All there is is silence and calm, in that desert spot, you can hear the grains of sand under your feet, you are surrounded by strange rock formations carved by volcanoes and natural factors, and no less artistic and creative than what you see in contemporary sculpture exhibitions, and as far as you can see, the clear sky meets the arid desert land in One point, for a moment, you feel that the earth contains the sky, while the sky approaches to pat the earth, which was once a green oasis full of all forms of life thousands of years ago.
Land of fables
We are talking about the city of Sifar, located in the desert of Algeria, within the region of "Tassili N'Ajer", which means in the language of the Tuareg tribes "The Plateau of the Bull", a mountain range in the middle of the desert in the southeast of Algeria that contains one of the most important inscriptions on the walls of the caves that date back to the prehistoric era. .
Those inscriptions that sparked a lot of rumors and gossip (2) about this region, and the difficulty of navigating between the corridors of its mountains and its narrow paths contributed to feeding those rumors, strange theories, and myths woven around Tassili.
Some believe that aliens lived thousands of years ago on the land of Tassili, while other theories say that the city was inhabited by the jinn and they carved those inscriptions.
On the other hand, one of the stories tells that the famous magician, poet, and mountain climber Aleister Crowley came to Tassili after its discovery by the indigenous people of the region, and then some archaeologists, to explore the mystery surrounding it and a group of his friends, and the legend says that everyone with him disappeared inside The desert and nothing else.
In 1982, the Tassili region was registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List (1) as the oldest and largest rock city or "rock forest" in the world, with an estimated area of 89,342 square kilometers, and UNESCO indicated that this region contains more than 15,000 drawings and inscriptions on the walls of the caves .
As for the geological formation of the region, the researchers mention that the Tassili region is of ancient formation, as the group of plateaus that make up the region date back to the Paleozoic era, i.e. the first geological time between 550 million years and 370 million years.
These inscriptions record, in some detail, the climatic changes that occurred in the region and the consequent migration of animals. The drawings also monitor the development that humans reached about 6 thousand years BC in a creative artistic framework.
Art is one of the things through which the development of the human mind can be measured (4), and in the past, rock art was a human means of expression, and the Tassili region is the largest art gallery in the world for this type of prehistoric art.
What distinguishes these inscriptions from others in other regions around the world is that they remained continuous and renewed. Archaeologists found that thousands of drawings and rock inscriptions in the Tassili region extended over thousands of years until the first centuries AD.
The ancient inhabitants of the region devoted most of their inscriptions to the embodiment of the religious and magical side of those societies, which made the inscriptions a main material for scholars of prehistoric religions, especially the "round heads" period, as archaeologists and researchers called it.
The “Round Heads” period is named by this name because the inscriptions that date back to it contain many drawings that embody men with round heads in a somewhat strange shape. Those drawings were rich material for the myth-weavers about the Tassili region (2) who said that they embodied aliens or jinns, which Some researchers interpreted it as due to the lack of documented studies on the region and the "multitude of amateurs" who are interested in it (4).
On the other hand, the few documented studies on the Talisi region focused on studying the civilization of the first man in the region by analyzing and understanding the inscriptions he left behind, and trying to know his thinking patterns, beliefs, and the things that surrounded them with reverence, which gave us a deeper and more accurate view of those who lived on the land of Tassili in the prehistoric era. particularly in the Neolithic period.
That was in 1969, when many of the rock paintings and inscriptions found in Tassili came to life for all the world to see, through expeditions led by the French Henri Lhote with the help of the indigenous people of the region.
Henry was an explorer and ethnographer (ethnography is a science that deals with the descriptive study of the way and way of life of a people or a society), and he was able to record a collection of more than a thousand inscriptions of primitive art in the Tassili region with the help of one of the indigenous inhabitants of the region from the Tuareg tribes, a guide named Machar Jibrin Hajj Muhammad is better known as "Jibreen".
A picture of Henri Loti with Jibrin.. Image source: editionsgrandvaux
The result of that campaign was the Algerian government’s National Tassili Park project, which was established in 1972. It is a project whose mission is to protect that region and regulate entry and exit from it. 2016, that is, in just four years.
Were the first humans in Tassili believers?
While amateurs found an easy and simple explanation for the forms of men with round heads engraved on the walls of the Tassili Caves, and attributed these forms to being beings from the jinn or aliens, for the researchers these drawings were a reference to some religious and spiritual rituals that indicate that the first humans who lived In the city of Sifar and the region of Tassili in general, they had faith beliefs.
The oldest rock paintings in the Tassili N'Ajjer desert, Algeria.
These symbols are similar in their significance to the ancient Egyptian inscription, which shows the body of a man wearing a jackal mask and standing next to the body of the dead, and it certainly does not mean that there is a man with an animal head who embalmed the ancient Egyptians after their death, but it refers to what the archaeologists discovered that the mummification rituals in Egypt Ancient times obligated the person working in the embalming of the dead to wear a mask of a jackal animal so that the embalmer would be a symbol and embodiment of Anubis, the god responsible for guiding souls in the other world after death, according to the prevailing belief at the time.
Death and burial rituals are usually closely related to the nature of the faith of each civilization, and therefore the tombs that were found in the Tassili region in Algeria drew the attention of researchers in an attempt to make sure that those who lived on that land and painted these inscriptions embraced a faith belief.
In this regard, a study entitled "Tassili Azger in Prehistory... Beliefs and Rock Art" by researcher and historian Ben Bouzid Lakhdar refers to excavation efforts in Tassili for forms of burials and burial positions, where archaeologists found many bodies buried in the lateral position to the right. The lower limbs are bent, and this method was widespread and common among the desert peoples at the dawn of history, and it is usually called the fetal position in relation to the position of the fetus in the mother's womb.
A picture of the fetal burial position in the Kastel cemetery in eastern Algeria.
Image source: "Tassili Azger Study in Prehistory... Beliefs in Rock Art"
In some other sites, a different burial position was found, where we find the upper limbs bent towards the head or face, or under the head, as in the burial sites in Tamanrasset, Algeria.
Regardless of the different burial conditions, what is striking is the interest of the ancient residents of Tassili in the burial process and the provision of burials with furniture, pottery, jewelry, weapons, and other equipment that surrounded the deceased in his life.
These practices confirm, according to the researchers, that those who lived on the land of Tassili were human beings who believed in the afterlife after death, and had clear-cut funeral rites, which suggests the existence of a common religious belief among them.
These researchers interpreted the strange drawings in the Tassili Caves as an embodiment of their religious rituals, the details of which are not fully known yet until today. (6)
Acheulean and Mousterian
The revelations about Tassili do not stop at religious beliefs.
Archaeologists usually call the term "Acheulean" the era in which the ancient man succeeded in manufacturing stone tools in various forms in the Paleolithic era, and the inhabitants of Sifar had a share of that civilization and the manufacture of these tools.
An Acheulean or Acheulean instrument found in the Tassili region of Algeria.
Image source: Study "Tassili Azger in Prehistory... Beliefs and Rock Art"
After that, the Tassili region witnessed a new phase that archaeologists call the Mousterian civilization, which is one of the most important civilizations of the Middle Paleolithic era. This area as knives, abrasives and scrapers.
The Mousterian industry spread mainly in Asia and Europe, and to a relatively lesser extent in North Africa, as in the Tassili region.
A Mousterian tool found in the Tassili region.
Image source: "Tassili Azger Study in Prehistory... Beliefs and Rock Art"
Research also reveals that the first humans who lived in the Tassili region used tools dating back to the Atrian civilization, a civilization or culture belonging to the Middle Stone Age that was centered in the North African region and extended from Mauritania to Egypt, and humans used quartz and volcanic stones to manufacture tools at that stage of their civilization .(4)
Prehistoric peoples did not live in isolation from each other, but archaeological evidence confirms that there was communication between different regions, as stone tools were found in places far from their manufacturing site, and this was one of the most important evidence of the existence of a kind of ancient trade.
For the peoples of the desert, of which the city of Sivar located in Tassili is one of them, the conditions of nature at the time were a catalyst for civilized exchange, as rivers were penetrating the Sahara Desert to connect the northern, southern and central deserts, and through river travel the peoples of that region knew each other.
Stone carving of animals that lived in Tassili in the past (Shutterstock)
These civilizational and commercial contacts took place across rivers on boats from Atlas to Hoggar, and from the Libyan coast to Tassili, as the inhabitants of the Tassili region were skilled sailors.
The inscriptions found in their caves, which embody many boats, have shown the extent of the people's passion for rivers, traveling through them, making boats, and their importance in the form of their lives.
Well, it seems that the Tassili that we see now is a barren desert that was not like that in the prehistoric period, and that the desert terrain that currently exists that makes it difficult to roam even within the region were green meadows in the past, and that those green plains were full of animals such as giraffes, hippos, deer and cows And sheep, and archaeologists who spent years studying the Tassili region have confirmed that the prehistoric inhabitants of the city of Sivar, located in Tassili, were practicing grazing and agriculture. (4)
One of the stone inscriptions found in the Tassili region, which is considered one of the unusual drawings in that region.
One of the stone inscriptions found in the Tassili region, which is considered one of the unusual drawings in that region.
This openness experienced by the Tassili region to neighboring and remote regions, and the appropriate atmosphere, safety and peace among the various populations, made the region attractive to those coming from the south due to the extension of tropical forests, or to those coming from the north, and accordingly those cultures merged into one crucible.
This is a logical explanation for some of the strangeness of those stone inscriptions that contain human diversity, and some described them as a "puzzling puzzle", as they embodied humans in various clothes and hairstyles.
Everyone who travels on trade trips and cultural exchange returned to the Tassili region and engraved on the walls what he saw in the regions as if he was conveying to others the fruits of his travels, which makes us feel that those inscriptions that show different people than usual drawn in the caves of Tassili are somewhat similar to the paintings of Orientalism that he painted. Europeans. (5)
One of the rock inscriptions in Tassili.
In light of this, the ancient writings and inscriptions acquire great importance because they are an important historical wealth for researchers, and because they record the lives of their owners, their ways of living, and their relations with their neighbors. Social.
While these ancient humans did not possess a written language, drawings and inscriptions were the alternative that enabled them to record their lives depicted on rock, drawings that researchers and archaeologists are still trying to explore and explore its mysteries to this day.
Tassili n'Ajjer (1).
(2) Sivar, Algeria.. the city of myths and mysterious tales | Video.
(3) The Tassili N'Ajer Cultural Park: a census of more than 17,690 archaeological sites during the last four years.
(4) A reading of the rock art of the Neolithic man.
(5) Al-Tassili Azger in Prehistory.. Beliefs and Rock Art.
(6) for the Tassili Frescoes: The Story of the Prehistoric Rock-Paintings of the Sahara.
(7) The devotional situations shown by rock art in Egypt and North Africa.