Djanet, rock paintings and men from space
Algeria 20 Feb 1979 to 9 Mar 1979
28 February to 1 March 1979
Djanet is an oasis town, and capital of Djanet District, in Illizi Province, southeast Algeria. It is located 410 km south of the provincial capital, Illizi, which stands at the beginning of our crossing of the Tassili N'Ajjer National Park.
It is inhabited by the Kel Ajjer Tuareg people. According to Wikipedia.
A mere 2000km or so, from Tebessa, our first provision stop in Algeria, driving to the south, one Grand Erg Oriental, one Erg Issaouane and two mountain ranges later, is the important town of Djanet, not least for fuel. The Bedfords had a much better range than some trucks, but it was still a case of fill up where you could.
Unlike the obligatory road permits we did not succeed to get in Southern Turkey, we did obtain the right piece of paper at In Amenas, to continue southbound, but not all the way to Tamanrasset. Only as far as Djanet. We were yet to understand the consequences of that. We had to stop at Djanet. A particular collaboration and collusion between the police and Daira had the control of the issue of the onward permit to Tam and being allowed to buy fuel. No receipt from Altours, no permit. An effective way to ensure money feeds into the local economy instead of groups just driving through, well avoiding the place altogether.
Altours required all tourists in groups of 8 or more to go on and official tour with them at a minimum charge of 108DA. The equivalent of $25 per person at the time. Between Altours, Diara, and the police they had the situation fully under control. It could have been even wider, because at In Amenas they would not give us a permit all the way to Tam. Djanet was very small so it was easy to see when the tourist arrived in town. So there we were, stitched up, well and truly.
The photo below appears to be of the old ruined town (ksour) of Djanet or D'Janet. It has changed so much that I can't find this view on Bing or Google Maps, although there are some similarities in Google images. The photos don't have GPS so I try to locate or Geo position them using a combination of map satellite images and street map views together with other photos on the internet. The absence of street map views together with the huge development of the town make Geo positioning this photo very difficult at the moment. However, I did find a couple of interesting videos, Desert Djanet Part 1 and Part 2. You may have to polish up your French, or just watch the fun. Their trip was for seven days with camels, ours was to be a more modest one day there and back, walking and climbing under our own steam.
The photo above was taken by Moh Tour, a tour guide in Djanet 2017. Click here for his website. He is a contact on Facebook and was kind enough to take this photo of ksar el mihane, which appears to be in the opposite direction of the my one above it, nearly 40 years apart. A useful article can be read here.
We discussed the enforced excursion with the EMs and came to an agreement to share the cost of the guided tour.
If we had a permit to go directly from In Amenas to Tamanrasset we would have continued on the track to Tam by turning right at Bordj El Haouas. Instead we had to go straight on for another 140km into Djanet, and then back again to Bordj El Haouas with another permit onward to Tam. So, an extra 280 km plus, then $25 multiplied by the crew number, and the best part of two days lost.
However, if it had been any other way we would have missed out on the amazing, plus a lot more superlatives, experience of the Tamrit plateau east of Djanet and the rock paintings we saw there.
Prehistoric Rock Art
The rock formation is an archaeological site, noted for its numerous prehistoric parietal works of rock art, first reported in 1910, that date to the early Neolithic era at the end of the last glacial period during which the Sahara was an inhabitable savanna rather than the current desert. Although sources vary considerably, the earliest pieces of art are assumed to be 12,000 years old, the vast majority date to the 9th and 10th millennia BP or younger, according to OSL dating of associated sediments. 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. According to UNESCO, "The exceptional density of paintings and engravings...have made Tassili world famous.
Not contained in the UNESCO data are the spacemen, extraterrestrials or ancient astronauts mentioned in the book 'Chariots of the Gods?' by Erich von Däniken. Not universally accepted.
The Altours excursion
We left Djanet early in the morning with the truck, all the EMs and an extra person, our Altours excursion guide. Perhaps there was more than one guide. Setting off along another sandy dry river bed we head back into the Tamrit plateau and the Tassili N'Ajjer National Park. Climbing again up and up. The guide indicates that we have travelled in the truck far enough. The truck is parked up in the desert. A rare experience for it. Did somebody stay behind to look after it, and what would be the point if they did? There are never any guns on the Encounter Overland trips as that would cause all sorts of problems at borders and would potentially escalate any problem into disaster in very short time. The rest of the journey would be on foot, in the sun. It very quickly became a step scramble. I have seen other photos with camels or donkeys, presumably hauling lunch up to the top. I don't think we had that luxury. More scrambling, more out of breath, more sweat and toil. Then our goal. The photos tell the story.
Not that we knew about these rock paintings on the way to Djanet. These are a splendid surprise.
There are some many paintings of people and animals.
Some telling stories, perhaps showing hunting of wild animals no longer in the area. But these are not strictly cave paintings. Other similar rock paintings are found in caves away from the damaging sunlight. These are not in a cave, they are painted on to rock out in the open.
In the shade of the rock above, the paintings were done on the inset part of the rock, the plinth if you like. Apparently the weather, wind driven sand and rain erode the base of the rock to form these spectacular shapes and balancing rocks. The deep shade of the overhang has protected the paintings from fading, for thousands of years. Not sure what happened to the erosion elements that created the rock forms in the first place.
Closer, you can see how big the overhang is, and how much shade it provides.
The guide has been here before and is sensible to the heat of the day. Shade is his goal while we are busy taking photos and being amazed. He had introduced us to prehistoric rock art and rock formations that are almost out of this beyond description.
This rock is balancing nicely on its little plinth. A few more millenia of erosion and it might topple of its perch.
Further on, and more rock paintings. This time ones that appear to be from a different world. Some would say astronauts. Some suggest that these ancient rock drawing proof that aliens visited Earth.
Erich von Däniken postulated in his book 'Chariots of the Gods?' in 1968, the hypothesis that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations were given to them by ancient astronauts who were welcomed as gods. Paintings from D'janet were used as examples to support his hypothesis.
There are a mix of filled in and line people in the group, together with a leaping animal at the front.
Time for the return, and you can get some impression of the height from the photo before the descent. It is a long way down. Back to the truck, still there, all intact. An arduous, rewarding and very enjoyable excursion. Pleased for the diversion.
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Map of North Africa with approximate route zoomed in to Djanet with an indicative line for the seperate walking trip to the rock paintings, avoiding giving precise location of the paintings.