Separated by only 62 kilometres in distance but several thousand years in time, we visited two contrasting sites of ‘rock art’ in the Anti Atlas region of Morocco.
Inhospitable landscapes globally have revealed carvings and paintings left by primal societies; Morocco has over 300 prehistoric rock art sites, some dating back over 5000 years. Unlike the cave art of France and Spain, Moroccan sites are mainly in the open air and clearly visible. Nestled amongst the boulders and fractured strata of the Anti-Atlas are carvings of species such as Gazelle, Ostrich and Giraffe.
The rock art near the partly deserted village of Eghir are so rarely visited that locating them can be challenging; even some of the locals are unaware they exist. We were lucky enough to bump into a (slightly intoxicated) local worker who knew roughly where they were and pointed out the outlines of the closest prehistoric picture. Requiring a climb and then a shuffle along a narrow ledge we were lead to a smooth rock face revealing some magnificent examples of ancient illustration. The carvings here fall into the ‘pecked cattle group’; a logical description for the chipped oxen figures. Running your fingers across the ancient chiseled drawings there’s a flash of connection to an individual who stood on the exact same spot yet infinitely worlds apart.
The images are open to interpretation, but rock art is widely considered to be a form of communication; possibly to share the whereabouts of food, water and predators or even mark territorial rights. Some markings may even commemorate events; depictions of life-sized human carrying weapons can be found in the High Atlas, possibly honoring battles.
In the rugged Mountains just 4km southwest of Tafraoute, in Aoumerkt, is a slightly more contemporary type of rock art; the infamous (and now slightly faded) blue rocks. In 1984, Belgian artist Jean Verame, assisted by a team of Moroccan firemen armed with 18 tonnes of paint, hosed an array of blue, violet and red paint over boulders and small hills of the Anti-Atlas. Fortunately, King Hassan II liked the resulting surreal addition to the landscape and so they sit oddly in the valley while the elements slowly weather them back to nature. Although they have lost their sharpness of colour, they have kept their mesmerising visual magnetism and remain a curious addition to the already stunning panorama. Two fusions of art and nature separated by the vastness of time yet each as relevant, aesthetically alluring and thought provoking as the other.