- Title: LIBYA/ALGERIA: Ancient African rock art vandalised in Libya
- Date: 6th November 2009
- Summary: TRIPOLI, LIBYA (RECENT) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAVID COULSON, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN OF TRUST FOR AFRICAN ROCK ART, SAYING: "Until recently it was assumed that the further you went back the more primitive everybody became. But if you look at the rock art, you realise this was not the case, and there was great, great sophistication in some of the early peoples of this continent."
- Embargoed: 21st November 2009 12:00
- Topics: International Relations
- Reuters ID: LVA11DQ79AOP138COHW9P7X7VKQL
- Story Text: Libya's Jamahiriya museum is most famous for its Roman artefacts, but two recent visitors to the tourist hotspot had just returned from researching artefacts that are many thousands of years older.
David Coulson and Alec Campbell represent the Trust for African Rock Art (TARA), a non-profit organisation which aims to promote and conserve the ancient art.
"What we find in rock art is that there was a great sophistication of artistic eminence even in those days, 10 -12,000 years ago. And rock art is a phenomenon you find in almost every country in the world, but I would say that Libya has probably the finest -- Libya and Algeria anyway -- the finest rock art that exists anywhere on earth, and some of the oldest, so it's very very important," Coulson said.
For years, the pair have visited and catalogued sites across the African continent, but have concentrated on Libya and Algeria in recent years.
The two north African countries are home to paintings, engravings and carvings that have provided new insight into the lives of our ancestors.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) have declared several to be world cultural heritage sites.
Many take days to get to, driving through rough terrain and they are only accessible in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
In their latest visit to Libya, the TARA team were monitoring natural degradation of some vulnerable sites which are unprotected from the elements - wind, sun, rain and sand - but discovered something more worrying.
"What we found was that sights which we had formerly surveyed and photographed ourselves on previous trips had been spraypainted. In other words somebody had literally got from a shop some spraypaint and had covered these paintings, some of which were seven, eight, nine thousand years old, covered them with modern paint, which means that they can never be repaired again, so this is an irretrievable loss," Coulson said.
Rock art is the earliest known artistic expression of human-kind and also identifies the environment of the era, including what animals lived there.
"Until recently it was assumed that the further you went back the more primitive everybody became. But if you look at the rock art, you realise this was not the case, and there was great, great sophistication in some of the early peoples of this continent," added Coulson.
Coulson and Campbell took discussed their most recent findings with Jamahiriya's director Fathiyyah al-Hasawi.
Pre-historic exhibits in the museum show tools and other artefacts used by early man and which played a significant part in Libya's history.
"Pre-historic civilisation, which includes rock art and rock carvings in different areas in the south of the Jamahiriya (Libya), is very important because it tells of human history and civilisation from the past time, from which all that remains are these artefacts. The drawings give us social portraits of the daily life of prehistoric humans," explained al-Hasawi.
Coulson and Campbell hope their visit to Libya will raise awareness about the importance of African Rock Art and its vulnerability. By losing these sites, they say mankind will lose beautiful art but also a critical link to our own history.
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