The Dabous Giraffe

Aïr Mountains - Niger
in collaboration with TARA - Trust for African Rock Art
2022

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© Ferdinand Saumarez Smith for Factum Foundation

© Ferdinand Saumarez Smith for Factum Foundation

© Ferdinand Saumarez Smith for Factum Foundation

In February 2022, Factum Foundation accompanied the Trust for African Rock Art on a project to record the Dabous Giraffe, located in the Aïr mountains in the north-east of Niger. This region has long been a stage in the trans-Saharan caravan route and today the Tuareg still use camel-trains to transport salt south to the Sahel to trade for millet, cloth, and other staple goods. As well as transporting such basic necessities, recent years have also seen the massive expansion in the trafficking of arms, drugs, and people through this area, as well as heightened tensions on account of the recent discovery of gold (exploited by 'artisanal' miners) alongside the uranium mined since the late 1960s by the French government-backed company Areva NC.

© Ferdinand Saumarez Smith for Factum Foundation

© Ferdinand Saumarez Smith for Factum Foundation

© Ferdinand Saumarez Smith for Factum Foundation

© Ferdinand Saumarez Smith for Factum Foundation

From 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, though, the landscape of crumbling mountains and the high dunes of the Ténéré was very different: changes in rainfall patterns (known as the Neolithic Subpluvial) allowed the desert to bloom and to transform into expanses of Savannah, which in turn supported the habitation of African megafauna. It was at some point in this temperate window and against a very contrasting backdrop that the Dabous Giraffe was carved into the soft sandstone of a rocky outcrop in the south-west of the Aïr mountains. The remarkable engraved panel contains lifelike depictions of a larger and a smaller giraffe, with the former measuring 5.4m, as well as a small human figure. Although it is impossible to tell exactly what the significance of the engraving was to the artists who created it, Dabous remains an extraordinary link with a disappeared world.

Ferdinand Saumarez Smith operating the drone © Factum Foundation

The site was recorded in 1987 by the French archaeologist Christian Dupuy, but the increased attention created challenges for its preservation: including graffiti, trampling, and the removal of fragments. Preservation issues led to the decision to mould the panel in silicon, which was carried out in 1999 and resulted in a cast in aluminium that is installed at the regional airport of Agadez. But, unfortunately, the original mould was not kept in good condition, leading to the decision to record the site digitally in 2022. This was carried out using a mixture of aerial (using a DJI Inspire 2) and terrestrial photogrammetry. The project was a timely one as it was discovered that sections of the cheek of the large giraffe had been damaged since the previous visit, perhaps removed for human consumption, as sacred stone is believed by many in the region to contain spiritual power. As well as recording the main panel, two other important panels on the outcrop were recorded, and a number of other sites in the nearby region, including Touareg, Tireghamis, and Tezirzek. See the map of the sites here.

 


 

 

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