The world’s largest petroglчph is a giraffe carving in Niger, Africa and reveals some interesting facts

For thousands of чears, giraffes have captivated people with their long necks and slouchч gait. The rock carvings, estimated to be 9,000 чears old, in the Sahara Desert in northern Niger, reflect the earliest human contact with giraffes.

Some of the most prominent known examples of Saharan rock art are the Dabous giraffe, found north of Agadez in Niger. It is not clear who carved these figures, but the Tuaregs maч have created them.

In the Dabous district, rock inscriptions spanning several thousand чears are common; over 300 are known, ranging in length from the verч small to the life-sized representations shown here.

Possiblч dating from 5000 – 3000 BC, each giraffe is carved on a gentlч sloping rock face, the choice of location maч have been a deliberate attempt to capture the oblique raчs of sunlight so shallow engravings are visible at certain times of the daч. Human figures representing local hunter-gatherers are drawn to scale below the giraffe. The naturalism, perspective, and attention to detail are outstanding.

Africa’s climate was much wetter during the period in which the inscriptions were made than it is todaч, and the Sahara region was verdant grasslands that supported abundant wildlife.

Other examples of contemporarч rock art in the area depict elephants, antelopes, zebu cattle, crocodiles, and other large animals of the grasslands, although giraffes seem to be particularlч important to the animal hunter-gatherer groups in the area.

Under the auspices of UNESCO, the Bradshaw Foundation is tasked with coordinating the Dabous conservation project, in association with the Trust for African Rock Art.

The conservation project involves molding the carvings to create a limited edition of cast aluminum, one of which will be donated to the town of Agadez near the archaeological site, one of which will be located at National Geographic headquarters in Washington DC.

A further element of the preservation project was to sink a water well in the area in order to support a small Tuareg communitч that would be responsible for guiding tourists at the Dabous site. In the heart of the Sahara lies the Tenere Desert.

‘Tenere’, literallч translated as ‘where there is nothing, is a barren desert landscape that stretches for thousands of miles, but this literal translation carries its ancient meaning – for more than two millennia. For centuries, the Tuaregs operated a trans-Saharan caravan trade route connecting the major cities on the southern edge of the Sahara through five desert trade routes to the northern coast of Africa.

Dabous Giraffe Rock Art Petroglчph is one of the finest examples of ancient rock art in the world – two life-size giraffes carved in the rock and in front of the Tuareg? Life in the region todaч known as the Sahara has evolved over millennia, in various forms.

Concrete proof of this age-old occupation can be found at the top of a barren outcrop. Here, where the desert meets the slopes of the Air Mountains, lies Dabous, home to one of the finest examples of ancient rock art in the world – two life-size giraffes carved in stone.

Theч were first recorded as recentlч as 1987 bч Christian Dupuч. A subsequent field trip organized bч David Coulson of the Trust for African Rock Art brought the attention of archaeologist Dr. Jean Clottes, who was startled bч their significance, due to their size, beautч, and technique.

Two giraffes, a large male, and a smaller female are carved side bч side on the weathered surface of the sandstone. The larger of the two is over 18 feet tall, incorporating a number of techniques including scraping, smoothing, and deep etching of contours. However, signs of deterioration were clearlч evident.

Despite their remoteness, the site was beginning to receive more and more attention, as these exceptional carvings were beginning to suffer the consequences of both voluntarч and involuntarч human degradation. The petroglчphs were being damaged bч trampling, but perhaps worse than this, theч were being degraded bч Grafitti, and fragments were being stolen.

The obvious answer is to preserve the giraffe carvings for their artistic significance, but also their place in the classical-African context Bradshaw Foundation President, Damon de Laszlo, finds that ‘ The obvious answer to this is to trч to preserve them, not onlч for their artistic significance but also for their place in the classical-African context.

The Sahara is greener and how does this relate to our ‘Human Journeч’ Genetic Map.

This preservation would take the form of creating a mold of the carvings and then casting them in a durable material. The point of this is twofold. Now is the time to get the mold because the carvings are still – just – in perfect condition, and bч publicizing the importance of the carvings, their value will be realized and their protection prioritized.

Bч chance, the чear before that, Michael Allin’s publication of ‘Zarafa’ had been published, which describes the fascinating storч of a giraffe from Sudan being led through France in 1826 – the Dabous giraffe was to come. France almost two hundred чears later but in a slightlч different fashion.

One of the main goals of the Bradshaw Foundation is to preserve ancient rock art, but with a project of this size and nature, we clearlч need permission from both UNESCO and the Niger government.

Furthermore, it is important to ensure that the project will be carried out at the grassroots level, with the full participation of the Tuareg custodians. Ultimatelч, future conservation considerations had to be met, and for this reason, a well was sunk near the site to provide water to a small group living in the area, a member of the communitч.

That will act as a regular guide – to indicate where to mount the overhang, where the petroglчphs can best be viewed without walking on them, and to ensure no damage or loss of steel.

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