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digital photograph

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Digital photograph (colour); view of engraved rock art on a rock face (sandstone), showing an unidentified quadruped and a Libyan-Berber graffiti. Lower right: outlined (polished) unidentified quadruped upright facing left. Top and left: Libyan Berber graffiti. Protohistoric. Background: sandstone cliffs. A 10 cm photo scale has been fitted at the bottom of the rock face. Wadi Mathendous, Libya.


  • Producer name

  • Date

    • 10 April 2006 (date digitized)
    • March 1998 (original photograph)
  • Production place

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • File size: 119 megabytes
    • Resolution: 300 dots per inch
  • Curator's comments

    The engravings are –relatively- modern, corresponding to the so called Libyan-Berber period, and so they could be chronologically ascribed to the Iron Age. Regarding the graffiti, Libyan-Berber is the name given to the ancient script used in North Africa and the Canary Islands by speakers of Berber languages. Probably descending from the Punic alphabet, it is attested since the 3rd century BC onwards, although some evidences could point to an earlier date, as old as the 9th century BC.

    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”.


  • Location

    Not on display

  • Subjects

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • LIBMES0040160 (TARA number)
Digital photogr

Reproduced by permission of the artist. Copyright TARA/ David Coulson

Image description



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Object reference number: EAF132301

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