A trip to the Art Gallery.

A trip to the Art Gallery. Libyan Rock Art.


Little did we know that at the end of January 2011 our season of Archaeological work in Libya could well be the last for a year or two.   As the team sorted out all the finds from a very successful month’s work, those of us whose work was finished had some time to enjoy the sights before the long haul home.  Nick Drake, a senior Geographer and myself, decided to visit the rock art at Wadi Ti-n-Iblal.  A hand written waypoint in the Profs. notebook told us roughly where to head for and some local knowledge pinpointed the spot where we should leave the road and head into the desert.  There was a casual mention of a police checkpoint somewhere near the road end of the Wadi, so we were well prepared with various permits and what we call, ‘get out of jail free’ letters.


We packed a light lunch, plenty of water and a couple of Jerry Cans of diesel - just in case and, equipped with all we should need, made an early start east along the road towards Murzuq.  It is a road riddled with checkpoints where our various bits of paperwork were checked and nodded at before we were allowed to continue with our journey.  These persistent stops are tiresome but are probably far more numerous and hazardous now, since the fall of the Ghadafi regime.


After a couple of hours driving we came to the old tyre upended in the sand that marked the entrance to the Wadi. The going was easy - a flat track through firm well used sand, following the course of a wide Wadi with occasional bits of vegetation.   Way over to the right of the track we saw what looked like some migrant shepherds with a ramshackled hut and a battered pick-up truck waving at us.   We were somewhat surprised five minutes later to see the same pick-up looming big in the mirror with the two ‘shepherds’ in the front, one brandishing an AK47!  They overtook us on a particularly rutted bit of track and had the situation not been so alarming it would have been comical.  The pick-ups' shock absorbers were not at their best and the whole rig was bouncing at least a foot in the air, whilst one hung onto the steering wheel and the other tried not to shoot anything by accident!



Sharp rocks, steep climbs and relentless bureaucracy protect this

rock art from casual tourists.


When we all stopped we thought it best to adopt the ‘Englishman in trouble abroad’ policy and smile a lot.  This worked to a point and they did not shoot us.  It transpired they were the Police Checkpoint we had been told about, so we showed them our papers and the situation calmed down.  Satisfied we were not smugglers they let us continue, but gestured that we should call in on the way back.


Clear of beauraucracy we continued to a spot marked by four small tombs where we had to begin our climb onto a plateau.  This was some climb; rough shale, sharp stones and steep enough to require 1st and 2nd, low ratio.  It was a case of picking the route with the least danger and listening as the tyres scrabbled for grip.   Having cleared the climb we were on a flat plateau following a well marked track for about 20 miles, then we dipped down into the Wadi where the rock art was alleged to be.  



Life sized elephant and giraffe carved into this rock face anything up to 7000 years ago.


Dumping the Carawagon we walked up and down the Wadi where our perseverance was rewarded by a stunning exhibition of carved rock art.  Thought to be anything up to 7000 years old the pictures depicted giraffes, elephants, ostriches and hunters - many of them life size.  The artwork must have taken years to carve, for instance, a life sized elephant using nothing more that a stone tool.  Not only is the physical effort impressive, but their understanding of proportion and representation was spot on too.   These pictures and many others like them add weight to the geographical evidence of how the Sahara was once all lush prairie supporting a varied selection of animals and nomadic tribes.



Toby photographing an illustration of a cow.  At least it stood still!


Our trip complete Nick and I headed back across the plateau, down the steep track and out into the Wadi, but this time remembering to call in at the Checkpoint to announce our departure to the two rather bored policemen who invited us to share tea.  Regrettably we had too far to travel before nightfall so made an excuse and headed for home.  Two weeks later we were back in Blighty, but the Libya we had known was beginning the process of change that we are still witnessing now.  A change for the better we all hope. 


Copyright Toby Savage.