principally human figures with a few animals, all very faint and weathered. Aside some archaic roundheads with barbary sheep, there is a pair of elaborate darker figures with a headdress resembling those of the 'greek warrior' at Sefar, and a unique figure with a striped body.
As we crossed the Wadi Amazar, there was a vantage point looking down the cliffs and the plains below. Looking around, it was a bit easier to understand the geography of the wadi. The Tassili N'Ajjer slopes towards the east, the edge of the western cliffs are in fact the highest point of the plateau. All the wadis drain towards the east, like the Wadi Amazar, which starts small and shallow near the cliff edge then rapidly deepens and widens to become a formidable gorge by the time it reaches Jabbaren a mere kilometre away. The outlet of the wadi is in Libya near Ghat, into the broad valley separating the Tassili and the Acacus. This explains the lack of any major watercourses descending the cliffs. All the passes are rubble slopes, with wadis draining west starting at the foot of the cliffs.
There was a promising looking cluster of eroded rocks about two kilometres away, after leaving our packs in the shade of a large rock in the wadi bed we went straight for them and split up to explore the rock faces. The cluster was broken up into several parallel 'streets', for some time none of us found anything. Finally in the last two Magdi came upon two large shelters, full of roundhead and cattle period paintings. At the time we were not sure if they were reported or not, Omar certainly did not know about them. Now we know that we have fortuitously stumbled upon the two shelters reported by Bernard Fouilleux and Annie Mouchet in 2006 (Sahara 17).
The first site is a big long shelter, progressively becoming lower as one moves from right to left. The first paintings one encounters is a much weathered procession of small roundhead figures. The main panel is at the left of the site, with a multitude of very fine early roundhead figures associated with several animals.
On the bottom right of the main panel, there is a fine roundhead figure, associated with an animal that is very hard to identify, it does not appear to have any analogies. Further right there is a large ostrich, the upper neck and head of which is now very difficult to make out, but the body and legs are distinct. It is in a superimposition relationship with a barbary sheep and a smaller animal, though it is unclear which is over which. There is an assortment of small red cattle pastoralist figures scattered over the entire scene.
Right of the ostrich, near ground level there is a row of animals of generally a similar type as the one associated with the large roundhead figure.
A little further to the left, a fine panel of assorted roundhead figures covers the wall from floor to ceiling, executed both in just outline and with white infill. There is also another ostrich at lower right.
In the long shelter on the far side of the 'street' we only found a single rhinorecos, and a small panel of cattle pastoralist paintings near the right end where a narrow lane led over to the next 'street'.
Immediately to the left of the crossing lane, there is a large shelter covering the entire length of the 'street'. The undisturbed ground in front is littered with pottery fragments and implements.
At the left end of the shelter there is a very fine panel of cattle pastoralist paintings. An exceptional and unique scene shows a female figure riding a bull (by itself a very rare scene), which is depicted in full gallop.
Further right, there are a few more isolated human figures and cattle. In an indistinct scene one bull appears to carry a large bundle tied to the horns, supported by a transverse rod.
Continuing, one comes to a unique depiction near ground level. It is a masked figure, apparently depicted upside down (the Mayan 'descending god' springs to mind), with hands ending in gazelle heads. dStretch reveals another two masks associated with this bizarre figure, which to my knowledge has no analogies.
About half-way along the shelter a large animal, about one metre accross, with a hide of white spots over a red infill closes off the paintings. Further to the right the shelter is empty, despite plenty of suitable rock surfaces. The style affinities of the animal, clearly a bovid, is hard to identify. It does not resemble any of the other typical animal representations of the central Tassili.
Danielle and Koen investigated another part of the rock cluster, and they found a very nice cattle pastoralist site with a herd of fine polichrome cattle, which appears to be unrecorded.
While we were busy photographing the found sites, Omar made a wider search in the area, but he failed to find the ones we were originally looking for (though I am reasonably certain that they must have been in the same rock cluster). Nevertheless we were not disappointed, the sites we found have more than made up for the others, it was a very fine ending to the week we have spent on the plateau.
We went back to our packs, and after a short rest started out on the remaining couple of kilometres to the top of the Akba Arum, a straight rubble slope sandwiched between vertical cliffs, leading straight down to the plain below. We were there shortly after noon, with much of the pass still in the shade. We decided to start the descent immediately, and have our lunch somewhere along the way.
Descent was quite fast along the well bulilt and worn path. In about an hour we have made it down to a shady rock ledge that marked the half-way elevation. There was a smal granite knoll near the point where the path reached the valey floor, which offered the only shade for the remaining trek, we were aiming at that place to take our lunch.
From our lunch stop it was another couple of kilometres to the end of the car track, we walked the last hour among the bright green acacias marking the watercourse. Our agreed rendez-vous was at four in the afternoon, we were about an hour early, but in half an hour we saw the dust clouds of the approaching cars.
It was an hour's drive into town, we were there well before sunset with plenty of time to take our showers, change into clean clothes and pack our gear before retiring for the short night before the 3am flight to Algiers and home.