Tassili n’Ajjer: The Plateau of the Rivers

Tassili n'Ajjer
By Niyi David

Suppose you find rock paintings up in the Sahara Desert, which closely looks like the art form discovered in southern Africa by the San people; what do you conclude? Coincidence? Or assume it was done by the same people who had migrated from one point to the other? Welcome to the Plateau of the Rivers – Tassili n’Ajjer.

Unlike most national parks and reserves which are designated areas, mapped out to ensure the survival of plant and animal species by providing them a safe unrestricted habitat in the wild, the Tassili n’Ajjer is unique in that it was created to conserve and protect a mountain range, while doubling as a biosphere reserve. 

Covering a 72,000km² area in the Sahara, Tassili n’Ajjer is located in southeast Algeria at the borders of Libya, Niger and Mali. It is easily accessible from the town of Djanet which lies some 10km southwest of the range. Comprising two geomorphic units: (1). sandstone plateau, and (2). mountainous volcanic ridge, Tassili n’Ajjer is home to the endemic Saharan cypress, (the only conifer of the central Sahara), of which about 153 are left in the world. 

However, the significance of Tassili n’Ajjer rests more on its cultural heritage. It boasts one of the largest and best preserved collections of prehistoric cave art in the world, dating back to the Neolithic era.

From 1933 when they were first discovered, over 15,000 rock paintings and engravings have been identified. Some of the most beautiful engravings can be seen near Djanet, while a 30km stretch of rock engravings of human and animal figures (some life-size) are in the Wadi Djerat canyon. 

Tassili n’Ajjer National Park was created in 1972 and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 under Criterion (i), Criterion (iii), Criterion (vii) and Criterion (viii).

With the similarity in the frescoes of the Sahara and the rock paintings of the Kalahari, is it possible that the San Bushmen migrated from North Africa all the way down to the south?

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