The painted chambers of Laas Geel

Somaliland
2021

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In collaboration with the Hargeysa Cultural Centre and the Redsea Cultural Foundation, Adam Lowe, Otto Lowe and Ferdinand Saumarez Smith from Factum Foundation travelled to Somaliland in July/August to carry out a skills and technology transfer while recording buildings, manuscripts and several sites containing neolithic paintings.

The team carried out the high-resolution 3D documentation of the painted chambers at Laas Geel: a complex of 22 rock shelters containing some of the earliest known rock art in the region, dating back to an estimated 5,000 years and remarkably preserved. Despite the remarkable condition of the paintings in Laas Geel, both human and natural changes require condition monitoring, new documentation skills and proper infrastructure to preserve the integrity of the site. The Somaliland Government, through its Ministry of Tourism, and the Redsea Cultural Foundation are focussed on ensuring this happens.

Ferdinand Saumarez Smith recording one of the painted caves © Otto Lowe for Factum Foundation

Otto Lowe recording one of the caves using photogrammetry © Ferdinand Saumarez Smith for Factum Foundation

A detail of one of the painted caves at Laas Geel © Adam Lowe for Factum Foundation

A detail of one of the painted caves at Laas Geel © Adam Lowe for Factum Foundation

Site 1 at Laas Geel © Adam Lowe for Factum Foundation

In close collaboration with Dr. Jama Musse Jama, director of the Hargeysa Cultural Centre, Factum Foundation recorded seven individual caves using LiDAR, photogrammetry and panoramic composite photography.

The complete 3D and colour datasets of Laas Geel, Dhagax Kure and Dhagax Marode were handed to the Hargeysa Cultural Centre, to ensure the high-resolution data stays in the country. It will be shared with the Somaliland authorities when it is fully processed.

As part of Factum Foundation’s policy on data ownership, the data belongs to the Somaliland authorities for all current and future applications. It will serve as an invaluable resource for monitoring the condition of the rock sites. This project will hopefully encourage further international interest and support, in a way that will ensure the site’s long-term physical preservation, while its historical importance will become more freely available – both online and offline.

The recording was complemented by a transfer of skills in 3D recording and the hardware and software required. Factum Foundation’s mission is to establish training programmes to develop the skills needed/indispensable for the successful documentation of vulnerable cultural sites and objects.

Render of one of the caves © Hargeysa Cultural Centre

Render showing the color data of a detail of Site 7 at Laas Geel © Hargeysa Cultural Centre

Render showing the surface data of a detail of Site 7 at Laas Geel © Hargeysa Cultural Centre

Otto Lowe showing the first processing of the data during the training session at the Hargeysa Cultural Centre © Ferdinand Saumarez Smith for Factum Foundation

© Ferdinand Saumarez Smith for Factum Foundation

The trip was arranged to coincide with the 14th Hargeysa International Book Fair, organised by the Redsea Cultural Foundation. On 25 July, Adam Lowe was part of a panel presentation focused on Heritage Management with H.E. Elyaas Abiib (Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Somali regional state of Ethiopia) and Yikunnoamlak Mezgebu (Director General of the Ethiopian National Archives and Library Agency). He presented the Foundation’s work on manuscript recording, designing specialist hardware and software, archiving and remote access support.

© Otto Lowe for Factum Foundation


We wish to thank Ambassador Nicolas Berlanga, EU Ambassador to Somalia, for the support he gave to this initiative.

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