Rock Art at al-Saihan

Pictures and inscriptions that were hammered or pecked into rock surfaces in the landscape – boulders, slabs, or bedrock – potentially remain preserved for a very long time. Such ‘rock art’ can show us, therefore, what was significant for the people living on Mograt many hundreds and thousands of years ago. Mograt’s largest agglomeration of rock art is found close to the village al-Saihan. While we find depictions of giraffes, elephants, birds and other animals as well as people and boats there, we can see that for a long time cattle were especially important to the ancient people of Mograt. Sometimes we find little stick-like people depicted as they are leading their cattle or holding them by their horns or tails. The cattle figures are sometimes embellished with many more or with much larger horns than normal. Often, their horns were artificially deformed.

We find this practice in the ancient cultures of Sudan, like that of Kerma, but also among some modern people of Africa for whom cattle are important. Most of these cattle depictions are between 5000 and 3000 years old. At some point cattle stopped being significant to people and camels were depicted instead, often with riders who wield weapons. Camels were only introduced to the region between roughly 2000 and 1500 years ago from the north and the northeast, and their appearance signals a profound change of the relationships between the world along the Nile and its desert hinterland. The images on rock surfaces are witnesses to ancient people’s changing concerns, but even today people still write on rocks in the landscape: sometimes we find names or lines from the Quran.

Cornelia Kleinitz