Inora Newsletter #45



Some of the first rock engravings of North Africa were discovered on the north-eastern Algerian-Moroccan border, particularly on the mountainous ridges of the Figuig and Ksours Mountains. These engravings were noted and reported by the officers and doctors of the French Colonial Army during operations against the Southern Ouranais ksours. Thus, in 1847 Dr F. Jacquot and Captain Koch made known the engravings at Thyout and Moghar-et-Tahtani (Flamand 1921: 14). In 1881 Captains Boucher and Tournier noted the site of El Haj Mimoun, which was studied and published by Dr E.-T. Hamy in 1882. The Col de Zenaga site was discovered in 1902 by Captain Normand.

Between 1890 and 1904, G.–B.–M. Flamand, while carrying out missions for the Geological Department of the Algerian Government-General, copied and studied numerous rock art sites in the region of Figuig and In Salah (Flamand 1921).

Our first heritage inventory field work, including rock art, was carried out in the Figuig district in 1999. This was followed by two more expeditions in 2002 and 2005. During these inventories we examined several rock art sites, including a painted cave. This article is limited to the study of four representative sites of the region.

The Geographic background

The Figuig Mountains are part of the continuation of the Haut Atlas. Through the Ksours Mountains it joins the Saharan Atlas of Algeria to the east. The Figuigs are bordered to the north by the Tigri chott and to the west by the Tamlelt Plain. This zone goes up to over 2000m. The structure of these chains of the Figuig is more complex than that of the Dahra. They are almost exclusively constituted of Mid-Jurassic limestone and Lias rather than by sandstone soils. Wooded zones cover the mountainous region from Jbel Ess Seffah, Jbel Abiane and Jbel Amour (Hardy & Célérier 1933; Rey 1915).

On the other hand, elsewhere and apart from the lines of greenery around the oueds, the harshness of the desert climate gives the Figuig Mountains “a desolate aspect”, according to Rey (1915: 130).

The hydrographic network is made up of two groups of oueds. One drains towards the Tamlelt Plain, to the west, the others towards the Zousfana, to the east-south-east (Russo 1922).

The sites

The sites that we have examined are for the most part in the immediate neighbourhood of the numerous springs at the feet of the mountain slopes. There are four of them and they are called Dchira, Douissa, El Mlalih and Rkiza.

Dchira: This site is at 1200m above sea level, on the right bank of the oued Mader, an upper tributary of the oued Zousfana. The engravings are located on the walls of a sandstone cliff some twenty metres above the oued. We have identified three large panels that were called: Surfaces A, B & C. Surface A has two large engravings (1.60m) of the same type, a bovine and an unfinished quadruped. Their lines are polished, wide (2cm) and relatively deep, with a dark, identical patina to that of the surrounding rock. The bovine is in total perspective. The presence of a double halter, probably attached to the nostrils should be noted.

Compared with Surface A, Surface B is characterised by the presence of two themes, zoomorphs and anthropomorphs, unequal in number. The first theme, 27 images strong, includes wild species and also domesticated ones, particularly bovines. Among the wild fauna we noted felines, antelopes, ostriches (Fig. 2) and a canid. There are three very schematic anthropomorphs, including a doubtful case. One is a figure with arms raised to the sky, in the posture commonly called “orant” (Fig. 1). The other, smaller, is shown squatting, with legs spread and arms raised horizontally with both hands open. It has a drooping phallus. A schematic horseman has a pale patina.

These engravings have a relatively deep polished line, with both complete and partial working of the surface. Most of the profiles are total, particularly for images of bovines or of birds. The antelopes, on the other hand, are more in frontal perspective. The contours of the figures are closed. The patina is identical to that of the surrounding rock. These engraved animals are in single file, apart from the two antelopes and a feline facing a bovine.

Compared to the preceding surfaces, Surface C is a little displaced towards the south. It is also vertical, quite rough, even eroded. Like Surface A, there are only two representations on Surface C. They include a large feline (1.20m) which could be a lioness. The engraving technique in both cases is exclusively polishing. The line is two centimetres wide, but without being profound. On the other hand, the second representation, that of a bird, possibly an ostrich, is less worked up than the birds of Surface B. The line’s patina is identical to that of the surrounding rock.

(left) Fig. 1. Dchira. Anthropomorphs
(Photo A. Salih).

Douïssa: This site, in the region of Chafâa, is at the foot of the northern slope of the Jbel Es Seffah. It is at 1,111m above sea level and it occupies the surface of a sandstone outcrop that overlooks the oued Douïssa from several metres. Upstream, where it is fed by the Aïn ech Chellala spring (a waterfall spring), the oued has a permanent trickle of water which has helped to develop a line of vegetation, dominated by oleander and dotted with a few trees.

(right) Fig. 2. Dchira. Zoomorphs
(Photo A. Salih).

Fig. 3. Douïssa. Engraved slab
(Photo A. Salih).
Fig. 4. Douïssa. Rhinoceros turned to right (Photo A. Salih).

The few engravings occupy the surfaces of two large slabs (Fig. 3). The surface of the first is relatively rich, with five subjects in two themes: geometric forms and zoomorphs. The dimensions of the two geometric forms vary between 50cm and 1m long (Fig. 5). The soft nature of the rock probably encouraged the use of polishing. In one case the line is two centimetres wide and twelve millimetres deep. The dark patina is identical to that of the rock the surface of which is slightly eroded. The zoomorphs include a rhinoceros (Fig. 4), an antelope and a “multi-horned” quadruped. The first animal is shown in a position indicating a movement, either a charge or on the defensive.
Fig. 5. Douïssa. Geometric forms
(Photo A. Salih).

The antelope, probably an oryx, is drawn in a style evoking the so-called “Tazina” school. However, what we call a quadruped could be a bovine with several horns, larger than the other two engravings. Its height at the withers is around 60cm and the posterior two-thirds of its body are decorated with vertical polished lines. A line links one of the horns to one of the geometric forms described. The three subjects were obtained by polishing.

On the surface of the second slab, we have only found one engraving. Erosion has destroyed its front part, so that this quadruped remains indeterminate. This slab, nearly half a metre higher than its fellow, is more exposed to the weather, particularly to the wind. The animal is engraved with a polished line twelve millimetres wide. Its patina is identical to that of the rock. The position of the body and the general air of the subject, as well as the thickness of the neck, suggest an equid, with “ears” hardly visible. We noted a line or a groove in front of the eroded region of this figure.

El Mlalih: This site is near a spring, some ten kilometres west of Douïssa. It is on a rocky outcrop, relatively sheer, at 1,028m altitude. There are two concentrations of images. The most significant is on the surface of a slab that has apparently collapsed to below the escarpment. The block is 3m long and a maximum 1.02m wide. The second set of figures is on the vertical surface of a large broken block in the middle of the cliff.

The subjects are limited to complex geometric forms (Fig. 6). With the exception of a bovine, the rest of the figures are in majority reticules, ovoids with interior decoration and serpent-forms. The engravings are pecked and bored, followed by polishing. In both cases the patina is identical to that of the rock.

Rkiza: The place is several kilometres to the south of El Mlalih, on a track linking Figuig to Chafaâ, across the mountain. The rock paintings are located in a small oval cavity, hollowed out by erosion in the sandstone outcrop on the edge of the track at around 1,000m above sea level (Fig. 7). This shelter opens on the slope of the ridge exposed to the north-west, at around 600m of the confluence of the oueds El Mlalih and Seôur. It is around 6.50m long, 4.50m high and 2m maximum deep. The floor slopes towards the exterior. The very irregular ceiling is pitted. It is in one of these alveoles, 1.50m deep, that we found the most significant concentration of designs.

Fig. 6. El Mlalih. Engraved slab
(Photo A. Salih).
Fig. 7. Rkiza. View of the whole
(Photo A. Salih).

The principal themes painted there are geometric forms (Fig. 8), notably dotted lines, parallel lines, semicircular lines, ovoid lines, rectangular figures as well as zoomorphs, an anthropomorph and an inscription in Libyan-type characters (Fig. 9). The motifs, in dark and light red, were probably done with fingers. We also noted other figures that are hardly visible, as the paintings are very unequally preserved. Difficulties in ‘reading’ the images are due both to superimpositions and to the serious deterioration of the other designs (Fig. 10). The false paintings which overload the figures are the recent work of the children who frequent the cavity accompanying tourists.
Fig. 8. Rkiza. The paintings
(Photo A. Salih).

Fig. 9. Rkiza. Libyan inscription
(Photo A. Salih).
Fig. 10. Rkiza. Vandalism: attempt to
detach the painted panel (Photo A. Salih).


The rock art images of the Figuig Mountains are far from being homogeneous. Those that we know, whether from the sites of Hitama, Tisserfine or from the four sites mentioned here, present varied stylistic characteristics. As for the themes, they are to a certain extent, identical, with the exception of El Mlalih, where the subjects are, for the most part, made up of complex and abstract geometric forms. However, the Dchira figures are similar to those of the El Kretar site in the Ksours Mountains, in Algeria (Flamand 1921: Fig. 214). Finally, the Rkiza paintings have many similarities with those discovered in the Atlas mountains, particularly the Amzri shelter in the High atlas and Ifrane n Taska in the Bani (Heckendorf & Salih 1999).

Even though the Figuig was among the first in Morocco to have its rock art reported, the development of the political situation regarding the neighbouring Algeria has unfortunately hindered systematic research concerning the region’s archaeological potential. The majority of the sites known are in the frontier zone, which means minefields, military installations and vehicle traffic forbidden on both sides of the frontier. We deplore this situation, as it has stopped us making, with our Algerian colleagues, a general study which would have led to a better knowledge of the rock art of the Figuig and Ksours Mountains in the Saharan Atlas.

Abdellah SALIH - Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe, Rabat, Maroc
Hassan BEN AMARA - Lycée Moulay Rachid, Figuig, Maroc


FLAMAND G.-B.-M., 1921. — Les Pierres écrites (Hadjrat- Maktoubat) : Gravures et Inscriptions rupestres du Nord Africain. Paris.

HAMY E.-T., 1882. — Notes sur les figures et inscriptions gravées dans la roche à El Hadj Mimoun, près Figuig. Revue d’Ethnographie, mars-avril.

HARDY G. & CELERIER J., 1933. — Les Grandes lignes de la géographie du Maroc. Paris, 3e édition.

HECKENDORF R. & SALIH A., 1999. — Les Peintures rupestres au Maroc : état des connaissances. Beiträge zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Archäologie, 19, p. 233-257.

LHOTE H., 1970. — Gravures rupestres de Djebel Mélias. Annexe de Beni-Ounif, Sud Oranais (Algérie). Objets et Mondes, t. X, fasc. 4, p. 229-306.

REY F., 1915. — Recherches géologiques et géographiques sur les territoires du Sud Oranais et du Maroc Sud Oriental. Revue de Géographie Annuelle, t. 8, Paris, p. 1-156.

ROUSSELET L., 1912. — Sur les confins du Maroc : d’Oujda à Figuig. Paris.

RUSSO P., 1922. — Le Pays de Figuig : Étude de géophysique. Bulletin de la Société de Géographie du Maroc, t. 3, fasc. 2, Casablanca, p. 125-135.

RUSSO P., 1923. — Au Pays de Figuig. Bulletin de la Société de Géographie du Maroc, t. 3, fasc. 4, Casablanca, p. 385-472.

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