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Early Somali Life Depicted In Cave Paintings

April 25, 2011

Known today for its bloody conflicts and instability, Somalia’s little known history can be found in the colorful cave paintings of animals and humans discovered in 2002 by a French archaeology team.

Laas Gaal, Somalia (also known as Laas Geel), just outside of Haregeisa, the capital of Somalia’s self-declared Somaliland state, contains 10 caves that show vivid depictions of a pastoralist history which dates back to some 5,000 years or more, reports AFP.

A French archaeology team was sent in 2002 to survey Somalia in search of rock shelters and caves that might contain stratified archaeological infills that could document the period when production economy appeared in this part of the Horn of Africa, according to Wikipedia.

During the survey, the Laas Geel cave paintings were discovered. The paintings were in excellent condition, depicting ancient humans who lived in the area raising their hands and worshipping humpless cows with large lyre-shaped horns.

Although the paintings were known to the local Somali people for centuries, it was not advertised to the international community until a team of experts returned to the area in November 2003 to study the paintings and their prehistoric context in detail.

Even with the history of Somalia wars, natural weathering, animals and other factors, the paintings have been well preserved and have retained their clear outlines and vibrant colors.

Sada Mire, a Somali-born British archaeologist who is working to preserve the rare heritage, explained to AFP that the paintings of decorated cows, herders and wild animals show a period when the region that is now the barren Horn of Africa was lush and had plenty of wild animals.

Laas Gaal, translated to mean “camel watering hole,” no longer attracts herds of cattle to graze and water. Human settlement is sparse and the land is dry and parched.

Mire says, “We know that the painters were pastoralists who lived in a much better climate than the present.”

According to Wikipedia, the local nomads used the caves as a shelter when it rained. They never paid much attention to the paintings until its value was apparent.

Some locals actually believed that the paintings were the works of evil spirits.

“The people around here thought the caves had evil spirits and never used to come near. They offered sacrifices not to be harmed,” Ali Said, an assistant archaeologist with the Somaliland government says.

The site is now guarded by the local villagers and protected from looters.

“It is quite an important discovery as little is known about the history of this region and lots of archaeological heritage is being lost to destruction, looting and neglect,” Mire says.

“The paintings are vanishing if urgent conservation measures are not taken. At the moment we are protecting and recording them. Weathering as well as human threat in terms of unplanned development are immediate treats,” she warns.

Somaliland authorities hope to capitalize on these paintings when stability returns to the region and brings tourists.

“People now appreciate these (rock) paintings and they hope they will attract tourism which will benefit them,” Said tells AFP as he points to a cluster of small drawings of wild animals in one of the caves.

“The government is encouraging those who can to build hotels and resorts around here (Laas Geel) to host tourists,” he adds.

Image Caption: Some of the paintings in the Laas Geel caves. Credit: Abdullah Geelah/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)




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