In the heart of the Sahara, there is a plateau called Tassili n’Ajjer where over 15,000 paintings and engravings are found over the area of 72,000sq. km and this area is listed as a World Heritage site. These rock arts are the memory of the past populations, from about 6,000BCE to the first centuries of the current era, during the time when the Sahara was verdant until it became desert. Tassili n’Ajjer has a meaning of “Plateau with water” in the local Tuareg language. The plateau was a crossroad of various peoples and they left their own rock arts.

In Iheren, located in the northwest part of Tassili n’Ajjer, there is a marvelous prehistoric rock painting drawn by a pastoral people probably coming from the Mediterranean seaside. There is no absolute dating available for this fresco but according to the dominant theory is thought to date from around 3,000BCE.

The fresco of Iheren is so unique and special. On a rock surface of 3 meters by 9 meters, various scenes of the life of the pastoral people are depicted with extreme fineness. “The most brilliant work found so far in the Sahara, the master piece of the School of the Neolithic naturalist” as commented by Henri Lhote, one of the first explorers who investigated thoroughly the rock arts of Tassili n’Ajjer, in his book Toward other Tassili (Vers d’autres Tassili).  It is amazing that such fine art was realized by prehistoric nomadic people who were far away from any dynastic power.

Iheren is far away from the touristic area and it is very seldom visited. The fresco of Iheren is not known by the public despite its highly appreciable artistic quality and its historical value.



イヘーレン岩壁画は、非常にユニークで特別なものだ。3m x 9mの岩面に、遊牧民の様々な生活場面が繊細な筆遣いで見事に描かれている。タッシリ・ナジェールの岩壁画の詳細な調査を初めて実施したアンリ・ロートは、「今までにサハラで発見された最も優れた作品であり、新石器時代自然主義派の代表作」と称賛している。描かれた年代はエジプトの古代王朝の時代だが、エジプトから遠く離れた地で王朝などとは無縁と思われる遊牧民によって描かれたことに驚かされる。



Actual photo


Enhanced by DSTRETCH


Tracing by Lhote mission


Outline of Composed Tracings


145 digital images are combined. The panoramic technique requires many shots from a camera positioned in a fixed point. Some distortion is therefore inevitable due to the angle of the objects, the distance of the objects, the applied projection method, etc. The definition is reduced by half (1/2×1/2=1/4) to relieve the data volume in the server.

Same photo is digitally processed in order to enhance the image for the unclear area covered with dust and/or with faint colors.

Tracings by Pierre Colombel and Yves Martin, members of the Mission of Henri Lhote in 1970. Photos by courtesy of Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle – Musée de l’Homme – France.

4 tracings are positioned in their right places and their outlines are extracted.

About two third of the fresco is invisible or difficult to recognize the details. However, the reproduced paintings, drawn by Pierre Colombel and Yves Martin of the mission of H. Lhote in 1970, can help to understand the complete scenes and then we realize that the fresco is telling comprehensive stories about the life of nomads.

The first scene starts from the right showing the people breaking up a camp and moving to a new camp together with their cattle. Women are on the back of cows. Many wild animals of savanna are present next to the caravan: giraffes, gazelles, ostriches, elephants, etc. At the arrival to a new camp, men unload the packages and women start building up tents/huts. First comers are feeding goats and sheep, drinking from a pot using a straw, chatting in front of the tents/huts. Suddenly, a lion intruded into the camp and attacked a sheep. Men with spears come for hunting the lion. Many other scenes of the life of the pastoral people are depicted in detail and composed with harmony.

A part from the Fresco of Iheren, there are many rock paintings depicting the life of nomads. However, they are mostly independent scenes and not composed with such harmonized way. In Japan, we have a tradition of “Story telling paints” using “Scroll painting” and “Painted folding screen” on which comprehensive stories are depicted. But this painting technique was developed only in the 8th century. Similar technique was invented by a nomad 5,000 years ago!

It is quite surprising to see the people with civilized mode of living. The costumes of lady look fashionable and the hair styles of both women and men are also very elaborated.

Some people are drinking from a pot using a straw. What kind of drink? If it’s water or milk, they would use a cup instead of straw. It is probably beer fermented in a pot. Beer was developed by Sumerian people around 4,000BCE then spread in Egypt around 3,000BCE. Straws were used for filtering barley grains and hulls. The nomad of Iheren lived in the same period but 2,500 km away from Egypt!

Building tent/hut is always done by women. They are often depicted in front of their tent. Maybe women are responsible of the house and men used to commute? Today’s Tuareg has matrilineal society. Women and children are taking care of goat and sheep while men are taking care of cattle. This is same as today’s Tuareg: women to take care of goat and men to take care of camel and donkey.

By the mission of Henri Lhote in 1970, the date of the ruin was determined by C14: BC2900±110 (CalBC3,655±285). But the date of the fresco was controversial. However, by the recent studies, it was found that the distribution of the Iheren type of paintings and that of key-hole type tumulus which dates mostly around 3,000BCE are very similar and the both monuments originated very possibly from the same people. (Gauthier 2006-2009)

It is probable that the people of Iheren stayed in the plateau for a short period of time and they moved to another area. The wet period of Sahara ended around 3,000BCE and then it became dryer gradually. Pasturage of cattle and sheep requires abundant water and plants. They moved probably to the south and disappeared in the middle of black people.

1) 実写画像

2) 画像処理

3) ロート隊模写

4) ロート隊模写の輪郭線







アンリ・ロートが1970年に行った調査では、壁画が描かれた岩陰の遺物のC14年代測定でBC2900±110(較正後BC3,655±285) の年代測定結果が出ている。しかし、壁画自体の年代は、紀元前3,000年から同1,500年程度までの幅のある見解が出されていた。 ところが、最近の研究では紀元前3,000年前後とする説が有力になりつつあるようだ。白人系遊牧民の描いた絵は広く分散しているが、この分布と当地に多い鍵穴型円形古墳の分布がほぼ一致することが分かり、これらの古墳の年代測定結果が紀元前3,000年前後に集中していることから、同時代のものとする説だ。(Gauthier 2006-2009)


A master piece of a painter of genius cannot be made suddenly. The talent comes into flower after many works of étude. The Neolithic artist probably drawn many paintings before the fresco. In the neighborhood of Iheren, there are some shelters with paintings which I guess the same artist: Tahilahi and Tim Amarassouzi. The fantastic paintings of Tikadaouene was possibly drawn by the same artist but it might be  a different artist as the style is so different.

The most surprising thing is a paint of giraffe at Indjarane which is 300km away from Iheren. The giraffe is nearly identical with that of Iheren and there is only a giraffe of this artist among many paintings of black nomad. Such copy cannot be realized by someone else in the time where there was no photo or paper.

Just an imagination but it is nice to think about a story like this. The painter had a great success with the fresco of Iheren and his reputation spread not only among the white nomads of the neighborhood but also among the black nomads of the whole region. The artist was invited by the nomads of various places for showing and teaching his technique. When he visited the nomad of Indjarane, he showed a paint of a giraffe which is very popular in that area. A black artist tried to copy the technique of fine contour lines and drew a cow but his level was far behind the artist of Iheren.


天才画家といえども代表作となる作品は突然生まれるものではない。数多くの習作をこなして、その才能が開花する。また、互いに切磋琢磨する画家たちも必要だ。新石器時代の天才画家も同じで、多くの習作をこなしたのに違いない。イヘーレン周辺には、この画家の手によるものと思われる壁画が多く見られる。代表的なものは、タヒラヒ(Tahilahi)、ティン・アマラスージ(Tin Amarasouzi)など。また、描写力は優れているが画風の異なる絵もあり、上述の羊を連れた二人や、タヒラヒ、ティカディウィン(Tikadiouine)など別の作者によると思われる素晴らしい岩壁画がある。新石器時代のルネッサンスなのかもしれない。



 TahilahiT  TinAramasouziTT  TikadaoueneTT  GiraffeTT

 Tahilahi タヒラヒ

Tin Amarasouzi ティン・アマラスージ  Tikadiouine ティカディウィン Iheren/Indjarane イヘーレン/インジャラン

The fresco of Iheren was drawn on a rock wall shaped like an open giant shell. The plateau of Tassili n’Ajjer is mostly covered by the layers of sand stone whose origin goes back about 500,000 years in the sea. After the formation of plateau, the sand stone layers weathered by water, wind and the sun over 100,000 years. These weathered rocks served not only as shelter for the Neolithic people but also as canvas for the artists.

The fresco of Iheren was drawn on the wall over one meter height from the ground level and the best part of the canvas was not used. The lower wall is mostly blank or there are some paintings of later period: two-horse chariot and camels. The ground was presumably covered with top soil of about 1 meter when the fresco was drawn. Then the soil was removed by winds during the time of desertification.



 AbondonedVillageNearIherirT  IherenNightT  Iheren360T
 Layers of sand stone, Abandoned villlage near Iherir砂岩の層、イヘリール近くの廃村  shelter of Iheren イヘーレン岩陰 360-degree Virtual Reality360度VR

Five reproduction paintings were drawn by the mission of Henri Lhote in 1970.  The method of reproduction in 1956-19577 was:    1) Clean and wet the surface with a wet sponge 2)Put a tracing paper on the wall and copy the contours of images 3) Copy the contours on a drawing paper and paint with watercolors.  This method is criticized today because it caused damages and/or acceleration of fading. However, Yves Martin, who was a member of the mission in 1970, confirmed that they did not clean or rub the surface with a wet sponge but they did some slight humidification was done only partly.

Jean-Dominique Lajoux, photographer and a member of the mission in 1957, argue that the rock paintings cannot be damaged only by wetting and wetting is good method for revealing the faint paintings when photographing. (MURS D’IMAGES, 2012)

The reproduction work by the mission of Henri Lhote is also criticized for the contamination by the pencils used during the copy work on the wall. This made impossible to analyze directly the organic binder of pigments for dating. (M. Hachid/J-L. Le Quellec, 2010) . This is not the case for the reproduction in 1970, according to Yves Martin.

Today, the old reproduction method is prohibited. Instead, there are possibilities to enhance faint images digitally. DStretch developed by Jon Harman is quite powerful. See the samples: 1) Normal photo 2) DStretched photo 3) Wetted paint (Lajoux)

Even though the method of reproduction was not appropriate, the value of the reproduction by Henri Lhote cannot be diminished. It is a valuable and indispensable guide to understand the fresco.

1970年に行われたイヘーレンの調査では、長期間滞在して5枚の原寸大模写が作成されている。ロート隊の模写法は、1956-7年の初回調査時では、次のような手順で行われた。①水を含ませたスポンジで壁面を拭い、絵を浮かび上がらせる。②トレーシングペーパーを壁に当てて写し取る。③別の画用紙に写して彩色する。現在では、この手法が壁画を損傷させた、あるいは、損傷を加速させる原因となったと批判されている。 1970年のイヘーレン調査隊メンバーであったイヴ・マルタンは、スポンジで拭ったりはしていない、部分的にわずかに湿らせる程度にとどめた、と証言している。

1957年の調査隊の一員でもあった写真家のJean-Dominique Lajouxは、水に濡らした程度では損傷しない、写真撮影では有効な手法であると主張している。(MURS D’IMAGES, 2012) 確かに、埃の層で覆われているような部分も多く、こうした部分では水に濡らすのは有効で、損傷もなさそうに思われる。一方で、埃におおわれていないように見える部分もあり、スポンジが損傷を与えないとは言い切れない。

また、模写作業では使われた鉛筆などで汚染されており、顔料に含まれた有機成分を直接分析して年代を割り出す手法が使えなくなったとの指摘もある(M. Hachid/J-L. Le Quellec 2010)。 もちろん、現在ではこうした模写手法は禁じられている。それに替わるものとして、画像処理で補完する技術が開発されている。Jon Harman氏のDSTRETCHは岩面画の画像処理専用に開発されたソフトで非常に有効である。僅かに残された顔料の痕跡を拾い出すことができる。次に、①通常の写真、②①をDSTRETCHで処理したもの、③水で濡らして撮影した写真(Lajoux)を示す。


 GiraffeNT  Giraffe_ldsT  Giraffe_LajouxT


Photo exhibition “The Fresco of Iheren – The Green Sahara revives after 5,000 years” was held in Tokyo and in Kyoto with 1,300 visitors in total. I express my sincere gratitude for the warm appreciation:

「イヘーレン岩壁画写真展 ― 5000年の時を超え、緑のサハラが甦る」は東京と京都で2014年9-10月に行われ、1,300人もの多くの方々に観ていただきましたこと、こころよりお礼申し上げます:

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