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digital photograph

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Digital photograph (colour); view of engraved rock art on two rock faces showing sixteen engraved (pecked) cows upright facing right with the heads depicted as if seen from above, curved horns and marked udders. The bodies of the cows have been polished, and the area around the cow has been pecked and polished to provide the animal a bas-relief appearance. Shepe, Ethiopia.


  • Date

    • 19 January 2009 (Date digitized)
    • November 1999 (Original photograph)
  • Production place

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • File size: 120 megabytes
    • Resolution: 300 dots per inch
  • Curator's comments

    The photograph was taken in Shepe, one of the most important rock art sites in the Sidamo region which along the nearby site of Gelma give name to one of the main rock art groups in Ethiopia. It is characterized almost exclusively in engravings of humpless cows following very strict conventions: profile bodies, small heads with long horns seen from above, U-like bellies and udders very clearly depicted. The geography of Ethiopia is varied, and ranges from high plateaus to savannahs and even deserts. The eastern part mostly consists of a range of plateaus and high mountains divided in two by the Great Rift Valley and surrounded by tropical savannahs and grasslands regions to the west and southwest, and the Danakil desert to the east. The south-eastern corner of Ethiopia, which borders with Somalia, is a semi-desert plateau ranging from 300-1500 meters over the sea level. Rock art is mainly distributed in the aforementioned Sidamo region to the southwest and the area around the city of Harar, to the east, although some rock art sites have been discovered in other areas as the borders with Kenya, Eritrea and Sudan. Research was started in the 30’s by abate Henri Breuil, his studies being followed by were John Desmond Clark in the 50’s and Paolo Graziosi and Francis Anfray during the 60’s. In 1971, the importance of Ethiopian rock art led Červiček to propose of the term Ethiopian-Arabian style, for the whole Horn of Africa rock art. In the 90’s and 2000’s rock art research has been through an increasing interest, with new sites discovered throughout the country.

    Cattle and cattle-related engravings are the main subject of Ethiopian rock art, including both humped and humpless cows. Domestic animals as camels, goats, sheep or dogs are also depicted. On the contrary, wild animals as giraffes and antelopes are scarce. Figures of cattle appear alone or in herds, and the depictions of cows with calves are a fairly common. Another big group of depictions corresponds to anthropomorphs, usually schematic and often distributed in rows, carrying weapons and sometimes fighting against other humans of big felines. Finally, geometric signs are quite common too. Chronology is difficult to establish, but the oldest depictions could be dated by the mid-third millennium BC according to parallels to the rock art found the Sahara, while the presence of camels and humped cows would indicate a date of the end of the second half of the 1st millennium BC. The last stages of Ethiopian rock art would correspond to camel, warriors and tribal signs can be considered belonging to the historical period, in some cases very near to the present day.


  • Location

    Not on display

  • Subjects

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • ETHSID0060006 (TARA number)

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Object reference number: EAF154973

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