Visitors have carved their names next to the prehistoric rock art. Photo taken by our Observer.
One of the most beautiful historic sites in Libya is under threat. Our observer has sounded the alarm over the situation at Tadrart Acacus, a mountain range in the country’s desert south where vandals have been destroying prehistoric rock art dating back thousands of years.
Tadrart Acasus is a rocky massif located near the border with Algeria. Known for its cave paintings, the site spreads over 250 square kilometres and contains thousands of images of humans and animals dating from 12,000 BC to AD 100. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. The site, called one of the most extraordinary panoramas in the world by UNESCO, has been a regular target of vandalism over the past few years.
Mokhtar and Slimane are two Libyans who carved their names a few centimetres from the prehistoric rock art.
“At this rate, even if the security situation improves, there will be nothing left to see here”
Aziz Alhashi works for a magazine from Ghat, the region where the prehistoric site is located.
The Tadrart Acasus site is an open-air museum. It has never benefited from any special protection though tourists have been coming to visit regularly since [Muammar] Gaddafi’s rule. At that time, the tourist guides and foreign visitors were enough to keep vandals at bay. Because of the insecurity in Libya, there are no tourists and no archaeological teams coming to visit and work at Tadrart Acacus anymore [editor’s note: between 1956 and 2011, joint Italian-Libyan archaeological missions were carried out at the site uninterrupted.]The paintings are damaged in two ways. First, some thoughtless people tag the rock faces with their name or the name of their gang, for example, not realising the consequences of their actions. For them, it’s nothing more than engraving their name on a wall, which many Libyans do when they visit places. But there are also those who use chemical products to remove the rock drawings. These people act deliberately. But I don’t know what their motives are.Damaged rock faces. Photo taken by our Observer and published on Facebook by Rabsa Mag.Tags cover ancient rock art."The terrain is too large for the army to cover, especially when their priority is to protect the borders"The Tadrart Acacus desert has diverse flora and fauna. Therefore, many hunters come to the region and have access to the site. I think they are the people responsible for these acts of vandalism. The number of hunters used to be limited in the past; they were mainly residents in the region who knew of the value of these paintings. However, with the circulation of weapons around the country, everyone has taken up hunting.Clearly, the responsibility for protecting the site is up to the state. The Libyan army is present in the region, but the terrain is too large for the military to cover, especially when their priority is to protect the borders.A Libyan soldier takes stock of the vandalism and complains about the lack of funds and support from the state to protect this site. Video filmed and edited by our Observer.We have tried to raise awareness of what’s happening here at a national level, particularly with the country’s large media organisations, but no one wanted to come here and see the scale of the damage. I feel that we, the residents of the region, are the only ones alarmed.At this rate, even if the security situation improves, there will be nothing left here to see. Libyans need to understand the seriousness of their actions. They are destroying a heritage that concerns humanity as a whole, as it informs us of our origins.
Tadrart Acacus is not the only Libyan archaeological site in danger. In 2013, a section of the necropolis in the ancient Greek city of Cyrene, in the country’s north-east, was destroyed by residents who wanted to build homes and businesses there.
In October 2011, just after the fall of the Gaddafi regime, UNESCO organised an international conference to develop an urgent cultural heritage conservation plan in Libya. This is yet to translate into concrete action.
Post written with Sarra Grira (@SarraGrira), journaliste à FRANCE 24.