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prehistoric art of Tadrart Acacus, Fezzan

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Tadrart Acacus


PostPosted: Wed 29 Mar - 16:24 (2017)    Post subject: prehistoric art of Tadrart Acacus, Fezzan Reply with quote

Smile Hello friends! I am new to this forum. For years I have been studying the fascinating phenomenon of prehistoric rock art (engravings, incisions, paintings) in the entire world. Recently, I have read some books describing the amazing rock art of Tadrart Acacus. Some of the most beautiful, mysterious ancient masterpieces have been found precisely in this wonderful Saharan region. I especially admire the artwork which appeared during the Bovidian-Pastoral period (beginning probably ca. 4000 B.C.) and was possibly created by the ancestors of the Berbers (the artists of Tadrart Acacus belonging to that period have been classified as of "Mediterranean" or "Nilotic" ethnicity, but there is evidence for Northern origins, as I will explain in a subsequent post).

I would like to start a discussion about two of the most famous Tadrart Acacus artworks: the lovely painting of "two chiefs exchanging gifts", from Uan Amil, and the ritual fecundation scene from Ti-n Lalan (a masked figure, probably a shaman, engaging in intercourse with a young woman who has an Egyptian-style coiffure and wears elegant jewellry).

What is the true significance of these highly enigmatic scenes? I have my own interpretation of both, but would like to exchange opinions with other forum users about these and other masterpieces from Tadrart Acacus.

My native language is English. I read French very well, and would be happy to receive comments also in French.

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PostPosted: Wed 29 Mar - 16:24 (2017)    Post subject: Publicité

PublicitéSupprimer les publicités ?
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Dupuy christian


PostPosted: Fri 31 Mar - 17:09 (2017)    Post subject: prehistoric art of Tadrart Acacus, Fezzan Reply with quote

Il serait souhaitable que soient abandonnées en ce début du 21e siècle les taxinomies rigides élaborées au cours du 19e siècle, faisant fi de la diversité des caractères d'une population. Les peintures au Sahara sont soumises à des conventions de représentation. Les visages dessinés ne sont pas des portraits, mais des figures de style. A partir de là, il est très subjectif d'assimiler les personnages représentés à des "Berbères", "Méditerranéens", "Nilotiques", "Négroïdes",... Quels traits physiques permettent de distinguer un berbère d'un nilotique, un méditerranéen d'un négroïde ? Ne tombons pas dans le piège des caricatures.

Fixer l'origine des peintres et des graveurs du Sahara à partir des seules données de l'art rupestre paraît également très subjectif. Sur quels éléments factuels s'appuie l'affirmation selon laquelle les personnages figurés (ou leurs auteurs) auraient une origine septentrionale ?

Quant aux interprétations à accorder aux scènes dépeintes (Chefs ? Chamanes ?...), faute de disposer du moindre document écrit les concernant, leur sens nous échappera probablement toujours. 

Christian Dupuy

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Joined: 29 Mar 2017
Posts: 15
Localisation: Italie

PostPosted: Sat 1 Apr - 11:15 (2017)    Post subject: interpretations according to multidisciplinary methods Reply with quote

Cool Hello Christian,

I have read your reply to my post with interest. Please excuse me for responding in English. My written French is terrible.

First of all, I would like to stress that my background in not so much in art history as in archaeology, anthropology and the study of ancient legends. I tend to examine prehistoric art works in the light of what we already know or can infer about the material culture(s) which produced them. Although not an expert, by comparing Saharan rock art with similar graphic manifestations in other geographical locations, I can at least conjecture about the widespread occurrence of certain cultural, cult and ritual practices. Having carefully studied and compared thousands of ancient myths, it sems evident to me that the mentality and psyche of prehistoric man was amazingly similar all over the world. Masked figures appear in rock art in practically all angles of the globe. These have been interpreted...rightly or wrongly, I cannot say...as individuals, most likely priests or shamans, who by wearing a mask mystically albeit temporarily assumed the qualities and characteristeristics of whatever they wished to impersonate (a deity, an animal, a force of nature). I myself would interpret the Ti-n Lalan scene, not by any means as a gross pornographical representation buy rather as the impersonation of Nature, or possibly Rain, fecundating the Earth (personified by the supine woman). This is only a conjecture, Christian, and as you say we may never be able to really penetrate the minds or intentions of the ancient artists; yet I believe that, basing our investigations upon multidisciplinary methods (and many of the 19th century are still valid!), we may be able to arrive at plausible explanations of prehistoric iconography.

As for my theory concerning the Northern origin of the Saharans of the Pastoral period (if not earlier), in my next post I will set out the evidence.

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Joined: 07 Jul 2014
Posts: 14

PostPosted: Fri 14 Apr - 13:35 (2017)    Post subject: prehistoric art of Tadrart Acacus, Fezzan Reply with quote

Hello & welcome to the forum.

The subjects you raise are fascinating and have been the subject of much debate, buth learned and ill informed. Without going into any specifics, I would urge you to consider the following before moving on to developing any conclusions from any particular rock art secene:

1) The cultures producing rock art accross the Sahara in different regions and periods have been prolific artists, creating hundreds or even thousands of painted and engraved scenes attributable to the same group (style). Some of these are major artistic achievements, both in subject matter and the aesthetic sense, some are bare traces of remaining paint hardly recognisable as paintings to the untrained eye. There is a very understandable but fundamentally wrong approach to single out the best preserved or most intriguing scenes as the basis for any interpretative work, ignoring the vast majority of other scenes created by the same people in the same period (the shining negative example is F.C. Holl who produced a whole book titled 'Saharan Rock Art' that only covers paintings found in a single - albeit very important - shelter). For any meaningful discussion on the possible meaning of such rock art, it is imperative to consider the full corpus of evidence. This is often not easy as there are no comprehensive publications for most areas, this needs to be compiled from a mass of often obscure sources.

2) Keep your mind open to the possibility that what you see remaining on a particuler scene is not the full picture. Paint weathers differentially, some colours disappear completely while others persist, so what you are left with is not necessarily what the artist created (I have a paper in preparation on several such cases, where with image enhancement software one may discern invisible details that completely changes the context and meaning of the scene in question).

3) Never base conclusions on a single example - look for analogies. In most periods of Saharan rock art there were 'standard' scenes and representations, very few depictions are truly unique. Always consider all the available material (see 1.)

4) Do not assume that just because something was published in several respected sources, it is true. The interpretation of rock art necessitates a lot of speculation and guesswork, the problem starts when such speculations are presented as facts. While in recent times approaches are more scientific than they used to be, there is still plenty of indiscriminate quoting of old sources that are demonstrably incorrect.

5) Avoid confirmation bias. Many, including some acclaimed researchers much respected in their fields have fallen into the trap of coming up with an attractive theory, then collecting all the pro evidence while ignoring the cons. Essentially this also boils down to 1.). If you don't have the full picture, it is very easy to reach the wrong conclusion from a limited number of selected examples.

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tadrart acacus


PostPosted: Fri 14 Apr - 14:57 (2017)    Post subject: petroglyphs and prehistoric paintings: a vast theme Reply with quote

Smile Hello Andras,

Thank you for your comments. Essentially I am in agreement with you.

I am relatively new to the study of Saharan rock art, and am by no means a specialist. Yet the more familiar I become with these amazing works on stone...many of them real masterpieces...the more intrigued I am by the enigmatic messages which they often seem to whisper to us, across the millenia. Of course, some of the scenes are easy to interpret...they speak for themselves...and there is no mystery in an ordinary pastoral representation, a family group enjoying serene moments together, an unmasked hunter pursuing his prey...Yet so many of the Saharan scenes are indeed MASKED, both literally and figuratively. We gaze upon human or humanoid-type beings whose faces are covered; I may be mistaken, but in my opinion this can only be for ritual/magical purposes, unless these personages really represent "Martians", as has sometimes been claimed! As you stated, it is true that we might not always have the complete scenario...those parts which might have helped to explain the action may have disappeared... but what remains is fascinating and is in itself a keen challenge which, I think, every researcher should accept willingly and with joy, employing to the fullest all the skills, capacity and disciplines which he/she possesses. Certainly, scholars should NEVER jump to conclusions: we should express our individual impressions, and strive to create credible hypotheses or theories, but never before having meticulously collected all the material evidence available, and then correlating this with all valid, plausible information which anthropology, mythology, the study of religious development, art history and numerous related disciplines can provide.

The great masters who created the Saharan paintings and petroglyphs obviously sometimes engaged in art for art's sake, just for the pleasure of it; but it seems to me that, much more frequently, their goal was to record and perpetuate vital moments in their spiritual lives, in their quest for harmony with nature, in their struggle to survive in an increasingly harsh, inclement environment. These artists thus took upon themselves the task of being the annalists, icon-painters and spokesmen of their people. Living in a zone of the Earth where stone manifests itself massively, in all its grandeur and solemnity, surely the men and women who breathed life into the enthralling Saharan rock art scenes realized that, by depicting the epic and sacred deeds of their tribes on everlasting stone, they were also achieving a kind of immortality.

I am happy and proud to participate in this Forum. I'm trying to obtain every book and article available which concerns Saharan rock art, so that my knowledge of this vast, marvellous theme may increase constantly.

Please write again soon.

All best wishes,


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