The sahara desert was very different 4000 years ago because of the paintings that were found in the rocks made by berber tribes
The original Berber tribes came from the north to settle here over 3,000 years ago. On the rocks, they have left behind enigmatic inscriptions whose meaning is still not known.
They raised megalithic monuments and funeral tumuli across the entire Saharan region, evidence of a complex cosmic vision, a magic universe in which the after-life played an important part.
Proof that the Western Sahara was inhabited in ancient times can be seen in the petroglyphs of the important Palaeolithic site of SLUGUILLA.
Now extinct fauna can be seen on hundreds of stone blocks in the open air, expertly sculpted using the system of incision and scraping.
But perhaps the best guarded treasures of the primitive art of the Sahara are the paintings at ERKEYEIZ, just a few kilometres from the TIFARITI site.
These paintings are found in natural shelters, called TAFFONIS, along the LEMGASEM mountains, whose gullies and ravines can only be reached with the help of an expert with excellent knowledge of the local terrain.
Little by little, we leave the plain behind, and enter a different landscape – rugged and primal.
LUD has cooperated with certain universities on the study and protection of the World Heritage. However, the precarious state of some of these paintings and the rapacity of certain visitors do not bode well for their conservation.
They belong to the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic periods, between 7,000 and 4,000 years Before Christ, painted with natural pigments and animal fat as a binding agent.
They depict everyday scenes in a society of hunter-gatherers, before the last great drought turned their prairies and savannas into barren lands.
The iconography of Erkeyeiz shows us groups of people in attitudes of dancing, stalking or pasturage, along with magnificent figures of bovines, which they must have started to domesticate by that time.
However, the most important illustrations in this open air museum are the paintings of wild animals, now extinct, which tell us of a very different Sahara from that we now see, with herds of antelopes and giraffes roaming across the savanna.
For these first inhabitants, the giraffe must have been a totemic animal, as it is the most frequently depicted motif.
Another important figure is the two-coloured DAMA gazelle, now no longer to be found in the Sahara.
Much the same could be said of the DORCAS gazelle, like this one, held by an old polisario soldier. Not long ago, they were abundant in this country, but now they have virtually been wiped out.
This desolate, abrupt terrain is the kingdom of the reptiles, of which there are over one hundred species.
Some, like the fringe-toed lizard can tolerate internal temperatures of up to 50ºC.
The majority of these reptiles live beneath ground to escape from the daytime heat, and they have developed complicated adaptive mechanisms.
Of all the different types of snakes that live in this region, the most feared is the LEFFÁ, or horned viper.
It is the main predator in the area, feeding essentially on gerbils and small rodents.
The nasal protuberances in the form of horns, incredibly sensitive to temperature, allow the snake to detect the presence of warm-blooded prey.
But if the Western Sahara is called the “Land of the Lizards”, it is above all due to the abundance of this reptile, with its characteristic thorny tail.
There are many stories and legends around these emblematic lizards which are hunted for the nomad children to play with them, and traditional medicine attributes them with an endless list of virtues.
The vegetable kingdom is characterised by its adaptation to the extreme aridity of the environment. The bushes and higher plants can be found dotted along the wadis.
The grasses, such as the burro weed, though they are inedible for humans, are highly prized for their medicinal applications.
The TALJA, or Saharan acacia, is the most representative tree of this desert and has adapted by reducing its size. The leaves have turned into thorns and the flowers are button-shaped, to prevent evaporation. The resin is also used in the pharmacopoeia of the nomads.
The dried skins of different reptiles, woods and seeds which are believed to have curative properties are sold at open-air stalls in the cities of Mauritania.
In this society, traditional healers have always been treated with great respect and deference. Such as Kertum, a renowned healer woman who learnt her craft from her forefathers.
On this occasion, she is preparing a potion for a neighbour who is pregnant and fears she may abort. The basic ingredients are branches of ATIL, date oil and other products which she herself gathers in the desert.