A prehistoric painting of a camel covered with black paint.
We have reported last year in our news page that a "deranged"
Libyan ventured into the sacred territories of Awiss and embarked on
his mission to vandalise some of the priceless prehistoric paintings of the World
Heritage site of Acacus. Using spray cans he painted over a number of cave drawings
and paintings. Now we have decided to devote a dedicated gallery to these vandalised
paintings, and to other acts of barbarism committed by some European tourists
and even by some United Nation officials, believe or not. The task of protecting
these world heritage sites seems impossible; as
The news began to leak last April (2009) regarding the defacement of some of the prehistoric rock art sites of Awiss, in Acacus, south-west Libya. It is difficult to enumerate the number of damaged pictures, but some reports say at least six or seven cave paintings were covered with paint, some of which were badly damaged. Other sources, like Libyan Oea, state that at least 120 paintings and drawings in total vandalised across seven sites in Acacus including Awiss, Tin Lalen, Tin Shshikh, Tin Newen, and Tihideen
The vandal was arrested and have been imprisoned
since. Reportedly he was previously working as a tourist guide for the Italian-owned
tourism company Dar Sahara, which owns Dar Ghadames hotel and Dar Awiss campsite
nearby. Apparently it was said that he was acting in revenge for being sacked
by the company. Taking a closer look at the damage he inflicted one is
easily inclined to suspect "moral motives".
Tin Lalen: a vandalised fertility scene, heavily covered with
graffiti, long before the vandal covered it in black. The earlier graffiti shows
some Tifinagh letters and also some recent Arabic words.
Another fertility scene from Tin Lalen.
Dancing Away From Demonic Horror.
The vandalised rock art site in Awiss.
News Headlines Regarding The Vandalism
Alec Campbell and David Coulson visited Libya
in October 2009 to learn more about the condition of the Akakus rock art sites
that were vandalised in early 2009. They started the adventure in Matkhandouch
(Mathendous) in Messak Sattafet where they noted a number engravings that they
had not previously recorded. Then they crossed over to the Erg of Wan Kasa to
to Acacus; where they say they have recorded about 30 new sites:
"One of the most spectacular sites we recorded in
the Akakus Mountains was first recorded by Prof Mauro Cremaschi of the Italian
Libyan Mission. The site contains both paintings (Round Head) and
engravings. The most important panel is an arched, vertical slab of
rock below a massive cliff on which five human figures with circular
heads are carved in bas-relief technique, a style of engraving unique in our experience."
They met the Head of the Italian
Libyan Archaeological Mission, Dr Savino di Lernia, in Acacus where they discussed
collaboration with both the Mission and the DOA, and where di Lernia outlined the status of a
rescue initiative for the recently vandalised paintings and engravings - although it seems unlikely that a rescue operation would be fully successful. (Visit: www.africanrockart.org/taranews/news01-10.html, then follow the link to Newsletter 11.)
Scholarly Saharan Rock Art Vandalism
Some visitors, foreign and/or local, have
written or painted over some of the prehistoric paintings,
inscribed their names or initials, and poured water over them to
bring-out the colours for better photos. There are
also several reports of urinating on pictures, superimposing
originals with other symbols, rubbing-off
the heads of
human images and leaving the bodies hideously headless
and covered with graffiti, and even reports
of cutting-off some sections all together to be smuggled out of the country and
sold online. A 12,000 year-old giraffe
in Wan Targhit was defaced some time in the past by an unknown vandal, and there
are quite a number of paintings and engravings covered in graffiti in various
areas. All in all, such
acts are condemned by Libyans and by
the international community.
According to Henri Lhote:
"During a recent trip to Algeria, I was distressed
to learn that vandals have marred several paintings,
some using chain saws to remove entire figures" [National
Geographic, August 1987].
But then why should Lhote
feel any distress given the fact that he himself reportedly used water to bring
out the colours of the paintings for better photos, as he described in his book,
probably out of ignorance rather than intent:
"Brenans had noted several
of such paintings, but the best of them seem to have eluded
him, since they are, to all intents and purposes,
invisible to the naked eye and are revealed only
after prolonged sponging down with water . . . We
were able not only to remove from the ochres the layer
of clay dust that covered them, but we were also
to heighten the tints and thus restore them to
their original vividness
(Henri Lhote, Frescoes, 1959,
pp 69 - 72).
Now here comes the really shocking news: according to
recent published studies, Henri Lhote's team, or one or more member(s) of his
team, apparently faked two (or more) of the images published in his book, like
those Egyptian-like calendar goddesses, which continued to appear in his book
right down to the 1970s. The
following composition, which I have redrawn by hand
(colours are not real) to illustrate the Egyptian style, shows some of the images
vividly, or vandalisingly, invented by Lhote's team:
"Our little goddesses with the birds' heads must belong
to an historical period . . . to 1200 B.C.
We know that at this time the Libyans of
the Fezzan were constantly at war with the Egyptians.
Indeed, the Libyans
attempted to conquer the Nile Valley"
(Henri Lhote, Frescoes, 1959, pp 69 - 72).
It remains a puzzle to realise which Fezzan-Egyptian
wars [professor] Lhote was openly referring to. There are no such wars in recorded
history, let alone "constant wars",
that involved the inhabitants of Fezzan and the ancient Egyptians. Why
invent pictures, publish them as real prehistoric cave
paintings, and then supplant them with fake history?
We all hear about UNESCO, World Heritage, and United
Nations as terms associated with
"preservation", "good" and "order",
just as mother United Nations herself is supposed to be! Look
it is baffling to know that prehistoric pictures
from the Western Sahara, including those of buffaloes
and elephants, have been vandalised and defaced by United Nations peacekeepers
- specifically by the personnel attached to the UN mission, known
by its French acronym, Minurso .
One of the worst sites hit is
("the Devil Mountain"
) - a place shrouded with mystery
To read more about this, please visit
the Times Online arts and entertainment page, at:
Looting The Sahara
For further details and for other, more disturbing, related news, see: "Looting the Sahara: The material, intellectual and social implications of the destruction of cultural heritage",
by Jeremy Keenan, in The Journal Of North African Studies, Volume 10, Issue 3 & 4, September 2005, pages 471 - 489. Look around the other issues of the journal for more devastating stories about the desecration of Saharan prehistoric art.
You can read more about rock art vandalism at: