Roundhead rock art in the central Sahara

Rock art in the southern part of Libya goes through several phases, the earliest depicting people is the Roundhead style. The Roundhead style dates from about 9,000 BP to to time of the Neolithic about 6,600 BP). It was predated by the Bubalis or large wild fauna stage which dates from 11,000 BP, and it was replaced by the Bovidian pastoral style. The two groups depicted in the Roundhead and Pastoral styles seem to be quite different. The older Roundheads look very much like black Africans, many with white paint showing sharply on the dark skin and clear Negroid profiles and hair; but the later pastoral period usually shows the  light skinned population that is typical of modern North Africa, with some Fulani-like people also in evidence (possibly a hybrid people of the older Roundheads and newer Neolithic peoples). The Roundhead painters seem to be culturally and  physically different to the coastal Capsian cultures and never show up near the coastal areas, being limited to the mountains of Southern Libya and Algeria. Pottery is found in the Roundhead sites, but not in the coastal Capsian culture; the Capsian of coastal north Africa is aceramic until the Neolithic arrives; about 7,700 BP.

Most of the art seems to be ritual in nature, and there’s no suggestion of pastoralism in the art. These people had pottery, and its people related to these that were found at the Uan Muhuggiag site (Libya) and at Amekni (Algeria). In later eras they started intensively harvesting wild grains, and wavy line pottery is found at their sites. These people were penning wild Barbary sheep at Uan Afada about 9,000 BP, and probably wild cattle at Nabta. They seem to be connected to wavy line pottery groups all over the Sahara, and seem to have a central point of origin probably in Southern Libya/North Chad into South Western Egypt, expanding  into the central Sahara and Nubia, displacing the older Saharan populations from Niger and Mali that had survived the end of the Iberomaraussian peroid. My guess is they were Nilo Saharan speakers, due to the area they covered.

Round Head” at Afa II (Mori). Locality of  Ti-n- Bersaula

Uan Afaris. The five people (top right) probably belong to the “Early Pastoral.

Figure from Algeria

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Horned ‘goddess’ from Inaouanrhat, Tassili N Ajjer. The Black Lady (La Dame Noir) in the Sefar Area.

Black ladies, and a ‘Martian’ from Tasilli (I’ve no idea of what it shows- and neither does anyone else).


Unknown woman,  the Great god of Sefar.

A comparison of the difference between the two groups …


 The Archers of Tin Aboteka (Roundhead) and a Pastoral art Neolithic herder. As you can see, very different to each other.


7 responses to “Roundhead rock art in the central Sahara

  1. What’s a “black African?” Can you define that — not merely for 2009, but more broadly. Thanks.

  2. Hi,
    the Black “ladies” are men, they have no breast and their attributes are typical for Round Head males.
    I found some very useful articles on your blog, many thanks!

  3. Quite a few of the paintings in the pastoral style seem to show black Africans too. My impression was that the paintings of lighter pastoralists tended to occur slightly toward the end of the pastoral period (in the cases of southern Algeria and Lybia) and were associated with the arrival of Afro-Asiatic speaking ancestral Berbers. (perhaps a the former represent a later, post roundhead wave of pastoralist Nilo-Saharans from the East?)
    The culture of the latter group certainly seems distinct from that of the black pastoralists, especially in their clothing, and their use of domestic caprines.

    likely black Africans with cattle from Tassilli N’Ajer, Algeria:

  4. The Archers of Tin Aboteka is generally thought to come from the early cattle period. It tends to resemble these paintings more closely and lacks the distinctive stylizatons of those in the roundhead style.

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