The Rock Art of Northeast Africa: Methodological Achievements and Perspectives of Further Research

in Journal of African Archaeology
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Abstract

There are two essential points in any rock-art research: time and meaning. The former constitutes the basic precondition for an effective study of the evidence, while the understanding of the latter is the ultimate objective of the research. This paper starts with an overview of the methodological achievements of rock-art research in Northeast Africa concerning the dating and understanding of the original meaning of regional rock art. Subsequently, it focuses on the unintentional significance of rock art and discusses several themes worthy of elaboration but little explored so far. All of them unfold from two simple questions – “where” and “who” – with a view to outreaching from the imagery itself to the people who stood behind it to obtain social and other testimonies on the artists and their worlds – testimonies they themselves might have been unaware of or unwilling to give.

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Figures

  • Map of Northeast Africa showing the location of the regions (in capital letters) and sites (filled triangles) discussed in the paper.
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  • One of the rare occurrences of coloured petroglyphs (three human figures armed with battle axes) documented at Korosko in the Czechoslovak concession in Lower Nubia; the two petroglyphs of human figures – a seated one to the left and a standing one to the right of the central figure with a battle axe – and the outline painting of a quadruped constitute later additions.
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  • Petroglyphs of Egyptian-type boats datable to the Egyptian New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1069 bc) recorded near the Third Nile Cataract in northern Sudan (study area of the University of Khartoum).
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  • Partly damaged panel with elaborate prehistoric petroglyphs of giraffes and ostriches documented in what is now an absolute desert to the southwest of the Dakhla Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt (study area of the University of Cologne).
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  • Weathered figure of a probable bovid of Late Palaeolithic age (black arrow) on a boulder on an elevated rocky plateau above the floor of Wadi Abu Subeira (study area of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Aswan).
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  • “Parasitic” drawings of a human figure and giraffes on the walls of the Great Enclosure at Musawwarat es-Sufra, central Sudan (study area of the Humboldt University in Berlin).
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  • Part of the complex imagery in the Cave of Beasts (Wadi Sura ii) in Gilf Kebir with plentiful hand stencils, human figures and several animals, including the enigmatic “beasts”; note the symptoms of damage on the body of the larger of the beasts (study area of the University of Cologne).
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  • Large rock with abundant depressions attesting to its former use as a sound-making device – a rock-gong; Dar el-Nijom above the Fourth Nile Cataract (study area of the Arizona State University Bioarchaeology of Nubia Expedition).
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  • Detail of a larger panel showing cattle followed by a human figure and a dog with a slim ribcage and curled tail, reworked by someone else (guessing from the different technique employed for the addition of horns) into a bovid; Naga Marsab, Czechoslovak concession in Lower Nubia.
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  • Ceiling of one of the Late Nubian rock shrines marked with a multitude of geometric designs known from Egyptian-Greek papyri to have accompanied divination practices; Naga Hafir, Czechoslovak concession in Lower Nubia.
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  • Lion depicted in what D. Huyge (2003) has called the distinctive heraldic schematic style characteristic of the iconography of the Blemmyes; near Korosko, Czechoslovak concession in Lower Nubia.

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  • Part of a painted procession of cattle, humans, and boats from Korosko in the Czechoslovak concession in Lower Nubia, with evidence of acts of iconoclasm directed against cattle painted by one or two painters (note the severed and obliterated heads indicated by arrows) and against humans clothed in white (linen) kilts (grey oval to the left).

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