Monday, May 7, 2012

Karkur Talh: An Ancient Cattle Trail

Traces of a cattle trail along a tributary of the Karkur Talh, which once flowed into a now dried guelta (bottom right).  Stars indicate the location of ancient rock engravings along the road.

Un chemin dans l'Uweynât

Jean-Loïc Le Quellec
Sahara 22 (2011): 149-152

(Link)

[Please see the above link for the excellent photos mentioned in this paper.  From the author's list of papers, select the "Quick view" button for the above paper.]

The following is a translation of most of the original short paper, written in French:

"Many recent publications have drawn attention to the ancient trails of the Gilf Kebir (Berger, 2009) and of Jebel el-'Uweynat (Menardi Noguera, 2007).  The facility for this type of work, which has brought increased attention to the archaeology of the prehistoric Sahara (Schönfeld, 2007; Förster et al. 2010), has benefitted from better availability of satellite maps. (Ur, 2003, Skriwanek, 2007)."

"This present contribution is intended only to further highlight the archaeological potential of Jebel el-'Uweynat.  In November of 2003, András Zboray amicably invited me to visit the site he had reported in October 2002 as a large dried up guelta (Zboray, 2003) and he suggested getting there faster by walking along a "sheep trail", to use his words, following a small northern tributary of Karkur Talh."

"After heading about 700 meters up the trail in a northwesterly direction, I noticed a few barely visible rock engravings that had escaped my hiking companion on his first visit:  First, two spotted bovines on an isolated slab (Fig. 2), then, some fifty meters farther along, a quadruped and a sandal imprint, also spotted, on a rock slab (Fig. 3) with other engraved signs."

"Further along, the images became more numerous, and I noticed in particular a bovine (Fig. 4), and also a giraffe surrounded by five ostriches (Fig. 5).  Among others that I could make out, was a spotted figure that resembles a mounted quadruped, most probably a bovine (Fig. 6)."

"Certain petroglyphs were sometimes difficult to decipher, but others were very clear, in particular a spotted giraffe (Fig. 7).  The most surprising were the presence of bovines of tiny dimensions, finely incised (Fig. 8).  One of them, about 10 cm long, is very carefully realized and presents an aspect unusual in the region."

"In one rough section of the path (No. 2 on the map), the trail continues among rock slabs that are remarkably worn smooth by the repeated passage of multiple hooves, as evidenced by fine grooves visible only in oblique light."

"The smooth polish of use sometimes erodes certain path engravings, which confirms that the trail was long used after the trail engravings were drawn.  After having visited the rock art sites along the route, I realized, viewing from the north bank of Karkur Talh, that there was a better point of access than the one we had used.  I detected an aqba which clearly had been a running stream at some ancient date. (Fig. 13 and No. 1 on the map)."

"András Zboray has given this trail, according to his nomenclature, the reference KTN 23. In November 2009, he was lucky enough to find another similar cattle trail, on a north-south orientation, and descend it to the south branch of the Karkur Talh. (http://www.fjexpedition.com)."

"Even if wild sheep also used these trails, in no way can it be assumed that these were the usual "sheep trails" so frequently encountered on the plateau, because they are much larger and, without a doubt, were enlarged by men.  The most frequent engraving representations along the route are those of the humpless longhorn, undoubtedly made by herders.  Why then did these herders risk driving their herd up onto the plateau by way of the steep aqba where the cows would have had difficulty climbing?  The reason probably lies with the presence of the grand guelta (cf. carte, No. 3) near which are traces of other cattle engravings.  Now dry, it would have been filled with water, at least temporarily at the time that the herders enlarged the cattle trail.  It is possible to imagine that the guelta would have been an excellent watering hole for a herd when water would have been scarce elsewhere.  But to get there with cattle, it would have been difficult to drive the herd through the wadi (see map) because the bottom would have been littered with boulders.  It would have been hardly practical for a herd:  the risk of injuring a cow would have been too great.  The herders realized a practical solution:  clear a path, steep but short, in order to drive their herd over the aqba and then down to the waters edge." 

"This track, once known locally, was easy to identify on satellite images.  On the images, we subsequently noticed many other potential tracks in this region, and also on various parts of the plateau."

"This would seem to be the beginning of a promising research program, justifying the publication of this short note."

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