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Somaliland: Laas-Geel Archaeological Site Acclaimed
Wednesday, 11 April 2012 00:08

The cave paintings at Laas-Geel The cave paintings at Laas-Geel By: Yusuf M Hasan

HARGEISA (Somalilandsun) – The government of Somaliland has received 500 copies of a book on the Laas-Geel archeological site.

The minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Hon Abdirizaq Khalif Ahmed received the 500 copies from Prof Xavier Gutherz during a meeting held at the ministry headquarters in Hargeisa.

Hon Abdirizaq Khalif thanked the team of archeologists from St Paul Valerie II in Montpelier France for their dedicated work that has made Laas-Geel a world renowned archeological site. The minister said that the books will facilitate ease of understanding the over 10,000 years old site.

The minister who welcomed the French Archeologists to the country for eight days of archeological studies also promised continued government support as is the norm annually. To the joint French-Somaliland mission he said: "While officers of my ministry will be working closely with you, do not hesitate to consult me on any issue."

Prof. Xavier Gutherz who is leading the eight member French archeological team said that the book arose out of a need to raise world awareness on the ancient and pre-historic Laas-Geel site that is home to 10,000 years old rock paintings that are still in their original form.

The French Somaliland Archeological mission which has been undertaking studies on an annual basis since 2002 is jointly funded by the St Paul II University in France and the Somaliland government.

According to ministry records the Laas-Geel site and many others in the country were discovered by Mr. Mohamed Abdi who is a senior archeologist with the government of Somaliland. Another ancient site credited to Mohamed Abdi is the ancient underground Fardowsa city in Sheikh Town.

Prehistoric Somaliland

The region that today encompasses Somaliland was home to the earliest civilization in Somalia. The most salient feature of this ancient civilization is thought to be the Laas Geel Neolithic cave paintings, which are among the oldest such rock art in Africa. These cave paintings are located in a site outside Hargeisa, the capital of the Somaliland region, and were untouched and intact for nearly 10,000 years until their recent discovery. The paintings show an indigenous people worshiping cattle. There are also paintings of giraffes, domesticated canines and wild antelopes, with images of cows wearing ceremonial robes while next to them are some of these people prostrating in front of the cattle. The Las Geel caves and their paintings have become a major tourist attraction and a national treasure.

Laas Geel is a complex of caves and rock shelters in Somaliland that is famous for its cave paintings. The caves are located in a rural area on the outskirts of Hargeisa, and contain some of the earliest known rock art in the Horn of Africa and the African continent in general. Laas Geel's cave paintings are estimated to date back to somewhere between 9,000–8,000 and 3,000 BCE.

Introduction

The Laas Geel site contains granite caves sheltering about ten rock alcoves decorated with Neolithic cave paintings. The caves are located outside Hargeisa, in an area encompassing a nomadic village, the Nasa Hablood hills. The site overlooks a wide district of countryside, where nomads graze their livestock and wild antelopes roam the vast landscape.

The local nomads used the caves as a shelter when it rained and never paid much attention to the paintings. The site is now guarded by the local villagers.

Discovery

During November and December 2002, an archaeological survey was carried out by a French team in Somaliland. The reason for this was to search for rock shelters and caves containing stratified archaeological infill's capable of documenting the period when production economy appeared in this part of the Horn of Africa (circa 5,000 and 2,000 BCE). During the course of the survey, the French archaeological team discovered the Laas Geel cave paintings, encompassing an area of ten rock alcoves (caves). The paintings, in an excellent state of preservation, show ancient humans of the area raising their hands and worshipping humpless cows with large lyre-shaped horns. However, the rock art had been known to the local Somali people for centuries before the French discovery. Yet, the existence of the sites had not been broadcast to the international community. In November 2003, a mission returned to Laas Geel and a team of experts undertook a detailed study of the paintings and their prehistoric context.

According to Mohamed Abdi there are a number of other sites in the area around Hargeisa with similar cave paintings.

Description

The cave paintings are thought to be some of the best preserved in Africa. The paintings represent cows in ceremonial robes accompanied by stocky humans (believed to be inhabitants of the region). The necks of the cows are embellished with a kind of plastron; some of the cows are even wearing decorative robes. The paintings not only show cows, there are also an image of a domesticated dog, several paintings of canidae and even a giraffe.

Miscellaneous

The paintings are well preserved; even with the history of Somalia wars, natural weathering, animals and other factors, the paintings have survived intact and retain their clear outlines and vibrant colours.

There has been little international publicity of the Laas Geel cave paintings and the paintings have been threatened by people coming to the caves for recreational purposes. The paintings are now part of the future tourist attractions in the area once Somaliland becomes internationally recognized as a sovereign nation.

Simon Reeve visited the cave paintings as part of his television programme Places That Don't Exist. Amazed at the excellent preservation and vibrant colours of the paintings, he said that "Laas Geel, it transpires, is probably the most significant Neolithic rock painting site in the whole of Africa" and that "few people know that Somaliland is home to such treasures." The former minister of Tourism & Culture Late Osman Bile Ali, who showed Reeve the site, described the Laas Geel cave paintings as beautiful

 

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