Archaeological discoveries

The Giraffes of Dabous, the largest animal petroglyphs in the world, created 10,000 years ago

On the Djado Plateau , a small 20,000 square kilometer region northeast of Niger first explored by Europeans in 1906, are the impressive ruins of several fortified cities built approximately 1,000 years ago. But even more amazing are the nearby Ténéré desert petroglyphs , among which is the largest in the world, the Giraffes of Dabous , which archaeologists date to between 9,000 and 5,000 B.C.

Although the Djado plateau is practically uninhabited today, there is evidence of human presence in the area for at least 60,000 years, when the area was not yet a desert (in fact, the plateau is still today a kind of island of vegetation in the middle of the Sahara). Up to 828 prehistoric petroglyphs were found nearby , images engraved on the rock made during the Neolithic era. Of these, 704 correspond to animals, 61 are human figures, and another 159 have not been clearly identified.

These petroglyphs are testimony to the ancient fauna of the place, before it became a desert around 2000 BC. They show cattle, giraffes, ostriches, antelopes, lions, rhinos, and camels, all of which had already disappeared by the time the city of Djado began to prosper.

The Dabous Giraffes were discovered by Christian Dupy in 1987, on a steep, rocky spur in the foothills of the nearby Air Mountains. However, they would not be documented until a decade later, in 1997, when David Coulson's photographic expedition revealed them to the world. That is why Coulson is frequently cited as its discoverer. The images caught the attention of archaeologist Jean Clottes, who immediately realized the importance of the find, due to the size, the beauty of the representations and the techniques used. These include a combination of scaling, smoothing and deep contour etching. They are located at a height of 15 meters on the cornice, and therefore are not visible from the ground.

These are two figures of giraffes practically life-size, since they are about 6 meters high, which makes them the largest petroglyphs of animals in the world . The place where they were found is known as the Rock of Dabous . One of the giraffes is male and the other, smaller, female, and the quality of the engravings is exceptional in terms of detail and proportion. Its dating is estimated between 11,000 and 7,000 years old.

What is not known exactly is how they were made . 10,000 years ago the use of metal was still unknown and the Bronze Age was still many centuries away. The researchers believe that the authors of the petroglyphs could have used petrified wood chisels, which are very abundant in the desert sands, to make the incisions in the rock, later polishing the surface. This artisanal technique, due to the difficulty involved and the amount of time they had to spend to carry out the work, further increases its value and historical and artistic importance.

In the year 2000 the Giraffes of Dabous They were included by UNESCO in the list of monuments in danger of disappearing. Its deterioration is evident despite its remote location and difficult access. Even so, they soon began to suffer the consequences of human degradation, both voluntary and involuntary. Damage from footsteps, graffiti and theft of fragments have been common in recent years. Currently the Bradshaw Foundation is in charge of its protection.