Located in the centre of North Africa, landlocked Chad stretches from the Sahara Desert in the north to the savannah in the south. The country boasts thousands of rock engravings and paintings located in two main areas: the Ennedi Plateau and the Tibesti Mountains, both to the north. The depictions – the oldest of which date back to the fifth millennium BC – represent wild animals, cattle and human figures. Paintings of highly detailed riders on camels and horses are especially numerous, as are groups of people around huts. Chadian rock art is particularly well known for its variety of local styles, and it includes some of the richest examples of Saharan rock art.View featured rock art site
Mostly 5000 BC to AD 1700
Tibesti Mountains, Ennedi Plateau
Boats, cattle, wild animals, inscriptions
Located in the centre of North Africa, landlocked Chad stretches from the Sahara Desert in the north to the savannah in the south. The country boasts thousands of rock engravings and paintings located in two main areas: the Ennedi Plateau and the Tibesti Mountains, both to the north. The depictions – the oldest of which date back to the fifth millennium BC – represent wild animals, cattle and human figures. Paintings of highly detailed riders on camels and horses are especially numerous, as are groups of people around huts. Chadian rock art is particularly well known for its variety of local styles, and it includes some of the richest examples of Saharan rock art.
Geography and rock art distribution
The north-south orientation of Chad’s elongated shape means it is divided into several different climatic zones: the northern part belongs to the Sahara Desert, while the central area is included in the Sahel border (the semi-arid region south of the Sahara). The southern third of the country is characterized by a more fertile savannah. The Ennedi Plateau and Tibesti mountains contain thousands of pieces of rock art, including some of the most famous examples in the Sahara. The Ennedi Plateau is located at the north-eastern corner of Chad, on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. It is a sandstone massif carved by erosion in a series of superimposed terraces, alternating plains and ragged cliffs crossed by wadis (seasonal rivers). Unlike other areas in the Sahara with rock art engravings or paintings, the Ennedi Plateau receives rain regularly – if sparsely – during the summer, making it a more benign environment for human life than other areas with significant rock art to the north, such as the Messak plateau or the Tassili Mountains in Libya and Algeria.
The Tibesti Mountains are situated at the north-western corner of Chad, and partly extend into Libya. The central area of the Tibesti Mountains is volcanic in origin, with one third of the range covered by five volcanoes. This has resulted in vast plateaux as well as fumaroles, sulphur and natron deposits and other geological formations. The erosion has shaped large canyons where wadis flow irregularly, and where most of the rock art depictions are situated. Paintings and engravings are common in both regions: the former are more often found in the Ennedi Plateau; the latter are predominant in the Tibesti Mountains.
Different areas of Chad have been subject to varying trajectories of research. In the Tibesti Mountains, rock art was known to Europeans as early as 1869, although it was between the 1910s and 1930s that the first studies started to be carried out, by François D’Alverny. However, the main boost in research came in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to the work of Paul Huard. Over the last 50 years, researchers have found thousands of depictions throughout the region, most of them engravings, although paintings are also well represented.
In the case of the Ennedi Plateau, its isolated position far from the main trade routes made its rock art unknown outside the area until the 1930s. During this decade, Burthe d’Annelet brought attention to the art, and De Saint-Floris published the first paper on the subject. The main effort to document this rock art came in 1956-1957, when Gerard Bailloud recorded more than 500 sites in only a sixth of the plateau’s entire area.
As in the rest of the Sahara, the main themes in Chadian rock art are directly linked to the chronology. The oldest depictions are of wild animals, but most common are later scenes with cattle, huts and people. As in other areas of the Sahara, the most recent depictions correspond to battle scenes of riders on horses and camels. Along with these main subjects, both areas have examples of very detailed scenes of daily life and human activities, including people playing music, visiting the sick or dancing. The rock art of both the Ennedi Plateau and the Tibesti regions is characterized by the existence of a variety of local styles, such as the so-called ‘Flying Gallop style’, sometimes simultaneous, sometimes successive. This variability means an enormous richness of techniques, themes and artistic conventions, with some of the most original styles in Saharan rock art.
The oldest engravings in Chad are more recent than those to the north, having started to appear in the 5th to 4th millennia BC, and can be broadly divided into three main periods:
The oldest is the so-called Archaic Period, characterized by wild animals in the Ennedi Plateau and Round Head-style figures in the Tibesti Mountains, similar to those found in the Central Sahara. The second phase is named the Bovine or Pastoral Period, when domestic cattle are the predominant animals, and a third, late period named the Dromedary or Camel Period. Unlike other areas in the Sahara, horse and camel depictions appear to be from roughly the same period (although horses were introduced to the Sahara first), so they are included in a generic Camel Period. The end of the rock art tradition in both areas is difficult to establish, but it seems to have lasted at least until the seventeenth century in the Ennedi Plateau, much longer than in other areas of the Sahara.