From savanna to desert : animal engravings in the changing prehistoric environment of the Wadi al-Hayat, Libyan Sahara
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Traditional stylistic classifications have not provided conclusive dates for the rock art of the Sahara, and the imagery can therefore not be placed securely in its cultural or environmental context. This thesis proposes a new methodology in which content and patina of the engravings are used to establish a chronological sequence, against the background of changing palaeoenvironmental conditions. This framework can then be used to explore aspects of the relationship between the rock art and the changing Holocene landscape. The engravings of the Wadi al‐Hayat, which were recently recorded by the Fezzan Rock Art Project, form the basis of this research. A total of 2466 images of animals were individually analysed and entered into a database. The depicted species are shown to reflect the local fauna, and their habitats coincide with the palaeoclimatic conditions of the central Sahara. Additionally, recent geomorphological analyses of the rock surfaces of the Messak provide a chronology for the patina, and show that the formation of each type of patina was dependent on environmental conditions. Through analyses of the animal engravings, categorised according to positively identifiable species and patina types, this thesis demonstrates a direct correlation between the content (i.e. species depicted) and patina of the engravings, and the palaeoenvironment. Both content and patina of the engravings indicate a development from wet savanna to dry savanna, and finally to desert conditions, consistent with the Holocene climatic sequence. This provides a chronological framework for the engravings and places them into a palaeoenvironmental context. The locations of the engravings of each patina group also correspond to the changing lake levels of the al‐Hayat palaeolake identified in previous palaeoenvironmental research projects, which in turn supports the chronology of the engravings. Through spatial analyses, the locations and landscapes preferred by the engravers for the creation of rock art can be identified, whilst the new chronological sequence allows us to explore changes in the cultural conventions that underlie the creation of the engravings. As well as providing a chronological framework and environmental context for the engravings for the Wadi al‐Hayat, the research presented in this thesis therefore has the potential to change our understanding of Saharan rock art.