Kel Essuf petroglyphs
In 1967 Fabrizio Mori discovered a group of unusual small-sized oblong petroglyphs in the Tadrart Acacus, which could not be assigned to any type of petroglyphs in the known sequence. For their approximate resemblance to fish he gave this group the generic term of “ichthyomorphous” petroglyphs. In 1994 a large number of petroglyphs were found by K.H.Striedter, M.Tauveron and N.Ferhat in the Algerian Tadrart, very similar to Mori’s “ichthyomorphs”. Since the local Tuareg call these images “Kel Essuf”, which means “People of the spirits”, the term was adopted to designate this singular kind of petroglyphs. The “ichthyomorphs” of the Acacus are supposed to belong to the Kel Essuf group.
There are substantial differences between the Bubaline and the Kel Essuf petroglyphs. Whilst the Bubaline petroglyphs are present on boulders in the open and spread over a large area, Kel Essuf are located mainly inside rock shelters and the figures are usually grouped together in one place. Also the theme is completely different: Bubaline style is dominated by animals, whereas in the Kel Essuf style animals are almost non-existent. Kel Essuf are known of in only a very limited area in the Acacus, Algerian Tadrart and in the Djado. Since these petroglyphs have not yet been systematically studied, their presence in other areas cannot be excluded.
Although they are extremely stylized, Kel Essuf represent anthropomorphic figures. Whilst in the Acacus the forms are slightly more varied, in the Algerian Tadrart they show a very stereotyped shape. The figures are generally between 12 and 60 cm high and they are executed by very fine pecking. Kel Essuf rock art was mainly produced by pecking, but there are painted examples also which possibly can be ascribed to the Kel Essuf, too (see, for example the site Tadrart I of the Catalogue). Moreover, traces of red colour suggest that at least some pecked figures were also coloured.
The figures consist of an oval body with four very short appendages, two lateral and two at the bottom. In most cases they have a fifth appendage between the legs suggesting a penis and sometimes their limbs present three or four fingers or toes.
Whereas Bubaline petroglyphs are very rare in the area dominated by Round Heads, the Kel Essuf and Round Heads share the same territory and sometimes the same shelters.
Ferhat, N. (2003) Dans les abris de la Tadrart, des images troublantes. Les “Kel Essuf“. Algerie, deux millions d’annees d’histoire. L’art des origines ( Nemours/Dijon: Musee de Prehistoire d’Ile-de-France/Museum d’Histoire naturelle de Dijon ) 53-56.
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