Tassili N’Ajjer, ALGERIA
- Keywords: Algeria Cultural LandscapeS, Tassili N'Ajjer, Rock forest, paintings, engravings, Iherir Valley: Torset, Iminhou, Erg Issaounana, Wadi Djerat, Illizi.
1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES
1.1 National and International Classification Lists
Tassili N’Ajjer is in the World Heritage List of UNESCO with date of Inscription: 1982, criteria: (i)(iii)(vii)(viii) and category: Mixed. This area it was also designated as a UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve (WDPA ID20389) in 1986. The Algerian Government has recognized the value of this territory with legal protection, creating the Tassili N’Ajjer National Park (WDPA ID12352) in 1986. The gueltas of thte Tassili N’Ajjer are included in the “Directory of African Wetlands” (2013) edited by RAMSAR. The Iherir Valley, which is the Tassili N’Ajjer area, is recorded as a Wetland of International Importance (RAMSAR, 2001), WDPA ID900571.
1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology
Organically evolved landscapesRelict (or fossil) landscape
Associative cultural landscape1
1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med
Tassili n’Ajjer is a vast plateau in south-east Algeria at the borders of Libya, Niger and Mali, covering an area of 72,000 sq. km. This territory has outstanding universal value for the quality and density of its rock art engravings, for the substantial evidence the collection of rock art images presents for hunting, fauna, flora and lifestyles in pre-historic times and for the cultural continuity between prehistoric and mediaeval times that the site reflects. The site is considered as a Mixed Landscape in the World Heritage List and Med-O-Med has considered appropiate to give another step considering this site as a Cultural Landscape taking into account its natural and cultural heritage, and the same criteria that UNESCO (UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Article 1, 1972, Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, 2008) followed to classify The Gobustan Rock Art, in Azerbaijan, as a Cultural Landscape: -Its Natural heritage components: Over 300 permanent gueltas (ponds) are known to occur in the Tassili N’Ajjer which is a high sandstone plateau extending northeastwards from the A’Haggar Massif. It descends to a lower plateau along a scarp line running in a gentle arc from southeast to northwest, while a mountainous ridge surmounts the plateau, running roughly parallel to the escarpment, but some 30-50 km back from it. The slopes of this Mt. Afao are drained by a dendritic system of oueds, culminating in the Oued Imirhou. This watercourse, and its principal affluents, the Oueds Iherir and Torset, all traverse deep gorges running NE to the lower plain where they swing NW to lose themselves under the sands of the Erg Issaounane west of Illizi (26°32’N/8°33’E), 535 m asl. The plateau is also of great geological and aesthetic interest: the panorama of geological formations with “rock forests” of eroded sandstone resembles a strange lunar landscape. The unique rock formations and networks of steep-sided valleys of the plateau are a result of the alternation of wet and dry periods. At the end of the Upper Pleistocene, for example, there were huge lakes in the region, in what are today the great Ergs. The lakes were fed by rivers flowing down the Tassili, and dry river beds remain from this period. The action of the rivers on the surface of the plateau formed deep gorges and separate plateaux. Over the last 10,000 years the area has become steadily drier, although this process was reversed by a more humid period from 4000 BC to 2000 BC. Wind erosion during dryer periods has formed rock formations which resemble ruins, known as ‘stone forests’. -Its Cultural heritage components: Humans lived in this area by developing cultural and physiological behaviour adapted to the harsh climate, their vestiges date back to several hundreds of thousands of years. The rock art of Tassili n’Ajjer (discoverded on 1933), is the most eloquent expression of relationships between humans and the environment, with more than 15,000 drawings and engravings testifying to climate changes, wildlife migrations, and the evolution of humankind on the edge of the Sahara. For all these reasons, Med-O-Med, using the UNESCO categories of Cultural Landscapes, classifies Tassini N’Ajjer as a Cultural Landscape in the second category: “organically evolved landscape”, specifically in the subcategory: “a relict (or fossil) landscape “. The exceptional density of paintings and engravings found in Tassini N’Ajjer, and the presence of many prehistoric vestiges, archaeological remains, habitations, burial mounds and enclosures which have yielded abundant lithic and ceramic material are remarkable testimonies to Prehistory (from 10,000 BC to the first centuries of our era). This combination of geological, ecological and cultural elements is a highly representative example of a testimony to life.
2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY
- Current denomination Tassinli N'Ajjer.
- Current denomination Tassinli N'Ajjer.
- Original denomination Tassinli N'Ajjer.
- Popular denomination Tassinli N'Ajjer.
- Address: Tassili N'Ajjer, Illizi and Tamanghasset provinces, Algeria.
- Geographical coordinates: 26°20′N 5°00′E east-south-east to 24°00′N 10°00′E. The highest point is Adrar Afao, 2158 m, at 25°10
- Area, boundaries and surroundings: Tassili, a mountainous region in the centre of the Sahara, situated to the south-east of the Algerian Sahara, in the provinces of Illizi and Tamanghasset, covering an area of 7,200,000 ha, is bordered by the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Niger and Mali.
3. LEGAL ISSUES
- Owner: Algerian Government.
- Legal protection: Conservation Status: Much of the range, including the cypresses and archaeological sites, is protected in a National park, Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, named the Tassili n'Ajjer National Park. The valley of Iherir is protected as a Nature park, administered by the Ministry of Fine Arts, but protection does not extend to the flora and fauna, only to the frescoes. This is what the RAMSAR Convention (2009) says about the protection and management requirements of Tassili N'Ajjer: "Given the contemporary geostrategic challenges, and the new patterns of territorial development and rehabilitation of the bordering Saharan regions, and in the framework of the cultural heritage law (Law 98-04 on the Protection of Cultural Heritage), the Ministry of Culture introduced a new category of protection of cultural and natural values: the cultural park - a concept of protection of geographical spaces in which the different cultural and natural values are interlinked and juxtaposed in an intelligible configuration. Based on this identification, rules for organization and management have been defined, as well as the structures and mechanisms that govern these spaces, from the prehistoric cave to the existing urban fabric, in a general territorial development plan, a legal and technical instrument for policy and planning that associates the sectors of culture, the interior and local collectivities, the environment, forests. Thus, sustainable management of the heritage of Tassili is included in the framework of the implementation of the Cultural Heritage Law and its texts of application concerning the creation and organization of the Tassili Park Office, a public establishment of an administrative nature (EPA), the missions of which are the protection, conservation and enhancement of the cultural and natural heritage. This establishment is run by a director appointed by decree, and managed by an Advisory Board which includes representatives of the various ministerial departments and local representatives. It has an annual operating budget for the implementation of the Action Plan, in the framework of a participatory management policy integrating the different partners, and a capital budget for the realization of major development projects and infrastructures."
From about 6000 BC to the early centuries of the Christian era, the various peoples who inhabited this plateau left numerous traces in the archaeological record, also paintings and rock engravings. This art covers several periods, each of which corresponds to a particular fauna, yet each can equally be characterized by stylistic differences, without reference to an ecosystem: the naturalistic period, the Bovidian period, the Equidian period, covering the end of the Neolithic and protohistoric periods, and the Cameline period, during the first centuries of the Christian era.
- Oldest initial date /building and inauguration date: The paintings and engravings were discovered on 1933.
- Original and successive owners: Algerian Government.
5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION
5.1. Natural heritage
- Heritage: Rural
- Geography: Plain
- Site topography: Natural
- Climate and environmental conditions: The highest point on the ridge, at 2158 m, is Mt. Afao (25°09'N/8°12'E). Maximum temperatures on the high plateau are seldom in excess of 32°C, while winter minima are usually 1-2°C, although frosts occur on the peaks and snow has been recorded several times. Rain over the Tassili N'Ajjer is scant and annually very variable. The mean annual receipt is probably close to 25 mm, but in some years as much as 150 mm may be received locally. This usually falls as a consequence of storms arising from temporary and very turbulent projections of the intertropical front, which push northwards to the A'Haggar region. The maximum recorded flood on the Oued Imerhou extended 270 km below the source, and flowing surface water has persisted in the Oued Iherir for up to 6 months of the year.
- Geological and Geographical characteristics: The geological conformation of Tassili n'Ajjer includes Precambrian crystalline elements and sedimentary sandstone successions of great paleo-geographical and paleo-ecological interest. The plateau has great geological and aesthetic interest: the panorama of geological formations with "rock forests" of eroded sandstone resembles a strange lunar landscape. The unique rock formations and networks of steep-sided valleys of the plateau are a result of the alternation of wet and dry periods. At the end of the Upper Pleistocene, for example, there were huge lakes in the region, in what are today the great Ergs. The lakes were fed by rivers flowing down the Tassili, and dry river beds remain from this period. The action of the rivers on the surface of the plateau formed deep gorges and separate plateaux. Over the last 10,000 years the area has become steadily drier, although this process was reversed by a more humid period from 4000 BC to 2000 BC. Wind erosion during dryer periods has formed rock formations which resemble ruins, known as 'stone forests'. Also, over 300 permanent gueltas (ponds) are known to occur in the Tassili N'Ajjer which is a high sandstone plateau extending northeastwards from the A'Haggar Massif. It descends to a lower plateau along a scarp line running in a gentle arc from southeast to northwest, while a mountainous ridge surmounts the plateau, running roughly parallel to the escarpment, but some 30-50 km back from it. The slopes of this Mt. Afao are drained by a dendritic system of oueds, culminating in the Oued Imirhou. This watercourse, and its principal affluents, the Oueds Iherir and Torset, all traverse deep gorges running NE to the lower plain where they swing NW to lose themselves under the sands of the Erg Issaounane west of Illizi (26°32'N/8°33'E), 535 m asl.
The plants and animals found on the plateau bear witness to former wetter periods. Relict species surviving in wet microclimates include fish and shrimp and, until the 1940s, a dwarf Saharan crocodile, many thousands of kilometres from the nearest population in Egypt. Because of the altitude and the water-holding properties of the sandstone, the vegetation in this site is somewhat richer than in the surrounding desert, it includes a very scattered woodland of the endangered endemic species Saharan Cypress and Saharan Myrtle in the higher eastern half of the range. In the gueltas of Tassili N’Ajjer, filamentous green algae occur around the rims of rocky gueltas, and Volvox spp. are common in the phytoplankton of some. However, the margins of most are fringed by stands of Typha capensis, in belts up to 10 m wide, but Phragmites australis is less important, and is absent from many gueltas. Polygonum sp. occurs on the margins of a few. Submerged species include Ceratophyllum demersum, Myriophyllum spicatum, Potamogeton spp., and Utricularia spp. and Characeae. Nerium oleander and Tamarix gallica are abundant along the oued beds in most valleys, with Acacia nilotica and Hyphaene thebaica on the banks of many. Occasional trees of Olea laperrinii grow along the Oued Iherir. Phoenix dactylifera has been planted in great numbers in suitable sites in all valleys.
Among animals the poriferan Spongilla carteri has been recorded in some gueltas, together with the bryozoan Fredericella sultana. There is in fact, a remarkably diverse invertebrate fauna, including several relict species, and with representatives of both the Afrotropical and Palaearctic realms. This includes the vectors of bilharzia and malaria. Among the fishes are Barbus biscarensis (Palaearctic), Barbus deserti (Afrotropical), Clarias anguillaris, C. gariepinus and Tilapia zillii. These species do not necessarily occur together. Bufo viridis, Ptychadena occipitalis and P. mascareniensis are the principal amphibians. Crocodylus niloticus is now extinct, but survived here at least until 1924. Among notable mammals, Felis chaus, a true wetland species, occurs here (other occurrences in the A’Haggar and Nile Delta), together with F. margarita.
Land uses and economical activities:During the prehistoric period Tassili benefited from climatic conditions which were more favourable to human occupation. The abundance of game, the possibilities of animal husbandry and of pastoral life which lay within immediate proximity of impregnable defensive sites constituted the basic factors which favoured population development. Cereals (wheat), dates, figs, grapes, and root crops are produced in the valleys, where the resident population has fluctuated this century but has generally been several thousand, continuously more than 1000 along the Oued Iherir alone. Fish are taken from the gueltas and camels, cattle and goats are grazed. Typha is used for thatching and making mats, and part of the stem is eaten as a vegetable. There is some tourism, people coming to visit the frescoes found on the plateau, but very little interference. A number of wells have been dug in the Oued Tadjeradjeri system, together with irrigation canals to lead the water to the village of Arharhar, but these have fallen into disuse since the development of oil fields at In Amenas. This development has probably reduced the population throughout the region in recent years.
Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:Cereals (wheat), figs, grapes, and root crops are produced in the valleys. Phoenix dactylifera has been planted in great numbers in suitable sites in all valleys.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:
The plateau of Tassili N’Ajjer is of of outstanding scenic, geological and aesthetic interest: the panorama of geological formations with “rock forests” of eroded sandstone resembles a strange lunar landscape. Also the gueltas, the gorges, the watercourses, the Iherir and Torset Valley, the Erg Issaounane…make this landscape one of the most beatiful of Algeria. In Tassili N’Ajjer there is one of the most important groupings of prehistoric cave art in the world. More than 15,000 drawings and engravings record the climatic changes, the animal migrations and the evolution of human life on the edge of the Sahara from 6000 BC to the first centuries of the present era.
5.2. Cultural Heritage
A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general
In the case of gardens: original and current style:It is not the case.
B) Related to ancient remains
- Archaeological components:
From about 6000 BC to the early centuries of the Christian era, the various peoples who inhabited this plateau left numerous traces in the archaeological record: settlements, tumuli and enclosures that have yielded abundant ceramic material. However, Tassili owes its world renown to the paintings and the rock engravings of all kinds found since 1933. This art covers several periods, each of which corresponds to a particular fauna, yet each can equally be characterized by stylistic differences, without reference to an ecosystem. Five different periods can be identified: the naturalistic period, in which the fauna of the savannah is depicted, the archaic period, when small schematic figures or colossal forms assume the aspects of pictograms charged with an evident magical significance, the Bovidian period (4000-1500 BC), the dominant period in terms of the number of paintings, during which the representation of bovine herds and the scenes of daily life, incorporating a renewed naturalistic aesthetic, are among the best known examples of prehistoric mural art, the Equidian period, covering the end of the Neolithic and protohistoric periods, which corresponds to the disappearance of numerous species from the effects of progressive desiccation and to the appearance of the horse, and the Cameline period, during the first centuries of the Christian era, coinciding with the onset of the hyper-arid desert climate and with the appearance of the dromedary. This site has one of the most important groups of prehistoric cave art in the world. The most important group of paintings is situated to the east of Djanet in the National Park, other remarkable works of rock art are located to the north, in the region of the Wadi Djerat near Illizi.
- Traces in the environment of human activity: The rock art of Tassili n'Ajjer (discoverded on 1933), is the most eloquent expression of relationships between humans and the environment, with more than 15,000 drawings and engravings testifying to climate changes, wildlife migrations, and the evolution of humankind on the edge of the Sahara.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values
- Population, ethnic groups: The area has certainly been continuously inhabited since Neolithic times.
- Languages and dialects: Arabic
- Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: In his 1992 book Food of the Gods, new-age icon Terence McKenna hypothesized 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.
Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:The research programmes underway in the Park respond, firstly, to the major challenges in the conservation of the fragile and vulnerable cultural and natural heritage subjected to extreme weather conditions, then to the demands of socialization, education and the promotion of best practices for the sustainable use of the cultural and natural diversity amongst the park residents. The property management also reflects the strong regional value of Tassili n'Ajjer as one of the essential elements of an ecological belt, which includes plant and animal species typical of the Sahara, as well as tropical and Mediterranean species, adapted to the rigors of the climate. Tourism activity which generates income and jobs for local people is subject to conditions which ensure better use of natural and cultural resources. Tourism is strictly controlled, the groups of visitors are always accompanied by an official guide. One of the long-term imperatives in this immense property will remain tourism management.
Quality of the night sky, light pollution and possibility to observe the stars:Desert is a privileged site to breath in silence, to find ourselves and to observe the pure beauty of nature, including the stars that are brighting in the night sky, free of light pollution.
Perspectives/Views/ Points of interest/Setting:
-Paintings and engravings, and archaeological remains. -Forest rocks. -The gueltas of Tassili N’Ajjer, gorges, watercourses, etc… -Ilerir Valley.
Authenticity:The richness of the cultural heritage of rock art and archaeological vestiges, together with the natural diversity of the ecosystem, fauna, flora and wetlands, fully reflect Outstanding Universal Value. It is vulnerable to deterioration caused by climatic phenomena, and to damage caused by visitors.
Universality:Med-O-Med subscribes to UNESCO criteria (Worl Heritage List (i)(iii)(vii) for Tassili N'Ajjer: (i): The impressive array of paintings and rock engravings of various periods gives world recognition to the property. The representations of the Round Heads Period evoke possible magic-religious practices some 10,000 years old, whereas the representations of the Cattle Period depicting daily and social life, and which are amongst the most famous prehistoric parietal art, have an aesthetic naturalistic realism. The last images represent the taming of horses and camels. (iii): The rock art images cover a period of about 10,000 years. With the archaeological remains, they testify in a particularly lively manner to climate changes, changes in fauna and flora, and particularly to possibilities provided for farming and pastoral life linked to impregnable defensive sites during certain prehistoric periods. (vii): With the eroded sandstone forming "rock forests", the property is of remarkable scenic interest. The sandstone has kept intact the traces and marks of the major geological and climatic events. The corrosive effects of water, and then wind, have contributed to the formation of a particular morphology, that of a plateau carved by water and softened by the wind. (viii): The geological conformation of Tassili N'Ajjer includes Precambrian crystalline elements and sedimentary sandstone successions of great paleo-geographical and paleo-ecological interest.
Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):
Tassili N’Ajjer and its Cultural Landscape is one of all of the cultural landscapes of Algeria which are included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/179 http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/179/video http://www.protectedplanet.net/sites/La_Vallee_D_Iherir_Wetlands_Of_International_Importance_RAMSAR http://www.protectedplanet.net/sites/Tassili_N_Ajjer_World_Heritage_Site http://www.protectedplanet.net/sites/Tassili_N_Ajjer_Unescomab_Biosphere_Reserve http://www.protectedplanet.net/sites/Tassili_N_Ajjer_National_Park Http://RAMSAR.wetlands.org/Database/SearchforRAMSARsites/tabid/765/Default.aspx http://RAMSAR.wetlands.org/Portals/15/ALGERIA.pdf http://naturalarches.org/tassili/ -Hughes, R. H and Hughes, J.S. (1992). A Directory of African Wetlands. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambrigde, UK, UNEP, Nairobi, Kenia/ WCMC, Cambridge, UK, xxxiv+820 pp., 48 maps. – Holl, A. (2004). Saharan Rock Art, Archaeology of Tassilian Pastoralist Icongraphy. -Lajoux, J.D. (1977). Tassili n’Ajjer: Art Rupestre du Sahara Préhistorique Paris, Le Chêne. -Lajoux, J.D. (1962), Merveilles du Tassili n’Ajjer (The rock paintings of Tassili in translation), Le Chêne, Paris. -Le Quellec, J-L. (1998). Art Rupestre et Prehistoire du Sahara. Le Messak Libyen Paris: Editions Payot et Rivages, Bibliothèque Scientifique Payot. -Lhote, H. (1959, reprinted 1973). The Search for the Tassili Frescoes: The story of the prehistoric rock-paintings of the Sahara London. -RAMSAR. (2013). The List of Wetlands of International Importance. -UNESCO. (2001). Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage. World Heritage Committee. 25 session. Helsinki, Finland. -UNESCO. (2002). Cultural Landscapes: the Challenges of Conservation. Associated Workshops, World Heritage. Ferrara , Italy.
Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías.