Vandalised Rock Art Sites In Acacus

a prehistoric art painting from Acacus vandalised with graffiti

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 it were!


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".


a prehistoric art painting from Acacus vandalised with graffiti

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.


vandalised prehistoric painting

Tin Lalen


vandalised fertility engraving

Tin Lalen


a prehistoric art painting from Acacus vandalised with graffiti

Another fertility scene from Tin Lalen.


a prehistoric art painting from Acacus vandalised with graffiti

Dancing Away From Demonic Horror.



a prehistoric art painting from Acacus vandalised with graffiti



a prehistoric art painting from Acacus vandalised with graffiti



vandalised rock art site in Awiss

The vandalised rock art site in Awiss.




News Headlines Regarding The Vandalism



Archaeo News screen shot of the news of vandalism




(Tara: www.africanrockart.org/)

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 able   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:

Tassili fakes

"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?






UN Vandalism

UN workers vandalise priceless prehistoric art paintings


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 away. Well, 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 Lajuad ("the Devil Mountain" ) - a place shrouded with mystery and history.





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.



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