Tassili n'Ajjer

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Tassili n'Ajjer
UNESCO World Heritage site
Tassili n’Ajjer National Park NASA Landsat 7 (2000).jpg
Landsat multilayer image of Tassili n'Ajjer
Location Algeria
Includes Tassili National Park, La Vallée d'Iherir Ramsar Wetland
Criteria Cultural and Natural: (i), (iii), (vii), (viii)
Reference 179
Inscription 1982 (6th Session)
Area 7,200,000 ha (28,000 sq mi)
Coordinates 25°30′N 9°0′E / 25.500°N 9.000°E / 25.500; 9.000Coordinates: 25°30′N 9°0′E / 25.500°N 9.000°E / 25.500; 9.000
IUCN category II (national park)
Location Tamanrasset Province, Algeria
Established 1972
Official name La Vallée d'Iherir
Designated 2 February 2001
Reference no. 1057[1]
Tassili n'Ajjer is located in Algeria
Tassili n'Ajjer
Location of Tassili n'Ajjer in Algeria

Tassili n'Ajjer (Berber: Tasili n Ajjer, Arabic: طاسيلي ناجر‎; "Plateau of the Rivers") is a national park in the Sahara desert, located on a vast plateau in south-east Algeria. Having one of the most important groupings of prehistoric cave art in the world,[2][3] and covering an area of over 72,000 km2 (28,000 sq mi),[4] Tassili n'Ajjer was inducted into UNESCO's World Heritage Site list in 1982.

Prehistoric art[edit]

The rock formation is an archaeological site, noted for its numerous prehistoric parietal works of rock art, first reported in 1910,[4] that date to the early Neolithic era at the end of the last glacial period during which the Sahara was a habitable savanna rather than the current desert. Although sources vary considerably, the earliest pieces of art are assumed to be 12,000 years old.[5] The vast majority date to the 9th and 10th millennia BP or younger, according to OSL dating of associated sediments.[6] Among the 15,000 engravings so far identified depicted are large wild animals including antelopes and crocodiles, cattle herds and humans that engage in activities such as hunting and dancing.[7] According to UNESCO, "The exceptional density of paintings and engravings...have made Tassili world famous."[8]


Tassili n'Ajjer is a vast plateau in south-east Algeria at the borders of Libya, Niger and Mali, covering an area of 72,000 km2.[2] It ranges from 26°20′N 5°00′E / 26.333°N 5.000°E / 26.333; 5.000 east-south-east to 24°00′N 10°00′E / 24.000°N 10.000°E / 24.000; 10.000. Its highest point is the Adrar Afao that peaks at 2,158 m (7,080 ft), located at 25°10′N 8°11′E / 25.167°N 8.183°E / 25.167; 8.183. The nearest town is Djanet, situated around 10 km (6.2 mi) southwest of Tassili n'Ajjer. The archaeological site has been designated a national park, a Biosphere Reserve (cypresses) and was induced into UNESCO's World Heritage Site list as Tassili n'Ajjer National Park.[9]

The plateau is also of great geological and aesthetic interest. Its panorama of geological formations of rock forests, which comprises eroded sandstone, resembles a strange lunar landscape.[10]


The range is composed largely of sandstone.[7] The sandstone is stained by a thin outer layer of deposited metallic oxides which color the rock formations anywhere from near-black to dull red.[7] Erosion in the area has resulted in nearly 300 natural rock arches being formed, along with many other spectacular landforms.


Because of the altitude and the water-holding properties of the sandstone, the vegetation here is somewhat richer than in the surrounding desert; it includes a very scattered woodland of the endangered endemic species Saharan Cypress and Saharan Myrtle in the higher eastern half of the range.[7]

The ecology of the Tassili n'Ajjer is more fully described in the article West Saharan montane xeric woodlands, the ecoregion to which this area belongs. The literal English translation of Tassili n'Ajjer is 'Plateau of the rivers'[citation needed] referring to a time when the climate was repeatedly far wetter than it is today (see Neolithic Subpluvial).

Relict populations of the West African crocodile persisted in the Tassili n'Ajjer until the 20th century.[11] Various other fauna still reside on the plateau, including mouflons, the only surviving type of the larger mammals depicted in the area's rock paintings.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Tassili is the recording location and the title of a 2011 album by the Tuareg-Berber band Tinariwen.
  • In his 1992 book Food of the Gods, new-age icon Terence McKenna hypothesized that the Neolithic culture that inhabited the site used psilocybin mushrooms as part of its religious ritual life, citing rock paintings showing persons holding mushroom-like objects in their hands, as well as mushrooms growing from their bodies.[12]
  • Tassili Plain is a track on the 1994 album Natural Wonders of the World in Dub by dub group Zion Train.


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bahn, Paul G. (1998) The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Bradley, R (2000) An archaeology of natural places London, Routledge.
  • Bruce-Lockhart, J and Wright, J (2000) Difficult and Dangerous Roads: Hugh Clapperton's Travels in the Sahara and Fezzan 1822-1825
  • Chippindale, Chris and Tacon, S-C (eds) (1998) The Archaeology of Rock Art Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Clottes, J. (2002): World Rock Art. Los Angeles: Getty Publications.
  • Coulson, D and Campbell, Alec (2001) African Rock Art: Paintings and Engravings on Stone New York, Harry N Abrams.
  • Frison-Roche, Roger (1965) Carnets Sahariens Paris, Flammarion
  • Holl, Augustin F.C. (2004) Saharan Rock Art, Archaeology of Tassilian Pastoralist Icongraphy
  • Lajoux, Jean-Dominique (1977) Tassili n'Ajjer: Art Rupestre du Sahara Préhistorique Paris, Le Chêne.
  • Lajoux, Jean-Dominique (1962), Merveilles du Tassili n'Ajjer (The rock paintings of Tassili in translation), Le Chêne, Paris.
  • Le Quellec, J-L (1998) Art Rupestre et Prehistoire du Sahara. Le Messak Libyen Paris: Editions Payot et Rivages, Bibliothèque Scientifique Payot.
  • Lhote, Henri (1959, reprinted 1973) The Search for the Tassili Frescoes: The story of the prehistoric rock-paintings of the Sahara London.
  • Lhote, Henri (1958, 1973, 1992, 2006) À la découverte des fresques du Tassili, Arthaud, Paris.
  • Mattingly, D (ed) (forthcoming) The archaeology of the Fezzan.
  • Muzzolini, A (1997) "Saharan Rock Art", in Vogel, J O (ed) Encyclopedia of Precolonial Africa Walnut Creek: 347-353.
  • Van Albada, A. and Van Albada, A.-M. (2000): La Montagne des Hommes-Chiens: Art Rupestre du Messak Lybien Paris, Seuil.
  • Whitley, D S (ed) (2001) Handbook of Rock Art Research New York: Altamira Press.


  1. ^ "La Vallée d'Iherir". Ramsar Sites Information Service. Retrieved 25 April 2018. 
  2. ^ a b Centre, UNESCO World Heritage (11 Oct 2017). "Tassili n'Ajjer". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. 
  3. ^ "Rock Art of the Tassili n Ajjer, Algeria" (PDF). Africanrockart.org. Retrieved February 7, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b "Tassili-n-Ajjer". britannica. Retrieved February 7, 2017. 
  5. ^ "Tassili N'Ajjer (Algeria)". Africanworldheritagesites.org. Retrieved February 7, 2017. 
  6. ^ "OSL dating of quaternary deposits associated with the parietal art of the Tassili-n-Ajjer plateau (Central Sahara)". Quaternary Geochronology. 10: 367–373. July 2012. doi:10.1016/j.quageo.2011.11.010. Retrieved 7 March 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Scheffel, Richard L.; Wernet, Susan J., eds. (1980). Natural Wonders of the World. United States of America: Reader's Digest Association, Inc. pp. 371–372. ISBN 0-89577-087-3. 
  8. ^ "Tassili n'Ajer". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 7 March 2013. 
  9. ^ "Tassili n'Ajjer National Park, Djanet". Algeria.com. Retrieved February 7, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Tassili National Park, Sahara Algeria". Archmillennium.net. Retrieved 2012-12-16. 
  11. ^ "Crocodiles in the Sahara Desert: An Update of Distribution, Habitats and Population Status for Conservation Planning in Mauritania". PLOS ONE. 25 February 2011.
  12. ^ McKenna, Terence (1992). Food of the Gods. United States and Canada: Bantam Books. pp. 72, 73. ISBN 0-553-07868-2. 

External links[edit]