- Museum number
Digital photograph (colour); view of rock art engravings on a rock face (sandstone), showing a mythical figure, an elephant and an unidentified quadruped (hare?). Foreground, right: outlined (polished) elephant (not an anatomically accurate depiction) upright facing left. Vertical lines throughout the body, phallus, oval shape under tail (faeces). Foreground left: human-like figure upright facing left, arm to the right side outstretched to touch elephant’s trunk. Circular shape under waist instead of legs. Horizontal groove at chest (garment?). Lower centre: polished outline of unidentified quadruped (hare?) upright facing right, legs splayed. Wadi Mathendous, Libya.
- Production date
03 March 2008 (date digitized)
March 1998 (original photograph)
File size: 57.40 megabytes
Resolution: 300 dots per inch
- Curator's comments
- Close-up of 2013,2034.2663.
The photograph shows a scene of a defecating elephant with an unnatural head confronting a human-like, probably a mythic figure without legs. The depictions of defecating elephants are relatively common in the Messak, and usually correspond to animals depicted during the breeding season, either with phallus in erection (as it is the case) or marked marked lips interpreted as a flehmen response (the animal’s curling back of the upper lips, exposing its front teeth to facilitate the inhalation of some substances as pheromones). Those curled lips could be represented by the three deep horizontal grooves carved on the elephant’s head.
The engravings are located in 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 riverbeds run to the east into Murzuq erg. Rather than a single dry riverbed, Wadi Mathendous can 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. In this case, the engravings are placed in the Wadi Mathendous itself.
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: LIBMES0170028 (TARA number)