African Rock Art of the Northern Zone

Works of Art


The art of the Sahara is diverse and still not well understood. Conventionally, the art is believed to broadly fit into one of four stylistic and chronological categories. The earliest of these, known as the Bubaline Period, comprises engravings only, and there are many images of wild animals and therianthropic (part-human, part-animal) figures. The three later periods—Bovidian, Caballine, and Camelline—include both paintings and engravings and are marked by the appearance of specific domestic animals in the art.

In spite of an initial breakthrough in the understanding of the symbolism of these images in terms of the beliefs and practices of specific extant Saharan peoples in 1966, little further work has been done in using this approach to investigate the meaning of the images. Many new discoveries have been made in recent years; scholars are hopeful that among these a clue to the meaning of some of the images will be found.

Geoffrey Blundell
Origins Centre, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

October 2001


Blundell, Geoffrey. “African Rock Art of the Northern Zone.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2001)

Further Reading

Blundell, Geoffrey, ed. Origins: The Story of the Emergence of Humans and Humanity in Africa. Cape Town: Double Storey, 2006.

Coulson, David, and Alec Campbell. African Rock Art: Paintings and Engravings on Stone. New York: Abrams, 2001.

Le Quellec, Jean-Loïc. Rock Art in Africa: Mythology and Legend. Paris: Flammarion, 2004.

Additional Essays by Geoffrey Blundell