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31 May 2010
Cave of the Beasts holds clues to dawn of Egypt

The 'Cave of the Beasts', filled with prehistoric rock drawings of headless beasts and dancing figures, was discovered in 2002 by amateur archaeologists and is now being further studied by a German-led team of archaeologists.
     Situated in the Eastern Sahara, the cave is 10km (6 miles) from the 'Cave of Swimmers', as seen in the Film the English Patient, but has many more and better preserved images. Spanning 18 metres wide and 6 metres high of visible artwork, a recent test dig has indicated more drawings 80cm below the ground. Rudolph Kuper, an expert from Germany's Heinrich Barth Institute, said the depictions are at least 8,000 years old and may have been the work of hunter gatherers whose descendents were among early settlers of the Nile Valley.  The cave is 900 km (560 miles) southwest of Cairo. "It seems that the paintings of the Cave of the Beasts pre-date the introduction of domesticated animals. That means they predate 6000 BCE," said Kuper.
     With rainfall averaging less than 2mm a year, the Eastern Sahara is the world's largest warm and dry desert. However, in 8,500 BCE, seasonal rainfall created a savannah and attracted hunter gatherers. Rainfall in the area had ceased by 5,300 BCE and human settlements receded to highland areas. By 3,500 BCE, settlements had disappeared and the movement away from this region corresponds with the rise of sedentary life along the Nile, giving rise to the pharaonic civilisation we all know. Kuper's team have scanned the cave by laser to capture high-definition, three-dimensional images. "Now we have increasing evidence how rich the prehistoric culture in the Eastern Sahara was," Kuper said.

Source: Reuters Africa (24 May 2010)

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