The rock art sites of Tadrart Acacus represent an exceptional record of the activity of the ancient human groups who lived in the central Saharan region during the last 10,000 years. In 1985, UNESCO acknowledged the significance of this impressive heritage and included it in the World Heritage List.
The Tadrart Acacus is a sandstone massif range located at the southwestern edge of Libya, in the heart of the Sahara near the Algerian border. The massif covers an area of more than 5,000 square kilometers, with altitudes between 600 m asl on the eastern side and 1420 m asl on the western flank, where an abrupt escarpment delimits the border with the Wadi Tanezzuft beneath. With its broad valleys and deep canyons, the fascinating landscape results from the prolonged fluvial activity and erosional processes. Similar processes also caused the formation of the rock shelters and caves that punctuate the steep flanks of the wadis and canyons. The massif can be divided in five main areas according to the diverse geographic and geomorphological characters: the western escarpment (Area 1), the northern area, traditionally known as Awiss (Area 2), the primary system of wadis known as Rahrmellen and its minor tributaries (Area 3), the central fluvial system around wadi Teshuinat (Area 4), and the southernmost area around wadi Takarkori (Area 5).
The region today presents a harsh and dry landscape, inhabited by a few Tuareg families. But it wasn’t always a desert: during the Middle-Late Pleistocene interglacials, the area was characterized by wetter environmental condition than today and was suited for animal and human life. Evidence of the ancient occupations is spread throughout the massif in the form of open-air sites (isolated finds, scattered artifacts, or megalithic structures) or as stratified archaeological deposits preserved in rock shelters and caves. The archaeological and environmental data permitted the reconstruction of a long sequence of cultural phases, from the early hunting-gathering communities through the emergence of the first Pastoral society and the development of the Garamantian state to the Tuareg occupation.
Rock paintings and petroglyphs play an important role in reconstructing tangible and intangible aspects of each phase of occupation. Wild and domestic animals, humans, geometric or enigmatic signs are painted or engraved on open-air cliffs and boulders or into rock shelters and caves. An integrated analysis of figures and scenes – set into the wider archaeological and paleoclimatic framework – offers important insights on the environment, use, and perception of the landscape, as well as the production techniques and the symbolic and social world of the ancient societies.
Six main artistic styles (Wild Fauna, Round Heads, Pastoral, Horse/Bitriangular, Camel, and Modern Camel) have been recorded and tentatively correlated with the main phases of human occupation recognized archaeologically. Tifinagh and Arabic inscriptions are reported as well.
The present archive includes around 750 sites, recorded and documented by specific research projects and independent research carried out since the 1950s, when Fabrizio Mori entered the massif for the first time and revealed the existence of the ancient artworks to the rest of world.