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At Laas Geel, Somaliland, the ancient rock wall paintings bring hope to a new nation


Laas Geel, Somaliland, rock paintings, Wikimedia Commons

These rock wall paintings discovered at Laas Geel, Somaliland, in 2002 are proposed for international recognition by UNESCO because this new country, independent since 1991, lacks the resources to protect them.

A French expedition launched, in 2002, to locate prospective archaeological sites in the Horn of Africa confirmed the site at Laas Geel is equivalent to the French Lascaux cave paintings. Mohamed Abdi Ali, the first to enter the rock overhang, was cooking rice on December 4, 2002 when he looked up and discovered the brilliant colours of the overhanging rock paintings.

The site, 50km from Hargesia, capital of Somaliland, consists of twenty boulders and small cavities on which hundreds of figures of animals and humans were painted in ochre, white and yellow by the original settlers of the region. The cattle depicted are domesticated.

Laas Geel is threatened by 10 years of unsupervised human visitation, baboons who live in the rock outcrops and by birds nesting among the paintings. In response UNESCO sent a team to evaluate the sites. Three guardians paid €45 monthly is all Somaliland can afford to protect the site. The entrance to the site is guarded by a simple chain drawn across the desert track. One visitor in five does not seek permission to enter the site with touching the delicate paintings a major hazard.

Somaliland is not a member of UNESCO, so, the site will not be listed as a major World Heritage site. Further problems regarding the arid site, the increased development of the port of Berbera only 50km or one hour by car means an influx of visitors are a real threat to this fragile site. Al-Chabab, the terrorist organisation to the south of Somaliland are a real threat to this site. They regard the culture dedicated to the cow as pagan and at variance to Islam. Fortunately the Sufi culture of Somaliland respect the site.

Laas Geel represents the centre of a vast complex of similar sites found throughout the region. They must be investigated and preserved.

Sources

Photograph of rock overhang, Wikimedia Commons;

A Laas Geel, la préhistoire en étendard d'une jeune nation, Actualité, Le Monde, Science & Médecine Mercredi, 3 Mai 2017.

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