- Museum number
Digital photograph (colour); view of engraved rock art on a rock sloping boulder (sandstone), showing desert landscape and an unidentified man. The engraving shows the outlined (polished) figure of an elephant upright facing right. Eye defined by circle with small cupule inside, trunk curled towards the mouth filled with grooves representing creases. Behind elephant and under tail, three circular and one oval shapes divided in two by vertical line (faeces). Bubalus period. Right: unidentified oil company worker. Wadi Mathendous area. Libya.
- Production date
31 May 2006
November 2000 (original photograph)
File size: 122 megabytes
Resolution: 300 dots per inch
- Curator's comments
- Close-up of 2013,2034.2603.
The photograph shows a large, almost life-sized engraving of an elephant defecating. Elephants are relatively common in Messak depictions, usually represented in a large size. Their depiction while defecating is uncommon but not exceptional (around 20 cases have been documented insofar), and seems almost exclusive of this specie (with the only probable exception of a rhino). The engraving can be ascribed to the so called Bubalus period, characterized by its naturalistic style. The use of the natural shape of the rock to define and emphasize the elephant’s back evidences a careful planning for this figure.
The engraving is located around Wadi Mathendous, one of the main dry riverbeds on the southern edge of the Messak Plateau in southwest Libya, near the borders between Algeria and Niger. That plateau, which runs southwest-northeast through the Libyan province of Fezzan is divided in two by the Tilemsin pass, which defines two smaller plateaus (Settafet to the north and Mellet to the south). Throughout these plateaus, numerous dry bedrivers run to the east into Murzuq erg. Rather than a single dry riverbed, Wadi Mathendous can be used to define a wide area which includes the In Habeter (the middle course of Wadi Mathendous) and tributaries as the Wadi Tilizaghen. The valley and its tributaries are full with tens of thousands of rock art engravings –only a few paintings have been located insofar-, mostly depicted in vertical rocks. As a whole, Wadi Mathendous and its surrounding area constitutes the core of the Messak rock art.
The Messak rock art has been known since Heinrich Barth’s expedition in 1850, although it wasn’t until 1932 when the engravings were systematically studied by Leo Frobenius. In more recent times the area has been extensively studied by Pesce (1969), Graziosi (1970) and Jelinek (1984, 1985). Figures appear both isolated and within complex scenes which include engraved life-size elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, buffaloes and figures which mix human and animal features (therianthropes) along with numerous figures of more modern periods as horses and camels. Most of the engravings belong to the so called Bubalus style, but Tazina, Pastoral, Horse and Camel styles are also well represented. The area is home to some of the oldest engravings in the Sahara desert (around 10,000 years old) and some of the most popular depictions in Saharan rock art, as the “Sparring Cats” or the so-called “Apollo of the Garamantes”.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Previous owner/ex-collection number: LIBMES0020008 (TARA number)