This is a composite image taken by Jean-Marc Mercier at Karkurtalh in March, 2002.
Go here for the best rock art which has been preserved for millennia in this isolated region of the Sahara. In the southwest of Egypt across the borders of Sudan and Libya, in the mountains of the Gilf Kebir and Jebel Unweinat are images of giraffe, cattle and people from a time when this desert was a receding prairie, 5,000 to 7,000 years ago. The art belongs to a cultural heritage that is still being explored.
Rock art specialist Tilman Lenssen-Erz says that in prehistoric times the sites would have been known for thousands of square kilometres. "This was a place so highly charged with symbolism and with the world views that were fixed there in the rock art that it would have been like a huge cathedral in a European context," say Lenssen-Erz. " People from far away would know about the significance of the religious power that is collected in this place...where the supernatural powers of the world were fixed on rocks making the whole area a sacred landscape."
So why would bored tourists, who pay up to 10,000 dollars for a two-week expedition, destroy the paintings and engravings? From a giant engraving of a topless woman across ancient hieroglyphs to a portrait of Bob Marley outside a painted cave which is filled with rubbish left behind by travellers. Travellers who also like to leave their names like surburban grafitti louts.
Saad Ali, runs the Farafra Development Institution NGO and arranges trips to clean up the desert. In 2005, they collected 11 tonnes of rubbish but only 4.5 tonnes in 2006. His policy is to train the local guides but the tour operators working out of Cairo are still doing more damage than they are aware of. He is scathing of tourists who still live with a colonial mentality and of Cairo based expats who take away artefacts in 4x4s.
Egypt, Libya and Sudan have to all agree to have the area designated as a trans-boundary cultural landscape UNESCO World Heritage site but they have to first all agree to declare individual national Parks. Only Egypt has done this but a meeting in December could see the other countries do the same.
I am fascinated by this corner of the world. It was declared to have the largest impact crater field ever found in 2004 but investigations in 2006/7 have shown that these craters are volcanic but not formed in the usual way. But that is a whole other post.