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2 October 2010
100 new rock art sites found in Somaliland

A team of Somali archaeologists lead by Dr. Sada Mire from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (England), has found scores of previously unstudied rock paintings in the eastern African country of Somaliland. The art depicts wildlife in motion; antelope, snakes and giraffes. Some are dated to 5,000 BCE. Giraffes are no longer found in the country.
     One very unique find is the first known rock painting of a mounted hunter. It was created approximately 4,000 years ago. According to Mire, the art is exceptional. "These are among the best prehistoric paintings in the world", she said. "Yet Somaliland is a country whose history is totally hidden. With wars, droughts and piracy in Somalia, hardly anyone has researched the archaeology until now. But it's absolutely full of extraordinarily well-preserved rock art." It is expected that some of the sites are so valuable that they will be granted World Heritage status by the United Nations.
     At Dhambalin, near the Red Sea, the rocks reveal 5,000 year old images of sheep and goats. Bands painted on the animals may indicate farming or some ritual connection. Some of the paintings seem to show a sort of "shorthand" with cattle represented only by necks or horns. There are also depictions of full and half moons and geometric symbols found at Dawa'aleh. Mire argues these are mystical representations of time and space.
     Somaliland lies in the north of Somalia. It has a population of three and a half million people in an area slightly smaller than England. Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991, but has not yet been recognized as a separate country by the United Nations. Many of the inhabitants are nomads who have long known about some of the rock art. In 2000, cave painting were discovered at Laas Geel. The local people believe the site to be haunted by evil spirits.
     The findings of Mire and her team will be published in the September issue of Current World Archaeology.

Edited from The Guardian (17 September 2010)

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