Tassili n'Ajjer

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Tassili n'Ajjer
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Dunes at Tassili n'Ajjer.jpg
Aerial photograph of Tassili n'Ajjer
Location Algeria
IncludesTassili National Park, La Vallée d'Iherir Ramsar Wetland
Criteria Cultural and Natural: (i), (iii), (vii), (viii)
Reference 179
Inscription1982 (6th session)
Area7,200,000 ha (28,000 sq mi)
Coordinates 25°30′N9°0′E / 25.500°N 9.000°E / 25.500; 9.000 Coordinates: 25°30′N9°0′E / 25.500°N 9.000°E / 25.500; 9.000
Location Tamanrasset Province, Algeria
Official nameLa Vallée d'Iherir
Designated2 February 2001
Reference no.1057 [1]
Algeria relief location map.jpg
Red pog.svg
Location of Tassili n'Ajjer in Algeria

Tassili n'Ajjer (Berber: Tassili n Ajjer, Arabic : طاسيلي ناجر; "Plateau of rivers") is a national park in the Sahara desert, located on a vast plateau in southeastern Algeria. Having one of the most important groupings of prehistoric cave art in the world, [2] [3] and covering an area of more than 72,000 km2 (28,000 sq mi), [4] Tassili n'Ajjer was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1982 by Gonde Hontigifa.



Tassili n'Ajjer is a vast plateau in southeastern Algeria at the borders of Libya, Niger, and Mali, covering an area of 72,000 km2. [2] It ranges from 26°20′N5°00′E / 26.333°N 5.000°E / 26.333; 5.000 east-south-east to 24°00′N10°00′E / 24.000°N 10.000°E / 24.000; 10.000 . Its highest point is the Adrar Afao that peaks at 2,158 m (7,080 ft), located at 25°10′N8°11′E / 25.167°N 8.183°E / 25.167; 8.183 . The nearest town is Djanet, situated approximately 10 km (6.2 mi) southwest of Tassili n'Ajjer.

The archaeological site has been designated a national park, a Biosphere Reserve (cypresses) and was induced into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list as Tassili n'Ajjer National Park. [5]

The plateau is of great geological and aesthetic interest. Its panorama of geological formations of rock forests, composed of eroded sandstone, resembles a lunar landscape and hosts a range of rock art styles. [6] [7]


Landsat multilayer image of Tassili n'Ajjer Tassili n'Ajjer National Park NASA Landsat 7 (2000).jpg
Landsat multilayer image of Tassili n'Ajjer

The range is composed largely of sandstone. [8] The sandstone is stained by a thin outer layer of deposited metallic oxides that color the rock formations variously from near-black to dull red. [8] Erosion in the area has resulted in nearly 300 natural rock arches being formed, along with many other spectacular land formations.


Because of the altitude and the water-holding properties of the sandstone, the vegetation here is somewhat richer than in the surrounding desert. It includes a very scattered woodland of the endangered endemic species of Saharan cypress and Saharan myrtle in the higher eastern half of the range. [8]

The ecology of the Tassili n'Ajjer is more fully described in the article West Saharan montane xeric woodlands, the ecoregion to which this area belongs. The literal English translation of Tassili n'Ajjer is 'plateau of rivers'. [9]

Relict populations of the West African crocodile persisted in the Tassili n'Ajjer until the twentieth century. [10] Various other fauna still reside on the plateau, including Barbary sheep, the only surviving type of the larger mammals depicted in the rock paintings of the area. [8]

Prehistoric art

The rock formation is an archaeological site, noted for its numerous prehistoric parietal works of rock art, first reported in 1910, [4] that date to the early Neolithic era at the end of the last glacial period during which the Sahara was a habitable savanna rather than the current desert. Although sources vary considerably, the earliest pieces of art are presumed to be 12,000 years old. [11] The vast majority date to the ninth and tenth millennia BP or younger, according to OSL dating of associated sediments. [12] Among the 15,000 engravings so far identified, the subjects depicted are large wild animals including antelopes and crocodiles, cattle herds, and humans who engage in activities such as hunting and dancing. [8] Although Algeria is relatively close to the Iberian Peninsula, the rock art of Tassili n'Ajjer evolved separately from that of the European tradition. [13] According to UNESCO, "The exceptional density of paintings and engravings...have made Tassili world famous." [14]

Fungoid rock art

In 1989, the psychedelics researcher Giorgio Samorini proposed the theory that the fungoid-like paintings in the caves of Tassili are proof of the relationship between humans and psychedelics in the ancient populations of the Sahara, when it was still a verdant land: [15]

One of the most important scenes is to be found in the Tin-Tazarift rock art site, at Tassili, in which we find a series of masked figures in line and hieratically dressed or dressed as dancers surrounded by long and lively festoons of geometrical designs of different kinds... Each dancer holds a mushroom-like object in the right hand and, even more surprising, two parallel lines come out of this object to reach the central part of the head of the dancer, the area of the roots of the two horns. This double line could signify an indirect association or non-material fluid passing from the object held in the right hand and the mind. This interpretation would coincide with the mushroom interpretation if we bear in mind the universal mental value induced by hallucinogenic mushrooms and vegetals, which is often of a mystical and spiritual nature (Dobkin de Rios, 1984:194). It would seem that these lines – in themselves an ideogram which represents something non-material in ancient art – represent the effect that the mushroom has on the human mind... In a shelter in Tin – Abouteka, in Tassili, there is a motif appearing at least twice which associates mushrooms and fish; a unique association of symbols among ethno-mycological cultures... Two mushrooms are depicted opposite each other, in a perpendicular position with regard to the fish motif and near the tail. Not far from here, above, we find other fish which are similar to the aforementioned, but without the side-mushrooms.

Giorgio Samorini, 1989

This theory was reused by Terence McKenna in his 1992 book Food of the Gods, hypothesizing that the Neolithic culture that inhabited the site used psilocybin mushrooms as part of its religious ritual life, citing rock paintings showing persons holding mushroom-like objects in their hands, as well as mushrooms growing from their bodies. [16] For Henri Lohte who discovered the Tassili caves in the late 1950s, these were obviously secret sanctuaries. [15]

The painting that best supports the mushroom hypothesis is the Tassili mushroom figure Matalem-Amazar where the body of the represented shaman is covered with mushrooms. According to Earl Lee in his book From the Bodies of the Gods: Psychoactive Plants and the Cults of the Dead (2012), this imagery refers to an ancient episode where a "mushroom shaman" was buried while fully-clothed and when unearthed some time later, tiny mushrooms would be growing on the clothes. Earl Lee considered the mushroom paintings at Tassili fairly realistic. [17]

According to Brian Akers, writer for the Mushroom journal, the fungoid rock art in Tassili does not resemble the representations of the Psilocybe hispanica in the Selva Pascuala caves (2015), and he doesn't consider it realistic. [18]

The rock engravings of Tin-Taghirt

The Tin-Taghirt site is located in the Tassili n'Ajjer between the cities of Dider and Iherir.

See also

Related Research Articles

Archaeology in Algeria

The archeology in Algeria is rich in prehistoric memorials of human occupation. Algeria contains many Roman remains and is rich in monuments of Saracenic art.

Geography of Algeria

Algeria comprises 2,381,741 square kilometers of land, more than four-fifths of which is desert, in northern Africa, between Morocco and Tunisia. It is the largest country in Africa. Its Arabic name, Al Jazair, derives from the name of the capital Algiers, after the small islands formerly found in its harbor. It has a long Mediterranean coastline. The northern portion, an area of mountains, valleys, and plateaus between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert, forms an integral part of the section of North Africa known as the Maghreb. This area includes Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya.

Cave painting Paintings, often prehistoric, on cave walls and ceilings

Cave paintings are a type of parietal art, found on the wall or ceilings of caves. The term usually implies prehistoric origin, but cave paintings can also be of recent production: In the Gabarnmung cave of northern Australia, the oldest paintings certainly predate 28,000 years ago, while the most recent ones were made less than a century ago.

Prehistoric North Africa

The Prehistory of North Africa spans the period of earliest human presence in the region to gradual onset of historicity in the Maghreb (Tamazgha) during classical antiquity.

Rock art Human-made markings on natural stone

In archaeology, rock art is human-made markings placed on natural surfaces, typically vertical stone surfaces. A high proportion of surviving historic and prehistoric rock art is found in caves or partly enclosed rock shelters; this type also may be called cave art or parietal art. A global phenomenon, rock art is found in many culturally diverse regions of the world. It has been produced in many contexts throughout human history. In terms of technique, the main groups are: petroglyphs, which are carved or scratched into the rock surface, cave paintings, and sculpted rock reliefs. Another technique creates geoglyphs that are formed on the ground. The oldest known rock art dates from the Upper Palaeolithic period, having been found in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa. Anthropologists studying these artworks believe that they likely had magico-religious significance.

Gilf Kebir

Gilf Kebir is a plateau in the New Valley Governorate of the remote southwest corner of Egypt, and southeast Libya. Its name translates as "the Great Barrier". This 7,770 km2 (3,000 sq mi) sandstone plateau, roughly the size of Puerto Rico, rises 300 m (980 ft) from the Libyan Desert floor. It is the true heart of the Gilf Kebir National Park.

West Saharan montane xeric woodlands

The West Saharan montane xeric woodlands is an ecoregion that extends across several highland regions in the Sahara. Surrounded at lower elevations by the largely barren Sahara, the West Saharan montane xeric woodlands are isolated refuges of plants and animals that can survive in the higher humidity and lower temperatures of the highlands.

Saharan rock art

Saharan rock art is a significant area of archaeological study focusing on artwork carved or painted on the natural rocks of the central Sahara desert. The rock art dates from numerous periods starting c.12,000 years ago, and is significant because it shows the culture of ancient African societies.

Ennedi Plateau

The Ennedi Plateau is located in the northeast of Chad, in the regions of Ennedi-Ouest and Ennedi-Est. It is considered a part of the group of mountains known as the Ennedi Massif found in Chad, which is one of the nine countries that make up the Sahelian belt that spans the Atlantic Ocean to Sudan. The Ennedi is a sandstone bulwark in the middle of the Sahara, which was formed by erosion from wind and temperature. Many people occupied this area, such as hunters and gatherers and pastoralists. The Ennedi area is also known for its large collection of rock art depicting mainly cattle, as these animals served as the main source of financial, environmental, and cultural impact. This art dates back to nearly 7,000 years ago. Today, there are two semi-nomadic groups, mainly of the Muslim religion, that have permanent villages in the Ennedi during the rainy months and pass through the area during the dry season. They rely on their herds of camels, donkeys, sheep, and goats to survive.

Acacus Mountains

The Acacus Mountains or Tadrart Akakus form a mountain range in the desert of the Ghat District in western Libya, part of the Sahara. They are situated east of the city of Ghat, Libya, and stretch north from the border with Algeria, about 100 kilometres (62 mi). The area has a particularly rich array of prehistoric rock art.

Mount Tahat

Mount Tahat is the highest mountain peak in Algeria. It sits at an elevation of 2,908 metres. Other sources indicate an elevation of 3,003 metres (9,852 ft). Tahat is also the highest peak in the Hoggar Mountains. Its nearest city is Tamanrasset which is located 56 km to the south.

Henri Lhote

Henri Lhote was a French explorer, ethnographer, and discoverer of prehistoric cave art. He is credited with the discovery of an assembly of 800 or more works of primitive art in a remote region of Algeria on the edge of the Sahara desert.

Rock art of the Djelfa region

The rock art of the Djelfa region in the Ouled Naïl Range (Algeria) consists of prehistoric cave paintings and petroglyphs dating from the Neolithic age which have been recognized since 1914. Following the Saharan Atlas Mountains they follow on from those, to the west, of south Oran, to which they are related. Comparable engravings have also been described further to the east, in the Constantine (Algeria) region.

Psilocybe mairei is a species of mushroom in the family Hymenogastraceae. It is found in Algeria and Morocco and contains the medicinal compound psilocybin. The oldest example of rock art suggesting use of psychedelic mushrooms might depict P. mairei. In 1992, the Italian ethnobotanist Giorgio Samorini reported finding a painted mural from Tassili n'Ajjer, in the Sahara desert in southeast Algeria dated 7000 to 9000 BCE portraying mushrooms, later tentatively identified as P. mairei.

Algerian Desert

The Algerian Desert is located in north-central Africa and is part of the Sahara Desert. The desert occupies more than four-fifths of Algerian territory. Its expansion starts from the Saharan Atlas as a stony desert, gradually changing into a sand dune desert inland. The plateau of the Tassili n'Ajjer is located in the southeast, and it's outstanding colletion of prehistoric rock art saw it added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1982. Cities and towns such as Ouargla, Adrar, and particularly In Salah are among the hottest places in the Sahara. Annual average rainfall is well below 100 mm in the northernmost part but the center and the southern part receive much less than 50 mm.

Daïa is an Algerian Berber saint. She is venerated by the Mozabites of the M'zab region of northern-central Algeria. She is reputed to have lived in a cave (ghār) near Wadi Mzab in the M'zab valley. Kharijite Muslims later flocked to the valley and built the town of Ghardaïa to escape persecution from the Fatimids in the north.

Ginette Aumassip is a French geologist and specialist in African prehistory. She is the former director of the Laboratory for Research on Africa under the auspices of CNRS. She taught African prehistory at various universities and, from 1970 to 1986, ran the scholarly journal Libyca. A resident of Algiers, she also researched the origins of the earliest settlers of Algeria.

Tadrart Rouge

The Tadrart Rouge or Southern Tadrart or Algerian Tadrart or Meridional Tadrart is a mountain range in southeastern Algeria, part of the Algerian Desert. The area has a rich array of rock art.

Iheren and Tahilahi are rock painting shelters at the Tadjelahine sandstone plateau some 20 km west of Iherir in the Tassili n'Ajjer mountains in southeast Algeria.


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  9. Pan-African Congress on Prehistory (in French). Kraus Reprint. 1977. p. 68. Les eaux de pluie ont raviné les crêtes et ont progressivement entaillé les plateaux, creusant des canyons étroits et profonds aux parois à pic, dont la direction générale est Sud-Nord. C'est d'ailleurs ce qui lui a valu le nom de Tassili-n-Ajjer, nom qui vient des mots touaregs : Tasilé = plateau et gir = rivières, ce qui veut dire : le plateau des rivières. == rainwater gutted the ridges and progressively slashed the plateaus, digging narrow, deep canyons with steep walls, whose general direction is South-North. This is what earned it the name of Tassili-n-Ajjer, name that comes from the Tuareg words: Tasilé = plateau and gir= rivers, which means: the plateau of rivers.
  10. "Crocodiles in the Sahara Desert: An Update of Distribution, Habitats and Population Status for Conservation Planning in Mauritania". PLOS ONE . 25 February 2011.
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  13. "African Rock Art: Tassili-n-Ajjer (?8000 B.C.-?)". www.metmuseum.org. October 2000. Retrieved 2021-03-05.
  14. "Tassili n'Ajer". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  15. 1 2 Giorgio Samorini, The oldest representations of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the world, Artepreistorica.com, December 2009 (first published in 1992)
  16. McKenna, Terence (1992). Food of the Gods. United States and Canada: Bantam Books. pp. 72, 73. ISBN   978-0-553-07868-8.
  17. Earl Lee, From the Bodies of the Gods: Psychoactive Plants and the Cults of the Dead, Simon and Schuster, 16 May 2012 ( ISBN   9781594777011)
  18. Brian Akers, A Cave In Spain Contains the Earliest Known Depictions of Mushrooms, Mushroomthejournal.com, 6 January 2015
  19. Guzmán, Gastón (July 2012). "New taxonomical and ethnomycological observations on Psilocybe s.s. (Fungi, Basidiomycota, Agaricomycetidae, Agaricales, Strophariaceae) from Mexico, Africa and Spain". Acta botánica mexicana (100): 79–106.

Further reading