Morocco is located at the north-western corner of Africa, in a unique area forming a link between the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, Europe and Africa. More than 300 rock art sites have been documented in the country so far, mainly located in two areas: the High Atlas Mountains, and the Sahara desert region to the south and east. They comprise mainly engravings, which could be up to 5,000 years old, and include domestic and wild animals, warriors, weapons and scenes of battles and hunting. Antelope and cattle are the most represented animals in Moroccan rock art, although elephants and rhinoceros are common too.View featured rock art site
Mostly 3,000 BC to AD 700
High Atlas, Draa Valley, Saguiet el Hamra Valley
Cattle, wild animals, weapons, hunting, war scenes with riders
Morocco is located at the north-western corner of Africa, in a unique area forming a link between the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, Europe and Africa. More than 300 rock art sites have been documented in the country so far, mainly located in two areas: the High Atlas Mountains, and the Sahara desert region to the south and east. They comprise mainly engravings, which could be up to 5,000 years old, and include domestic and wild animals, warriors, weapons and scenes of battles and hunting. Antelope and cattle are the most represented animals in Moroccan rock art, although elephants and rhinoceros are common too.
Geography and rock art distribution
Morocco has a very variable geography, with the Atlas Mountains crossing the country from the southwest to the northeast and separating the coastal plains to the west from the Sahara Desert that runs to the east and south. The distribution of rock art in the country is very irregular, with some zones crowded with sites and others almost devoid of depictions. The two main areas of rock art sites are the High Atlas zone and the area to the east and south of the Atlas Mountains. The first area groups more than seven thousand engravings around the Oukaïmeden valley, the Yagour plateau and the Jebel Rat site. They are at high altitude (more than 2000 metres above sea level), and mainly represent weapons, cattle and anthropomorphic figures, along with numerous geometric symbols.
The second main zone, an arid region where the majority of Moroccan rock art sites are situated, contains the oldest engravings in the country, some of them linked to the Saharan styles. The variety of themes depicted is wide, from abundant scenes of riders to isolated animals or complex geometric symbols. This collection comprises about seven hundred images, most of them corresponding to the southern area of Morocco around the Draa valley and the town of Tata, although a High Atlas (Oukaïmeden) site is also included.
European audiences began studying the rock art in Morocco decades after the study of rock art in Algeria and Libya, with the first news of rock art coming from French and German travellers late in the 19th century. The most significant boost came after the Treaty of Fes in 1912, when the presence of the colonial authorities led indirectly to an increasing knowledge of rock art sites, as Spanish and French officers started to show interest in the engravings. However, it was not until after Moroccan independence in 1956 that systematic research began throughout the country. Since then, archaeological information has progressively grown, although regional syntheses are still scarce: only the Atlas (Malhomme, Rodrigue) and part of southern Morocco (Simoneau) have exhaustive catalogues of sites. The first comprehensive study of Moroccan rock art was made in 2001 (Searight), when for the first time, a global approach to Moroccan rock art areas, themes and chronology was undertaken.
As in most countries, mammals are the most frequent depictions, especially cattle, horses and different types of antelope. Many other animals, such as giraffes, elephants, rhinoceros, dromedaries or lions are depicted, if more scarcely. The second main theme is human figures, especially in the south of the country, where depictions of Libyan-Berber riders are very common. In the High Atlas area they are usually depicted isolated, surrounded by weapons, which are another big theme in Moroccan rock art: a panoply of these can be seen, including daggers, bows and arrows, spears, shields, axes and halberds.
A consensus has yet to be achieved about Moroccan rock art chronology between the supporters of a long chronology, starting around 4000 BC, and those that defend a short one, from 2500 BC onwards. The oldest engravings represented in Moroccan rock art correspond to the Tazina and Pecked Cattle styles, depicting mainly mammals. From the second half of the second millennium BC onwards, depictions of human figures start to appear in the High Atlas, associated with daggers and shields, defining the so-called Dagger/Halberd/Anthropomorph style. During the first millennium BC, Libyan-Berber hunting and battle scenes start to appear in southern Morocco; riders, infantrymen and animals depicted in a very schematic style. The last period of Moroccan rock art, as in the rest of the Sahara, is the so-called Camel Period, characterized by the appearance of dromedaries.