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Horses and Habitations: Iron Age Rock Art from Fortified Hilltop Settlements in the Wadi Draa, Morocco

In: Journal of African Archaeology
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  • 1 Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (INSAP)Angle Rues 5 et 7, Avenue Allal, El-Fassi, Hay Riad – BP 6825, RabatMorocco
  • | 2 Institute of Archaeology, University College London491931–34 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PYUK
  • | 3 School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester4488University Rd, Leicester, LE1 7RHUK
Open Access

Abstract

The article presents important results from the Middle Draa Project (MDP) in southern Morocco related to two mid-1st millennium CE hilltop settlements (hillforts) that were associated with significant rock art assemblages. The combination of detailed survey and radiocarbon dating of these remarkable sites provides a unique window on the Saharan world in which the pecked engravings, predominantly of horses, were produced. As the horse imagery featured on the walls of buildings within the settlement, the radiocarbon dating around the mid-1st millennium CE can also be applied in this instance to the rock art. The rarity of rock art of this period within habitation sites is also discussed and it is argued that its occurrence at both these locations indicates that they had some special social or sacred significance for their occupants. While it is commonplace for rock art of this era, featuring horses and camels, to be attributed by modern scholars to mobile pastoralists, a further argument of the paper is that the desert societies were in a period of transformation at this time, with the development of oases. The association of the rock art imagery with sedentary settlements, where grain was certainly being processed and stored, is thus an additional new element of contextual information for the widespread Saharan images of horses and horse and riders.

Abstract

The article presents important results from the Middle Draa Project (MDP) in southern Morocco related to two mid-1st millennium CE hilltop settlements (hillforts) that were associated with significant rock art assemblages. The combination of detailed survey and radiocarbon dating of these remarkable sites provides a unique window on the Saharan world in which the pecked engravings, predominantly of horses, were produced. As the horse imagery featured on the walls of buildings within the settlement, the radiocarbon dating around the mid-1st millennium CE can also be applied in this instance to the rock art. The rarity of rock art of this period within habitation sites is also discussed and it is argued that its occurrence at both these locations indicates that they had some special social or sacred significance for their occupants. While it is commonplace for rock art of this era, featuring horses and camels, to be attributed by modern scholars to mobile pastoralists, a further argument of the paper is that the desert societies were in a period of transformation at this time, with the development of oases. The association of the rock art imagery with sedentary settlements, where grain was certainly being processed and stored, is thus an additional new element of contextual information for the widespread Saharan images of horses and horse and riders.

1 Introduction

Rock art dating to the North African Iron Age (NAIA, broadly 1000 BCE to 800 CE) is common in the Sahara (Fig. 1), with a predominant focus on horsemen, horses and – despite their manifest unsuitability for much of the terrain in which the images are found – chariots (Anderson 2016; Camps and Gast 1982; Gauthier and Gauthier 2011, 2015, 2018; Lhote 1982; Muzzolini 1990). Camels and a variety of other, mainly wild, animals (particularly, ostriches, assorted ungulates, big cats and canids) also appear (Barbaza 2012; Barnett 2019a: 104–06; Bravin 2014, 2020; Gauthier and Gauthier 2011; Lutz and Lutz 1995; Mori 1998). These final phases of Saharan rock art are sometimes referred to as Libyco-Berber, though Bravin (2020: 2) has proposed the alternative ‘étage des cavaliers’ to reflect the dominance of horse and rider imagery. The vast majority of known caballine (horse) and cameline (camel) art is pecked/engraved or painted on isolated rock faces, boulders or rock shelters in the mountainous areas of the Sahara. Previous interpretations of horse and camel period rock art in the Sahara have tended to assume that it relates primarily to mobile pastoral groups (Simoneau 1972b: 29; Lhote et al. 1989), and in southern Morocco at least, pre-dates the sedentarisation of the oases.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Distribution map of ‘horse’ and ‘chariot’ imagery in Saharan rock art after Bravin 2020 and Gauthier and Gauthier 2011 (with locations of Zinkekra, Akrejit, Tin Hinan, Taouz, Foum Chenna (Tinzouline, Draa valley) marked)

Citation: Journal of African Archaeology 19, 2 (2021) ; 10.1163/21915784-bja10008

The North African Iron Age (NAIA) is a term that we use to define the autochthonous peoples and cultures of Maghrib and Sahara in the 1st millennium BCE, but also extending in the desert regions beyond the Roman provincial territories until the coming of Islam in the 7th–8th centuries CE. NAIA rock art connected to settlement sites other than rock shelters (for rock shelters, see inter alia, di Lernia and Zampetti 2008) is rare in the Sahara and only a few examples are known (Fig. 1 for locations discussed below). In Libyan Fazzan, the heartlands of the Garamantes, horse imagery is distributed along the Wadi al-Ajal, the escarpment of which is interspersed with settlements. The 1st-millennium BCE Garamantian hillfort site, Zinkekra, has one of the largest concentrations in the wadi with many images on vertical rock faces directly below the summit of the settlement (Barnett 2019b: 227–62; Barnett and Guagnin 2014: 174; Mattingly 2010, 75–77). Small groups of rock art are located within a few hundred metres of six further settlements although the overall correlation between the distribution of images and settlements is weak (Barnett 2019a: 258–64; Barnett and Guagnin 2014: 174–78; Mattingly 2007).

In Algeria, the funerary monument of Tin Hinan (3rd–5th century CE), which was most likely originally designed as a fortified dwelling (contra Camps 1974: 509, who nonetheless acknowledged its similarity in plan to a house), had at least three horses and a camel engraved on different parts of its walls (Le Quellec 2008; Pichler and Le Quellec 2009). In Mauritania, the site of Akrejit (2nd–1st millennium BCE) features two phases of rock art, the first associated with the main occupation of the village, and the second (termed palaeo-berber) after the abandonment of the site; of particular note is an enclosure on the north side that contains the bulk of the horse and camel depictions (Amblard and Vernet 1984). Scenes of riders and equids have also been reported at other sites along the Dhar Tichitt escarpment and are regularly within a few hundred metres of settlements as at Guilemsi and Tarf al-Rjeimat (Campbell et al. 2006; Holl 2002). In Morocco, the walled settlement site of Jebel Afilal lies adjacent to the Wadi Ziz, close to the village of Taouz and a group of large chambered tombs. Capel proposed that it was of pre-Islamic date on the basis of handmade ceramics she collected during her survey (2020: 613–15), though the layout looks more similar to Medieval sites in the Draa and it is possible that the settlement here was of two phases, Iron Age and Medieval. The hill has separately been the focus for rock art studies, featuring the largest concentration of engravings of chariots (over 200) at one location anywhere in the Sahara (Gauthier and Gauthier 2015; Rodrigue 2008), and further rock art has been identified in the vicinity of the chambered tombs. A further 15 km west along the Wadi Ziz, at Hadjart, a small rock art station lies within a few hundred metres of a small walled settlement of possible Iron Age date. The rock art consists of hundreds of signs and schematic drawings including at least one camel and many possible Libyan (old tifinagh) letters over a small cluster of sandstone blocks (Pichler and Rodrigue 2011).

These few examples suggest that rock art images may have been sometimes associated with sedentary habitations. That they are so rare or unremarked in part reflects disciplinary divides between rock art specialists and NAIA archaeologists who rarely work in concert. However, it also stems from the lack of investigation of settlement sites of the 1st millennium BCE and CE in the Sahara and its northern fringes, with only the Libyan Fazzan being more comprehensively investigated by archaeologists (Mattingly 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013; Sterry and Mattingly 2020 for the current state of knowledge). Significantly more research has been done on rock art of this period; however, specialists typically focus on the best-preserved image assemblages that are more often than not in remote locations. Other challenges stem from the tendency of settlements to concentrate in oasis depressions, where continuous intensive exploitation has obscured much evidence for NAIA activity. The good preservation of rock art in the rocky massifs is also helped by the low modern population densities of those areas.

In this article we report on two exceptional discoveries from the Wadi Draa in southern Morocco, where rock art has been found associated with hillfort type settlements alongside evidence of early oasis agriculture (Mattingly et al. 2017b: 153–56 for the site typology). The sites date between the fourth and seventh centuries CE (TIN001: 475–643 calCE and TIN015: 345–539 calCE, full details on radiocarbon dates from the survey can be found in Sterry et al. 2020) and the rock art images occur on blocks built into structures within the settlement. Southern Morocco has long been recognised as an important area for rock art studies (Simoneau 1972a, 1977), with some notable sites relating to the later phases of the Neolithic as well as engraved and painted scenes that feature horse (caballine) and camel (cameline) imagery. There are also some significant concentrations of chariot images in Morocco (Gauthier and Gauthier 2015; Rodrigue 2008; Wolff 1982).

2 The Middle Draa Project (MDP)

The MDP completed an initial exploratory phase of survey work between 2015–2018 (for first reports, see Mattingly et al. 2017b, 2019). The middle section of the Wadi Draa is a perennial river flowing north-west to south-east into the northern Sahara and drawing on water catchments in both the Anti-Atlas and the High Atlas ranges. The valley has been developed as a linear oasis more or less continuously for c.150 km, making it one of the largest and most productive of Saharan oases. Hitherto the NAIA archaeology of the valley had been little explored, with the exception of some pioneering studies of a few rock art sites (see below). The new results from diachronic survey allow us to set the rock art sites in a larger contextual framework and reveal the NAIA period as a time of great change, with increased sedentarisation and the first stages of oasis formation (Mattingly et al. 2018, 2019; Sterry et al. 2020).

An important initial stage of our research was the identification and mapping from satellite imagery of ancient settlements and pre-Islamic funerary monuments along the flanks of the valley, with many locations then visited by our survey teams. The wadi was divided into numerous subzones, designated by three-letter codes and sites located were numbered in separate sequences within each sector. The focus of this article is the Tinzouline area (subzones TIN and TAG) between Agdz and Zagora in the northern part of the Middle Draa (Fig. 2). Survey work by the MDP in the Tinzouline area focused on two wadis – Foum Chenna and Assif Wiggane – lying a few kilometres to the south-west of the main Wadi Draa in this sector. After an initial visit undertaken in January 2015, follow-up survey and test-pitting at two sites was conducted in November 2015 with an additional campaign in November 2016 on the two main identified NAIA sites (TIN001 and TIN015), involving further test-pitting, photography, DGPS recording and drone survey.

Archaeologically, the region of Tinzouline is best known for four groups of rock art and Libyan (tifinagh) inscriptions:

  • 1) Foum Chenna (TIN012 – 30.4846° N 6.1696° W, detailed in numerous publications – Abioui et al. 2018; Glory et al. 1955; Pichler 2000a, 2000b; Reine 1969; Rodrigue 1989; Searight 2001; Simoneau 1972b);

  • 2) Assif Wiggane (TIN015 and TIN027 – 30.4562° N 6.1045° W, Pichler 2000a, 2000b; Pichler and Rodrigue 2003; Simoneau 1972b);

  • 3) Jorf al-Rhil close to the mouth of the Wadi al-Féhi (TIN014 – 30.5445° N 6.3011° W, also called Khil or Tasminerth, Glory et al. 1955; Reine 1969; Ruhlman 1939);

  • 4) Cheaba al-Bayda (Elbeida) at the mouth of al-Batha al-Bayda (TAG017 – approx. 30.4415° N 6.0287° W, also called Rich M’Bidia, Pichler 2000a; Searight 2001; Simoneau 1972b).

Simoneau (1972b, 27) also mentions a fifth location (not on Fig. 2) close to Rebat al-Hajer, (30.4073° N 5.8708° W), but this cannot be verified at this time. All these assemblages of rock engravings consist primarily of figures on horseback with horses, camels, ostriches, wild ungulates, big cats, canids and others along with Libyan inscriptions and more recent additions up to the present day (e.g. cars). The link between the equine imagery and the Libyan inscriptions is an important chronological indicator and supports an NAIA or later date (Pichler 1999, 2000a, 2000b, 2007; Pichler and Rodrigue 2001). Despite a number of publications, the rock art corpus has never been systematically catalogued or published in full, nor has there been much investigation of the relationship between the first two groups and two adjacent NAIA settlement sites (TIN001 and TIN015), where as we shall demonstrate, many rock art panels are also found. Before turning to the two hillfort sites, a general description of what is known about each of the four rock art clusters provides useful context.

Figure 2
Figure 2

Map of Tinzouline area, showing the four designated areas of rock art sites and NAIA settlements and burial cairns

Citation: Journal of African Archaeology 19, 2 (2021) ; 10.1163/21915784-bja10008

2.1 Foum Chenna (TIN012)

Foum Chenna is the most famous of the sites in the Tinzouline area, with a dense concentration of pecked imagery on steep rock faces (Fig. 3). The site has been the focus of numerous articles over the years as well as two PhD theses (Searight 2001; Bravin 2014). The site was first published by Glory et al. (1955) with more detailed descriptions added by Reine (1969: 37–42) who estimated that there were around 3,000 figures distributed across a few hundred panels. Reine (1969: 39) noted the overlooking NAIA hillfort site of TIN001, which he thought to be contemporary along with the medieval settlement of TIN002 (c. 2 km to the south-west), but described these as ‘des azib fortifiés; des retranchements de nomades et de pasteurs armés’.

Figure 3
Figure 3

Some characteristic examples of rock art at TIN012 (Foum Chenna): a) General view of part of rock face; b) Horseman with lance and shield approaching a Barbary sheep or other wild ungulate; c) three simple horsemen with circular shields; d) three horsemen with circular shields surround a camel, with three other quadrupeds of less clear identification (perhaps dogs to left and right and a large feline centre bottom; e) complex palimpsest scene featuring numerous horses with riders, perhaps some unridden horses, dogs, wild felines ungulates, ostrich

Citation: Journal of African Archaeology 19, 2 (2021) ; 10.1163/21915784-bja10008

He divided the rock art figures into four degrees of patination, each with different styles and iconography, but these are difficult to substantiate on the ground. Searight (2001: 120–130) was the first to systematically survey a portion of the rock art at the base of the wadi (TIN012), cataloguing 216 panels with 425 figures. Included within this was a group of 51 loose blocks on the valley bottom, many of which were damaged or destroyed by floods between 1992 and 1997 and others of which were used in the construction of animal enclosures on the side of the wadi. Bravin (2014, 2020) also studied the site identifying 2,555 figures, of which 434 were horse and riders, the majority of whom were armed with a round shield, and 16 with a lance. Alongside the horse imagery she also noted 73 camels and 88 Libyan inscriptions, as well as a range of hunted animals (ostrich, Barbary sheep, antelope, oryx, big cats). An additional catalogue of the Libyan inscriptions was undertaken by Pichler (2000a) who recorded 30 panels and c.60 lines of script, some of which incorporate figures of animals in and around the letters.

2.2 Assif Wiggane (TIN015 and TIN027)

The sites of Assif Wiggane were first discovered by Simoneau who visited in 1967 (1972b: 27–31) and drew attention to the hillfort (TIN015) where most of the rock art corpus is located, though the description of the hillfort as 100 ha in area and the sketch view are significantly erroneous (however, there is no doubt that it is our site TIN015, as the photograph of one of the main scenes – though printed back to front – can be identified with an extant panel). He noted the presence of numerous sandstone blocks across the site that sometimes had more than ten horses in each scene, the regularity with which riders had shields and occasionally lances, and a small number of other figures: scorpions, cupules and geometric designs. As with Foum Chenna, many scenes were also identified on the north bank of the wadi (TIN027) between the hillfort and the mouth of the wadi including several Libyan inscriptions and a scene of an ostrich hunt that is very similar to one at TIN012. Simoneau also mentions in passing that there are scenes at the base of a ruined town, but it is unclear if he was referring to the NAIA hillfort (TIN015) or the Medieval settlement located c. 2 km upstream to the south-west (TIN005/TIN033). Simoneau also suggested that the location of the imagery and settlement were related to access to the copper mines at Bleida (1972b: 29). As with Reine’s interpretation of Foum Chenna, for Simoneau the life of the creators of the rock art was dominated by the activities of nomads: war and the breeding and hunting of animals (1972b: 29). There has been little new research subsequently beyond the identification of two lines of Libyan by Pichler and Rodrigue (2003: 24).

2.3 Jorf al-Rhil (TIN014)

The site of Jorf al Rhil (literally, ‘the horse cliff’) is the most northerly of the Tinzouline group of rock art and is located in the mouth of a tributary of the Wadi Tasiminerhf. Unlike the other sites described, it is not on a route through the Jebel. The site was first noted by Ruhlmann (1939) and is detailed by Reine (1969: 43–47). There are at least six panels on bedrock and boulders on the north-west side of the wadi. There is a small scatter of cairns around 750 m to the north-east and the enclosures and buildings of a fairly recent pastoral encampment in the immediate vicinity of the site, but there is no direct association with an archaeological site. The imagery consists mainly of groups of ‘horse and rider’ imagery as well as some depictions interpreted as fibulae and bracelets, which Reine considered to be more recent in date (1969: 44). A rather unusual depiction is a scene of c.40 sub-rectangular shapes that are thought to be hoofprints (since Simoneau’s visit, erosion around the base of the rock has uncovered a quadruped). A similar scene has been found in the Ktawa region, in the Jebel east of Ksar al-Kabir, some 100 km to the south-east (Reine 1969: 47).

2.4 Cheaba Albayda (Elbeida) (TAG017)

Cheaba Albayda is the most south-easterly of the Tinzouline group of rock art. Simoneau (1972b: 27) visited in 1968 and recorded that there were four small stations in different valleys, but did not provide a description except to note that there was no major site. The stations have been mentioned in passing by other authors without adding further details, although they can be assumed to be of similar iconography as the other stations in the Jebel. Of note in this area is a large NAIA hillfort (TIN017) that has been identified from satellite imagery and which lies on a peak between the mouths of two wadis.

In addition to these sites in the Tinzouline area, there have also been some recent discoveries of multi-phase rock art (both engraved and painted) from a series of rock shelters in the Jebel Bani area (Ifran-n-Taska) and close to the pass of Foum Laachar just west of the southern part of the Middle Draa (Moumane et al. 2019; Skounti et al. 2012; Zampetti et al. 2013). These rock art stations include images of horses, mounted and unmounted warriors with round shield and lance, bi-triangular human figures (very similar to material from Libyan Fazzan, Barnett 2019a: 104–05, 131; di Lernia and Zampetti 2008) and Libyan inscriptions. These discoveries suggest that rock art of the horse and camel phases could have been much more widespread, but that the poor survival of painted scenes has hitherto limited their identification.

3 The Two NAIA Hillforts with Associated Rock Art

TIN001 lies at the point where the tributary wadi emerged from the range of hills at a distance of c. 7 km south-west from the main channel of the Wadi Draa (Fig. 4a–b). It is directly adjacent to the celebrated Foum Chenna rock art site (TIN012) described above, which also marks this key transitional point in the landscape. TIN015 on the other hand is set back c. 1.5 km from the point of egress of Assif Wiggane from the hill range into the plain to south-west of Tinzouline (Fig. 5a–b). The site sits on a semi-isolated rocky plateau in a bend in the wadi, with good views towards the wadi entrance and the Draa beyond (Fig. 6). There are several stations of engraved rock art along the sides of Assif Wiggane, but these are much less concentrated than at Foum Chenna (TIN012). From the mouth of Assif Wiggane the first group encountered is on the north-west side of the wadi at the point where the valley narrows just before the breakthrough into the Tinzouline plain (TIN027). There are multiple panels over a distance of several hundred metres with figures including horses and a camel and unidentifiable quadrupeds (the figures are especially schematic) and at least one Libyan inscription. Additionally, there are many Arabic inscriptions (including verses from the Quran) that in some places deliberately obscure underlying imagery and are likely fairly recent. After the wadi turns round the front of the hill of TIN015 there is another group of rock art stations, mostly on the south-east side of the wadi over a distance of 300–400 m. These include several horses and riders which are stylistically similar to the imagery found on the plateau of TIN015 and a few camels, but no extensive or complex scenes were observed. As with TIN001, the rock art stations do not appear to extend more than c. 2 km from the narrow point where the wadi breaks through the hill front, however, there is an extensive Medieval settlement (TIN004/TIN033) located c.1 km further south-west from the last station and an early modern granary a further 2 km along.

Figure 4
Figure 4

TIN001: a) Numbered structural plan of the hillfort TIN001 in relation to Foum Chenna rock art site TIN012, derived from drone survey; b) map of Foum Chenna area, showing location of TIN001/012

Citation: Journal of African Archaeology 19, 2 (2021) ; 10.1163/21915784-bja10008

3.1 TIN001: General Description

The settlement site of TIN001 is a small and roughly triangular walled hillfort (Fig. 4a), perched at the top of a hill facing the Wadi Draa, at the mouth of Foum Chenna and immediately above and to the west of the rock art site (TIN012). The site is protected by cliffs and very steep escarpments to the west, east and south, but can be approached more feasibly from the north up a steady slope. A series of walls with gates cut across the slope in this direction providing outer defences for the site as well as enclosures for animals to be corralled within.

Figure 5
Figure 5

TIN015: a) Numbered structural plan of the hillfort TIN015, derived from drone survey; b) map of Assif Wiggane area, showing the location of TIN015

Citation: Journal of African Archaeology 19, 2 (2021) ; 10.1163/21915784-bja10008

At the northern extent of the site there are four perpendicular walls running downslope from the outer enclosure wall, creating five enclosures that were left open to the north, of which the outer (eastern and western) ones were further subdivided by a short cross-wall (Fig. 4a, numbers 7–13). In total this accounts for 12 enclosed areas in addition to the main habitation area (1), with a total area of 3.5 ha. The walls of the western enclosures (7–9) impinge on nine cairns (TIN026) which form part of a larger distribution of cairns down the slope of the hill. Several of these cairns were either incorporated into or overlaid a wall line, but the sequence is not clear cut.

Figure 6