Thursday, November 29, 2007


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.


Brian Hughes said...

"Rock art specialist Tilman Lenssen-Erz says that in prehistoric times the sites would have been known for thousands of square kilometres."

Yeah, right...he was there was he?

I like rock art. It has history and, for the most part (with the exception of some of those little stick men that make Lowry look talented) it's incredibly good. Simple but spot on.

Presumably the Bob Marley bloke and other graffiti'artists'(yawn, cliche) believe they're continuing an ancient tradition. Unfortunately they're not. They're just being bellends. It's like comparing Rolf Harris to Turner.

String 'em up and hack their goolies off. (The vandals, that is..not Harris and Turner...although I dunno...)

prude said...

Hmmm - I thinks the answer is that they is louts. That is the whole point of being a lout, if they did not graffiti they would nots be louts. I has seen too many in my lifetime, it is sad.

On the other time they could be deeply offended as many moral people is by topless women pictures and feel a need to express their indignation by getting rid of them. That may be another very possible explanation and a good one too.

Rock art is one thing, Rock porn is another.

Middle Child said...

Maybe for the same reason the Northern territory Gov allowed a group of Urban Aboriginals to go out with tins of paint and destroy some of the Bradshaw Paintings in the Kimberlies...these paintings are so old that the tribal elders say they do not come from the Aboriginal people (look up the Bradshaw Paintings - Lost World Kimberley).

They had no idea what they were doing and slapped dulux here there and everywhere in a sad dot pinting imitation of commercial aboriginal painting which was totally different and unlike what they destroyed...all condoned by the political correct NT Gov.

The tourists did dreadful things in destroying ancient rock art, but so do some of the so called Indigineous people...

I'd like to boot them all.

River said...

I've never understood why tourists and other people feel the need to deface historic sites. If they need to leave their mark on the world let them create their own permanent works of art to be appreciated in centuries to come.

JahTeh said...

And wouldn't you love a roman soldier to have scratched on those blocks, 'Septimus wuz ere'.

It's in the same area that Erich Von Daniken used sketches from to try and convince us aliens were here. At the time he didn't know about all the other cave paintings.

Prude, you are right, louts but louts with money. They even throw oil or water over the paintings to make the images brighter. As to the topless woman, she was scratched across an important site recently. The hieroglyphs here are part of evidence that the Pharoahs traded across the Sahara from the Nile.

MC, this is where the elders of the tribe are needed as part of the education process.

River, it's crazy. I'm guilty of doing it in another way. If I see a rock I have to fight the urge to bring it home but I treat anything washed ashore as fair.

Brian Hughes said...

I find pictures of topless women offensive too. Women should have great big tops. I blame annorexic media icons like Posh Spice and Ally McBeal for the current trend of titless bimbos. That and television directors who obviously prefer the teenage boy look to the real women.