Art savers

Published: Tuesday 15 March 2005

Can they survive the oil rush? Rock Art Libya

In Wadi al-Ajal, on the steep escarpment of the Messak Settafet plateau in the Fezzan region in south west Libya, lie rock engravings, some dating back 9,000 years or more. They are situated in inhospitable regions, so arid that any form of sustained human or animal existence is untenable today. Yet, the graceful forms carved into the rock -- humans among elephants, crocodiles, giraffes and hippopotamuses -- reveal Wadi al-Ajal was once lush.

Along with Hassan Ahmed Breki -- an archaeologist from the Libyan department of antiquities, Tripoli -- a British team of researchers is taking photographs and recording the global coordinates of each rock art piece, using global positioning survey technology. Why this urgency? Criss-crossing the desert are survey lines where enormous hammers have been used to smash the underlying rock layers in search of oil. The team is working round the clock to document the rock art before they are hammered out by drilling.

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