The Pastoral style includes a broad range* of pictographs and petroglyphs depicting cattle, humans, and pastoral life. It is the most common type of rock art with thousands of sites throughout the Sahara.

Scenes from daily life – including milking, tending to single animals or herds, and activities related to transhumance – alternate with hunting, ritual, and convivial scenes to illustrate the multifaceted symbolic world of the first known pastoral societies in Africa.

The artworks are either masterfully engraved or painted naturalistically in flat colors or polychromy; they are found in the open air or in the interior of rock shelters and caves. Figures are reproduced in diverse positions and often portrayed in great detail. Humans are, at times, represented with body paintings, adornments (bracelets, necklaces, clothing, headgears), and hairstyles. The artworks are an extraordinary testimony of the coexistence or rotation of different traditions over several millennia, at a time when drastic climatic and environmental changes posed severe challenges to survival. In a similar vein, the variation in livestock configuration (including cattle herds) and their integration or alternation with sheep and goats reflect the adoption of diverse strategies to meet those challenges. The differences in adornments seem to indicate diverse (social, ethnic, cultural) identities, thus indicating a melting pot of groups.

Pastoral rock art sites exist all over the massif, but they are densely concentrated along the main fluvial systems. An integrated study of the artistic motifs (iconographic analysis, stylistic variations, and overlaps) with archaeological data places this style’s peak in the fifth millennium BCE. The period likely lasted until the middle of the third millennium BCE.


*The concept of style is here imposed as a broad label for the convergence of various styles. Further analysis is currently in progress to firmly define the different styles or 'schools' and collate the diverse suggestions made by examining the decorative motifs and their integration with archaeological data.