Inora Newsletter #45
NEW ROCK ART DISCOVERIES IN THE JBEL SAGHRO
AND ITS SAHARAN OUTSKIRTS
In the region of the eastern Anti-Atlas and its Saharan margins, the first rock art sites were noted at the end of the thirties of the last century. In spite of the difficult historical context of the period, researchers such as A. Ruhlmann (1938), J. Meunier and C. Allain (1956) and A. Simoneau (1974) have made known the region’s rich rock art heritage. The investigations we have been carrying out over several years in the sector of the Saghro Massif and its Saharan outskirts have enabled us to increase the catalogue of discoveries by seven new sites.
The mountain massif of Jbel Saghro and its surrounding Saharan area are in the south-east of Morocco. They stretch, from north to south, between the Dadès Valley and the Dra Hamada as well as from the Dra Valley, to the west, to the Kem-Kem Hamada and to the Oued Maïdere, to the east. These two geographic unities are part of the steppe and pre-Saharan zones of Morocco. The climate is arid, with the exception of in the high mountains, where the precipitation is more significant, favoured by the altitude which rises to 2712 m at the peak of Amalou n Mansour.
The Dra and the Daoura are the two hydrographic basins that share the drainage of the region’s water. The vegetation is of a steppe type, adapted to the difficult conditions imposed by a continental and arid climate. Thus, the abrupt and high slopes of the northern Saghro still have some juniper forestation. However, the bottom of the feïjas and edges of the oueds have discontinuous vegetation, dominated by acacia raddiana.
According to J. Riser (1971), the geological structure was decisive, both for the formation of the Jbel Saghro landscapes and those of its Saharan outskirts. In spite of the clear difference in them, both landscapes have certain characteristics in common, particularly their belonging to the preSahara and to the African shelf.
A series of surveys that we carried out in June 2005 in the region led us to seven previously unknown sites. Our working method had two components: a cartographic analysis and information gained from the inhabitants.
We have named the sites as follows: Boukerkour-ouest; Takouchtamt; Tahyaicht; Tafougnate; Imi n Sit; Imi n Oudraz; Chaâbat El Batha. While waiting for the publication of a study of the whole of the group of sites, we give below a brief glimpse of the characteristics of each of them.
1. Boukerkour-ouest: The mountain of Boukerkour is situated south-west of the village of Mcissi (Errachidia Province). A rock art site was noted by A. Simoneau (Simoneau 1975; Catalogue 1977).
The site, at 31° 11 06’ North and 4° 50 00’ West, extends over around 6 km and is made up of a series of sandstone ridges, parallel to the above-mentioned mountain. In 1996, an exhaustive inventory was made of the sites of Boukerkour East and Centre by the team from the Rock Art National Heritage Park, led by one of us (A. Salih) between 1994 and 2000. The zoomorphic representations were studied by B. Kaache as part of the work for a thesis at Aix-en-Provence in 1999.
Given that our survey area was in the same sector, we took advantage of the fact to check on the state of preservation of the engravings, nine years after our first inventory of the sites. With the exception of pecked-out representations and engravings difficult to detach and carry away, the sites of Jbel Boukerkour have been completely destroyed. This shows the urgency of taking adequate and rigorous measures in terms of protection and documentation to preserve the rock art heritage of South Morocco (Fig. 1).
Several kilometres to the west of these ravaged sites, on the south-west slope of Mount Boukerkour, we found the remains of an until-then unknown site. We linked it to the others under the name of Boukerkour-West. It is a single engraving of an antelope with open contours. The antelope theme is generally recurrent, indeed dominant, in the rock art sites of Jbel Boukerkour (East and Centre).
The destruction caused to this new site was probably not the work of the vandals who sell the engravings but more likely from the activities of fossil hunters. This zone of Morocco, because of its geological antiquity, is known for its lithic riches and diversity, leading collectors of stone and fossils to order specimens through the local inhabitants. The latter, whose lives are hard, scour the region, digging trenches and holes everywhere. This unthinking vandalism damages the rock art heritage, as can be seen in this particular case.
2. Takouchtamt: The site of Takouchtamt is situated on the southern slope of the Saghro Massif, at the outlet of the oued of the same name. This site was discovered and partly surveyed, by us in June 2004. A year later, we revisited it to complete our documentation.
The engraved sandstone slabs are situated on the two banks of the oued. The petroglyphs on the left bank are mainly on flat and horizontal surfaces of a glacial terrace adjoining sections of land planted with fruit trees, palms and henna trees. On the other hand, the right bank engravings are both on horizontal and vertical surfaces. The figures are all pecked-out and some of them, particularly several geometric forms with a worked surface, have had a supplementary polishing. In the majority of cases, the colour of the patina of the worked surfaces is identical to that of the surrounding rock. The stylistic characteristics of the representations are very homogenous.
Among the themes represented there are, in numerical order, simple and complex geometric forms, zoomorphs, anthropomorphs and weapons.
Geometric forms are obviously the dominant subject and present considerable variety in terms of the morphology of each of them. We have noted the presence of numerous concentric circles, both simple and complex, spirals with several twists, serpent-forms, sun-forms, parallel lines and small circular surfaces worked and prolonged by a tapering appendix. This shape, which we meet for the first time and is very characteristic of this site, could suggest a tadpole (Fig. 2).
We were struck by another geometric shape, generally rare on Moroccan rock art sites, but very present here. This is a concentric circle, prolonged by wavy lines and making up a body resembling that of a jellyfish.
Zoomorphs are less well-represented than at other sites in the region. There are bovids, antelopes, equids, canids and unidentifiable quadrupeds. This fauna is shown in most cases with open contours.
Among the anthropomorphs identified at the site of Takouchtamt, there are two with characteristics which suggest, particularly with their raised arms and their body morphology, the rock art sites of the High Atlas. A third is shown holding an undefined object in each of his raised hands. He has the particularity that certain surfaces between the contour lines are worked: the head, the triangular trunk and a part of the pelvis. The sex is clearly shown. These anthroporphs are given, for the most part, masculine sexual attributes. Apart from one case, the subjects are shown individually. With that of the site of Biouafen in the Jbel Bani (Salih & Heckendorf 1998), this is the second “couple” of anthropomorphs that we have discovered in Southern Morocco (Fig. 3-5).
Concerning arms on the site, we have noted a dagger and a halberd. The first is distinguished by a blade shorter than the hilt. The halberd is drawn with an open contour. In both cases the surfaces are worked and the technique used is limited to an irregular pecking.
3. Tahyaicht: This site is some ten kilometres east of the village of Mcissi. It is a series of ridges of sandstone and Devonian limestone. The engravings are on horizontal or slightly inclined rock surfaces. The figures are all polished and certain of them have been eroded, even effaced, because of atmospheric agents, particularly wind erosion due to the region’s frequent sandstorms. The stylistic characteristics of the figures are homogeneous. The colour of the patina is identical to that of the surrounding rock.
Among the themes shown, wild animals are clearly dominant, followed by that of geometric shapes, particularly ovoids (Fig. 6).
4. Tafougnate: The site is constituted of a large sandstone and Devonian limestone fold that dominates by several hundred metres the Feïja of Bou Orsou. The site is to the west of Tahyaicht. It presents almost the same stylistic and thematic characteristics as the latter. The engravings belong to the style or school called “Tazina”. As at Tahyaicht, a part of the subjects shown are hardly visible. In this zone of dunes the wind has greatly contributed to their erosion. Among the subjects we were able to identify antelopes, a cow and geometric shapes, principally ovoids (Fig. 7).
5. Imi n Sit: This site is situated on the southern buttress of the Saghro massif, whose altitude is over 1000 m. The engraved slabs occupy both the outlet of Akka n Sit and the small plateau which dominates Tazighzaout n Imi n Sit. In fact, it is two sites with different characteristics. The site of Imi n Sit-rive has been wrecked, probably by the construction of a village nearby and by the installation of an irrigation canal. Thus we were only able to find two engravings. One shows an elephant and the other is a complex geometric shape. Their patina is that of the rock. In both cases the polished line was preceded by a pecked one (Fig. 8).
On the other hand, the engravings of Imi n Sit-plateau were all done in the pecking technique. The principal theme is geometric forms. In certain cases the colour of the worked surfaces is lighter than that of the surrounding rock.
In the same sector, we prospected the place called Chaabat El Batha. The oued opens out into a stony plain before finishing in the Oued Dra. On the left bank of the talweg we found the first concentration of petroglyphs. The second is some 200 m upstream. The figures are mainly on the walls of sandstone-quartzite strata of varying dimensions.
The first group of engravings is exclusively made up of pale-tinted representations belonging to the “Libyco-Berber” style. The subjects shown are those common to this style which glorifies the warrior, his attributes and activities. There are lance-armed horsemen, foot-soldiers, dogs, big horn sheep and other quadrupeds difficult to identify.
The other group, however, shows completely different stylistic characteristics. Using the criteria of patina, line and stylistic observations, it would appear to be a group of representations similar to the Jbel Bani engravings in the Middle Dra. Among the themes can be seen elephant, rhinoceros, antelopes and bovines. The patina of the line is identical to that of the rock. The technique used for the figures is limited to pecking-hammering. The antelopes are special in that the pecking was completed by a light but careful polishing (Fig. 10).
The sites recently discovered in the Saghro Massif and its Saharan outskirts show considerable diversity, both in their stylistic traits and in their thematic characteristics. From our first observations the sites situated in the foothills of the Saghro Massif have a certain homogeneity, both in style and principal theme. However, the sites in the Saharan outskirts could be divided into two groups: east and west. The first is distinguished by its representations of wild fauna belonging to the “Tazina” style. The sites of the second group are characterised, in the majority, by animated scenes that could be attributed to the very schematic “Libyco-Berber” style.
In the near future we will try to confirm this preliminary result by a complete study and comparative analysis of the engravings in what we now could call the rock art complex of the Saghro Massif.
Abdellah SALIH et Mohamed HAMMAM
Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe, Centre d’Affaires (Aile sud),
Boulevard Riad, Hay Riad, B.P2055, Riad Rabat, Maroc