Aït Ouazik is a renowned and – fortunately – protected petroglyph site in the eastern part of the Anti Atlas Mountains, Morocco. The current paper focuses on continuous loop patterns in this area and explores their possible parallels in the rock art of NW Africa. Although the focus in this paper is on only a few specific petroglyph panels, Aït Ouazik has much more to offer. In order to give a more complete impression of the site and its petroglyphs, the paper is enriched by a YouTube video.
by Maarten van Hoek
Signs of Infinity
at Aït Ouazik Morocco, and Beyond
Maarten van Hoek firstname.lastname@example.org
As can be expected in such an enormous area as the Sahara, northern Africa, rock art images range from graphically very simple markings (for instance cupules or short straight lines) to very complex abstract patterns and most intricately decorated petroglyphs of zoomorphs and anthropomorphs. Perhaps the best instances of such complex biomorphic petroglyphs are found at Niola Dola in eastern Chad (Allard-Huard 2000: Photos 101 to 103).
However, abstract patterns can also be extremely complex. Fine examples occur at Imaoun in southern Morocco (Searight 1999), in the Adrar des Iforas of Mali (Dupuy 2001: Fig. 2-5; 2010: Fig. 5b), while in SE Algeria several complex spiral-like patterns have been recorded (Huard 1966: Figs 3 and 4). Similarly arranged spiral-like designs seem to form part of a large, enormously complex snake (?) petroglyph at Youf Ahakit in Oued Tintarabin, Tassili N’Ahaggar, also in SE Algeria (Donon 2004).
The current paper focuses on continuous loop patterns from Aït Ouazik – a Tazina style petroglyph site in the desert of southern Morocco – and explores their possible parallels in the rock art of NW Africa. Although those loop-configurations are unique in and for Saharan rock art (as far as I know), the underlying pattern (the universal sign of infinity: ∞) proves to be repeated at a few rock art sites in NW Africa, at both nearby and rather distant spots. Therefore, also the question whether the distribution of those specific patterns concern instances of diffusion or of parallel evolution is examined.
Although the focus in this paper is on only a few specific petroglyph panels, Aït Ouazik has much more to offer. In order to give a more complete impression of the site and its petroglyphs, I have embedded a YouTube video showing many petroglyph panels, which also gives an impression of the environment. Several features that are mentioned in the text of this paper will be recognised in the video. All graphic material in the video and in this paper has been made by me, except when otherwise stated.
Click on any illustration in this article to get a larger picture (click the < back arrow [top left] or – in some cases – click on the illustration to return to the article). Click the hyperlinks (in underlined red) to go to other web pages, which will open in a new window (click the X icon [top right] to return to the article).
The Location of Aït Ouazik
Aït Ouazik (also known as Aït Ouaazik, Aït Uazit, Aït Ouaik and Aït Wazik) is a renowned and – fortunately – protected and supervised petroglyph site in the eastern part of the Anti Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco, located 125 km ESE of the town of Ouazarzate (but roughly 200 km via the road; all distances and altitudes in this paper are based on Google Earth) (Figures 1 and 2). Although Susan Searight (2001: Fig. 2) locates Aït Ouazik in her Zone 5 (South-East), separated from Zone 6 (Anti Atlas) and Zone 7 (South) by the river Draa north of Zagora, I regard – for matters of convenience – the whole area around Aït Ouazik to be part of the Anti Atlas Mountains, which in my view thus includes (parts of) her Zones 5, 6 and 7.
Figure 1. Map of NW Africa showing the location of Aït Ouazik and the three other relevant (rock art) sites mentioned in the paper. All other rock art sites have been omitted on this map. Map Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth Relief Maps.
Figure 2. Map of the Anti Atlas Mountains in southern Morocco showing the location of Aït Ouazik. The approximate locations of several other rock art sites have been indicated. Map Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth Relief Maps.
Actually it is not clear to me exactly how many sites there are near the village of Aït Ouazik (located at 870 m O.D. in Figure 3). Susan Searight (2001: 87 and 297) speaks of Aït Ouazik S (Zone 5 – Site SE19) and Aït Ouazik O (Zone 5 – Site SE20); while others authors refer to the site as Aït Ouazik Centre, South and Northwest (Wolff 2004: 53) or as Aït Ouazik West and Aït Ouazik South (Simoneau 1971; Rodrigue 2009: 83). Also Philippe Massy distinguishes Aït Ouazik West and South (1998: 17).
Figure 3. Map of the around Aït Ouazik, southern Morocco. Map Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth Relief Maps.
I only (photographically) surveyed the major concentration directly to the west of the village, which probably is Aït Ouazik ‘O’ according to Searight and which is definitely Aït Ouazik West according to Massy. For matters of convenience the site surveyed by me – west of the village – will be simply referred to in the current paper as Aït Ouazik indicated with a larger green square in Figures 1, 2 and 3, while the smaller green square in Figures 2 and 3 indicates the position of Aït Ouazik South. The yellow squares indicate other rock art sites in the area and all their locations are much approximated and thus possibly incorrect.
The major concentration at Aït Ouazik is found on a long east-west running ridge of hard sandstone, some 13 km SW of Tazzarine (a village on the R109-N12), while the warden’s cottage at the site is only 1600 m west of the village of Aït Ouazik. This ridge (Figure 4) – measuring about 1500 m in length – has a gentle dip-slope to the north and a steeper escarpment to the south (red arrows in Figures 4 and 5). On both the gentle dip-slope and the steep scarp are remains of ancient structures (see video and Google Earth), mainly low, roughly circular rings of boulders (cattle-pens or hut-circles?). On top of the ridge, very near the scarp are several ancient tumuli; one with a prominent standing stone in its centre (see video).
Figure 4. Map of the ridge on which the petroglyphs of Aït Ouazik are located. The green oval indicates the area on the ridge with the petroglyphs discussed in this paper. The white square to the east of the oval is the Warden’s Cottage. Map Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth Relief Maps.
Figure 5. Detail map of the area at Aït Ouazik located within the green oval of Figure 4. The brown circle indicates the tumulus with the standing stone; the yellow circle indicates the area on the ridge with the petroglyphs discussed in this paper. Map Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth Relief Maps.
I estimate the top of the ridge to have an average maximum altitude of about 887 m O.D., while the valleys floors to the north and south are situated at respectively 875 m and 876 m. The petroglyph panels that I surveyed are located on the rocky dip slope, predominantly on a series of much fragmented sandstone pavements and loose blocks (see video), but all mainly very near the scarp. The petroglyphs are predominantly found on the (nearly) horizontal upper surfaces of such pavements and on loose blocks that are found scattered all around in the area. Yet, several petroglyphs occur on steeply sloping or even vertical surfaces (see video). Also the tall menhir (standing stone) in the largest tumulus on the ridge has some anthropic grooves that are visible when looking north towards Jebel Ahoujgal (see video).
From the top of the ridge one has wide and impressive views all around (see video). About 2 km to the NE and 6 km to the NW the mountain ridge of Jebel Ahoujgal is visible across the plain with the mostly dry river-bed of the Oued Aït Ouazik (possibly referred to by Searight [2001: 297] as Oued Akka n’Ifedzane). One prominent peak (at 1211 m O.D.) of Jebel Tounine forms a distinct landmark above the village of Zalou, some 5.6 km to the WNW of the site. Roughly 3 to 6 km to the east and southeast the jagged edges of Jebel Idouakri, the northern outlier of Jebel Aokri, rise to a height of about 1250 m O.D., while 5 km to the west and SW the northernmost gentle dip-slopes (often larded with fragmented sandstone pavements) of the well known Jebel Bani rise to a maximum height of 1650 m O.D. (about 10 km to the west of Aït Ouazik). To the east a short, narrow gorge connects the valley of Aït Ouazik with the rock-strewn plains of Tirhermt Ilemchane further east (see video). It is clear that the importance of Aït Ouazik is also due to its strategic location on a crossroads of accessible valleys leading to the east, south and west.
Rock Art at Aït Ouazik
To my knowledge hardly any major rock art site of Morocco has been fully described in a scientific inventory. Aït Ouazik is no exception. Although the site is well known and often referred to, only general and brief descriptions (mainly of specific elements and/or panels) are available.
Aït Ouazik has a mix of at least three different types of petroglyphs (see video): incised and polished lines, Tazina style petroglyphs mainly depicting zoomorphs, and – finally – pecked petroglyphs of mainly geometric designs (perhaps including some cupules). A few rock surfaces show roughly circular, smooth and shallow depressions (see for instance Figure 11; Feature 4) that may represent (ritual?) grinding hollows (not representing rock art though). These three types of petroglyphs will now be discussed.
A hallmark of this site (and of many other Tazina style sites) is the abundance of rather short and straight lines (mainly incised or – when more deeply and smoothly executed – polished). Many of those lines probably also belong to the Tazina style, but this not certain. Many stones are crowded with (only) such lines that often are very thinly incised (see video). In many cases such lines seem to be superimposed by (?) biomorphic petroglyphs of the ‘standard’ Tazina style. At several places rock surfaces seem to have been (ritually?) polished or rubbed smooth after the manufacture of those lines, often still showing such lines, although only very faintly (see video). Most of those thin grooves seem to have been randomly placed. However, in several cases short straight lines definitely form premeditated patterns (like grids and stars).
When briefly describing Aït Ouazik, Susan Searight (2001: 297) refers at least one time to a ‘game’ petroglyph. I take it that she refers to the (very lightly incised on a rough surface) design of a game-board at Aït Ouazik; not to the collective term of wild animals that are hunted. Another example of a similar ‘game-board’ design from the rock art site of Amda (Aït Saadane Region) is illustrated in the paper by Richard Wolff (2004: Fig. 4; the square design to the right of the scale, which is not a trap). Petroglyphs of game-boards are found in many areas of the African continent (Van Hoek 2004: Fig. 2) and beyond (Berger 2004).
Some of the larger and deeper polished straight grooves (especially when arranged in parallel rows) look like the markings resulting from sharpening tools. The many grooves (and other petroglyphs) at Aït Ouazik may also have been produced as a sort of ‘gestural art’, made to record a visit to a site.
However, they may have had the same ritual symbolism as the many polissoirs on Egyptian temple walls (Van Hoek 2009), as especially the deeper grooves may have been made to derive the power of this sacred (burial!) site just by manufacturing the groove; in other words by ritually touching the stone. But perhaps the resulting fine stone powder was also taken home as a relic (in a bag or box, for instance) or even swallowed on the spot, a practice that is generally called geophagy (Callahan 2000). Similar but usually bigger and/or deeper grooves occur elsewhere in Africa (and beyond) and have for instance been reported at Gilf Kebir in Egypt (Trust for African Rock Art – TARA) and at the so-called Niola Doa petroglyph panels of the Ennedi plateau in eastern Chad. Coulson and Campbell (2001: Fig. 15) illustrate a panel at Niola Doa that features at least four of such abraded grooves. Importantly, they argue that ‘at a later period, vertical grooves appear throughout Africa and even on Egyptian temple walls where women rub them to increase their fertility’.
Most conspicuous at Aït Ouazik are the many incised and/or polished petroglyphs of outlined biomorphs that clearly belong to the well known Tazina style. This style is characterised by the great care and elegance with which the figures are drawn and by the often excessively elongated extremities of the images (legs, tails, trunks etc). The zoomorphic imagery of the Tazina style comprises (apart from unidentifiable zoomorphic images) mainly antelopes, several birds (mainly ostriches), giraffe, feline, elephant, rhinoceros, horse-like animals and cattle (see video). Remarkably, eyes and other facial details seem to be lacking in Tazina style zoomorphic representations. Although several zoomorphic petroglyphs of the Tazina style at Aït Ouazik contain internal lines (mainly random lines of possibly different origin), intentional internal decoration is extremely rare, but it does occur.
Anthropic objects are represented by images of some axes, at least one chariot and especially by several types of objects that usually are generally interpreted as traps, mainly bag-traps – also called ‘nasses’ in French literature – and grid-like traps (Searight 2001: 297). There are also many abstract designs and grid patterns that may represent traps as well (see video). Other abstract motifs like spirals are less frequent. Only very few spirals (both pecked and polished) occur at Aït Ouazik, one being an impressive polished (Tazina style?) double spiral (see video).
According to Alain Rodrigue (2009: 163) images of anthropomorphs rarely occur in Tazina style imagery. Importantly, the few (mainly frontally depicted) anthropomorphs that I know to have been reported at Aït Ouazik seem to have been roughly pecked, not polished. Those pecked anthropomorphs therefore seem to belong to a different tradition than the ‘standard’ Tazina style at Aït Ouazik and thus may belong to a different period. However, according to Searight (2011: 200) one anthropomorph at Aït Ouazik seems to have been lightly incised, but whether it truly belongs to the Tazina style group is unknown to me. I will return to this specific anthropomorphic figure later on in this paper.
In general, pecked petroglyphs are relatively rare at Aït Ouazik (see video). Only a few geometric pecked patterns occur, mainly meandering grooves (like the example on the tumulus near the Warden’s Cottage; see video) and circular motifs, moreover very rarely together with the other types of rock art. However, in at least one case a pecked, complex abstract pattern seems to have been superimposed upon very thinly incised lines.
The Spoked-Wheel Design: Two designs at Aït Ouazik – most likely belonging to the Tazina style – are interesting within the scope of this paper. One is the often illustrated large wheel-like design situated almost directly opposite (north of) the Warden’s cottage (see video); the other involves a row of spiral-like designs. The carefully polished ‘spoked-wheel’ design – executed on a very smooth (pre-polished?) surface – most likely is also a trap according most authors (Huard and Leclant 1980: Fig. 97-6; Searight 2001: 297). In this respect it is interesting to compare this design with photographs of recently made traps from the eastern Sahara (Le Quellec et al. 2012: Figs 323, 324 and 326; see also Searight 2001: 72, 239).
Interestingly, spoked-wheel designs are rare according to Susan Searight (2001: 100), but there is a small but marked concentration in the area around Aït Ouazik. Paul Huard and Jean Lecant illustrate a second example ‘at Aït Ouazik’ (1988: Fig. 97-3), but their text (1988: 273) did not reveal whether it occurs at Aït Ouazik West or South. In 2010 Terry Little of the TARA-organisation photographed a spoked-wheel petroglyph on a large boulder south of the village of Aït Ouazik (2014: pers. comm.), which may involve the same example as illustrated by Paul Huard and Jean Lecant. However, their 1988-drawings often are only rather inaccurate sketches. Moreover, the spoked-wheel design on the boulder photographed by Terry Little is not enclosed by a circular groove, while the drawing by Paul Huard and Jean Lecant does show an enclosing groove and thus this spoked-wheel design (Figure 6) may well represent a third example. In this case this rare design proves to be executed on the ceiling of a small ‘cavity’ of the boulder and thus the design faces downwards. This is a highly unusual position for a petroglyph (although the boulder may have been overturned).
Figure 6. Boulder from Aït Ouazik South and a close-up of a spoked-wheel design at an unusual position. Photograph Copyright by Terry Little (Trust for African Rock Art – TARA), 2010.
Further examples in the area have been recorded at Tazzarine (Searight 2001: 297), at Ouaouglout, 8m NE of Tazzarine (Huard and Lecant 1988: Fig. 97-2; Searight 2001: 297), while two examples have been recorded at Anou n’Ouamersemlal (Huard and Lecant 1988: Fig. 97-7 and 8; Searight 2001: 297). Significant in the scope of this paper is another spoked-wheel design discovered at Ikfh n’Ouaroun about 45 km to the SE of Aït Ouazik (Huard and Lecant 1988: Fig. 97-1; Searight 2001: Fig. 15c). I will return to this site later on.
Also in the area around the villages of Akka and Tata, an area roughly 290 km SW of Aït Ouazik, spoked-wheel designs have been recorded. Although this specific motif seems to be an element of the polished Tazina style, at least one pecked spoked-wheel (?) petroglyph has been recorded by Ibrahim Lamnay from Foum Zguid at the mixed Pecked-Tazina petroglyph site of Touzounine, 27 km SSW of Akka. But this petroglyph may represent a fortuitous instance of parallel evolution. Other (incised?) examples have been recorded at Tiiganne or Tiggane (Huard and Lecant 1988: Fig. 97-4), at Maarda (Huard and Lecant 1988: Fig. 97-5), while Susan Searight also mentions one spoked-wheel trap at Adrar n’Metgourine (2001: 278) and one at Oum el Aleg (2001: 287). I will return to this latter site as well.
The Row of Spirals: West of the tumulus with the standing stone at Aït Ouazik is an area with sandstone pavements and loose boulders (yellow circle in Figure 5; area of Figure 5 also roughly indicated by the green oval in Figure 4). One of those rocks features Tazina style petroglyphs (Figure 7) comprising a row of interlocking spirals (Masy 1998: Fig. 13; Searight 2001: Fig. 49-f?; Dupuy 2001: Fig. 2-8a). Paul Huard and Jean Leclant again consider this design to be (a part of) a trap (1988: 271; Fig. 96-11).
Figure 7. Petroglyph boulder at Aït Ouazik. Photograph Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, 2015.
Similar rows of spirals have been recorded in the Hoggar Mountains of SE Algeria (Huard 1966: Fig. 3-11; Searight 2001: Fig. 49-g; Dupuy 2001: Fig. 2). At Youf Ahakit in the Oued Tintarabin, just south of the Tassili N’Ahaggar (Hoggar) in SE Algeria (1580 km SE of Aït Ouazik), comparable patterns are part of a very large and very complex petroglyph allegedly representing a snake (Donon 2004). Adjacent to this petroglyph is another panel featuring a much smaller and less complex but irregular pattern that may be regarded as an interlaced design involving loops.
Looped Designs: Certain complex designs only seemingly involve looped patterns. A perfect example is the most intricate pattern of a large petroglyph at Oufêké (also known as Youf Ehakit) (Huard 1966: Fig. 4-3). This design (Figure 8) certainly is most complex, but only the artificial colouring-in of the different outlined lines of the petroglyph reveals that the pattern actually does not involve true loops.
Figure 8. The complex design of a petroglyph from Oufêké, Tassili N’Ahaggar (Hoggar) in SE Algeria. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on Huard 1966: Fig. 4-3. The artificial colour differentiation only serves to distinguish the pattern of the petroglyph, which is completely drawn in outline.
In general, it is also a matter of perception whether a pattern may be regarded to show loops or not. This statement can be elucidated by presenting a manipulated illustration of a simple petroglyph of a square (a ‘shield’?) found at the rock art site of Oued Aguenar near Outoul in the Hoggar Mountains (located 1390 km SE of Aït Ouazik). Because the actual petroglyph (Donon 2004) in reality does not show any colour/patination differentiation (Figure 9) the design may in first instance be perceived as a square with a simple circle at each corner (Figure 9; option A > a ‘static’ pattern), but only if we artificially apply colour differentiation the figure all of a sudden exposes a continuous loop pattern (Figure 9; option B > a ‘dynamic’ pattern). There are – of course – more dynamic variations possible.
Figure 9. The layout of a petroglyph from Oued Aguenar, Outoul, Tassili N’Ahaggar (Hoggar) in SE Algeria. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Sylvia Lucie Eva Donon (2004). The artificial colour differentiation in Figure 9B only serves to distinguish the pattern more clearly.
The pattern of this looped-square petroglyph from the Sahara may be compared with the so called Bowen Knot. This symbol is – for instance – known from various images from the Nordic Countries (an example appears on the Havor Stone from Gotland, Sweden, which roughly dates from A.D. 400 to 600) and, surprisingly, as well from the Mississippian Culture of eastern North America (about A.D. 1250 to 1450). Yet, a number of convoluted Saharan petroglyphs prove to represent even more complex continuous loop patterns. This brings me to discuss Boulder ‘A’ at Aït Ouazik.
Boulder ‘A’ at Aït Ouazik
Near the boulder with the row of spirals, also just west of the tumulus with centrally placed menhir (see Figure 5 and video), is a cluster of rocks with petroglyphs (also located within the green oval in Figure 4). As I do not know of any official inventory of the petroglyph boulders at Aït Ouazik, I have labelled some of the relevant petroglyph boulders in this group ‘A’ to ‘i’. Figure 10 provides a much approximated plan – without a scale – of the group of the petroglyph boulders in this cluster (although not all – neighbouring and/or smaller – stones are shown).
Figure 10. Simplified plan of a cluster of petroglyph rocks at Aït Ouazik. The red stars indicate the position of the relevant patterns mentioned in the text. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek.
In this paper I will focus on Boulders ‘A’, ‘C’ and ‘i’, of which the last one apparently has not (?) been reported earlier (several of the other petroglyph-boulders are shown in the video). Several of the other petroglyph boulders of this group can be seen in the video.
Boulder ‘A’ is the starting point of my discussion. To begin with, there are more features on Boulder ‘A’ (even when disregarding the usual short, incised and polished lines) than the three petroglyphs (labelled Petroglyphs 2, 3 and 5 in this survey) that most authors illustrate and/or describe. It is understandable that only Petroglyphs 2, 3 and 5 on Boulder ‘A’ are usually illustrated and described, as they are the best visible features.
Although I have no record who actually first discovered the rock art site of Aït Ouazik, it most likely was André Simoneau who, in 1971, reported the petroglyphs on Boulder ‘A’ for the first time (Simoneau 1971: 113, pl 1, photo 2). Since then several (graphical) interpretations of the images have been published. Paul Huard and Jean Leclant only published a part of two petroglyphs, which I will discuss in more detail when dealing specifically with Petroglyph 5 (1988: Fig. 96-10). In the caption to his photograph Philippe Masy (1988: Fig. 14) describes the most distinct petroglyphs on Boulder ‘A’ as: ‘Motif quadrangulaire de lignes entrelacées (Petroglyph 5 in this survey), associé à une antilope (Petroglyph 2) et à un animal indéterminé (Petroglyph 3). Aït Ouazik Ouest (publié par Simoneau 1971 et 1977, par Huard et Leclant 1973 et 1980)’, while he also offers the following additional information (1988: 22): ‘Sur la figure 14, une antilope (Petroglyph 2) et un animal que Simoneau étiquette “félin?” (Petroglyph 3) sont associés à un motif particulier de lignes régulièrement entrelacées’ (Petroglyph 5). Also Ahmed Taoufik Zainabi (2004: 37) illustrates Boulder ‘A’, while the caption to his photograph reads: ‘antilope et félin (Petroglyphs 2 and 3) / filet de chasse’ (Petroglyph 5).
I now will offer the interested reader a brief summary of the petroglyphs/features on Boulder ‘A’ (see video). Because my surveys only involve photographic recording, measurements of the individual petroglyphs have not been taken. However, all features are estimated to range between 20 and 50 cm. Petroglyphs 1 to 5 are found on the nearly horizontal upper surface of Boulder ‘A’ (Figure 11), while Petroglyphs 6 and 7 appear on its almost vertical SW face (Figure 12).
Figure 11. Petroglyph boulder ‘A’, upper surface, Aït Ouazik. Photograph Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, 2015.
Figure 12. Petroglyph boulder ‘A’, SW face, Aït Ouazik. Photograph Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, 2015.
Boulder ‘A’ – Petroglyph 1: To the left of Petroglyph 2 and crossed (superimposed?) by the tail of the zoomorph is a faint geometric pattern (Figure 11.1; Figure 13). Because of its much weathered nature and the fact that other (random) lines blur the picture, this arrangement seems to have escaped the attention of most, if not all, rock art researchers. The outlined, roughly square pattern proves to consist of smaller, rather regular squares, for the most part crossed by diagonal lines.
Figure 13. Petroglyph 1 on Boulder ‘A’, Aït Ouazik. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, 2015.
Such regular patterns of lightly incised lines could well represent a net or some other hunting device (like a trap), which seems to be confirmed by its location very near the zoomorph (Petroglyph 2) that has its tail crossing the pattern. Another panel at Aït Ouazik shows a possible giraffe petroglyph with a small cupule on its body. To the right of this zoomorph may be a (very faint) similar pattern. It again may represent a trap. On the other hand however, similar petroglyphs, for instance from Hima, southwest Saudi Arabia, have been interpreted as game-boards (possibly referring to the Arabic game called Quirkat or al-qirq).
Boulder ‘A’ – Petroglyph 2: Petroglyph 1 is crossed by the tail of an outlined and polished zoomorph – Petroglyph 2 – that clearly belongs to the Tazina style (Figure 11.2). The laterally depicted zoomorph most likely represents some type of antelope or gazelle. This zoomorph is identified by El Mati Daoudi (1997: Fig. 21) as a Grant’s gazelle (Gazella Granti Bovidae), but it may as well represent an Oryx (Gemsbok). The long, outlined horn of the zoomorph ends in what may be a natural depression that might have been worked on by humans. The lines forming the hind leg(s?) are joined, while the lines of the front leg(s?) remain separated. From its chin a straight, polished groove connects with the (extremely) long tail of the zoomorph of Petroglyph 3. Chin-lines are a feature of several other Tazina style images.
Boulder ‘A’ – Petroglyph 3: Petroglyph 3 (Figure 11.3) is another zoomorph of the Tazina style. It is also laterally depicted, which in fact is a hallmark for Tazina style biomorphs. The four lines forming both legs are joined and continue as one single line across the edge of the panel for a very short length, crossing each other. The alleged head (which is separated by the body by a groove that is the continuation of the front leg) of the zoomorph seems to be excessively large and possibly for that reason the animal is sometimes labelled as a feline. From the head (or chin?) runs a polished groove that joins the lines of the front leg.
This zoomorph, which several authors refer to as a feline, is – according to Daoudi – a Gemsbok (Oryx Gazella Bovidae). Unfortunately, a few lines of both zoomorphs are incorrectly drawn by him (see the arrows in Figure 14). More importantly, Daoudi draws Petroglyph 3 as an animal with a long horn (represented by a single line) and for that reason he identified the animal as an Oryx (1997: Fig. 21). However, in my opinion Daoudi has incorrectly interpreted a natural crack in the boulder to be part of the animal. Moreover, this crack also continues below the chin area of the zoomorph. This crack just possibly may have been worked on (superficially polished), but even when this is the case, the ‘groove’ is definitely much shallower and less distinct than the other polished grooves of Petroglyph 3. The two short lines that Daoudi draws to connect the crack with the zoomorph are – in my opinion – also natural features. Therefore I tend to interpret Petroglyph 3 as a possible feline, or rather as an enigmatic zoomorph or simply as an unidentified animal.
Boulder ‘A’ – Feature 4: Actually this feature is no petroglyph, but yet I consider it to be a possibly important part of Boulder ‘A’. It is a smooth and shallow, circular depression on the top of the nearly horizontal upper surface of the boulder (Figure 11.4). Its origin may be natural, but equally it may be (completely?) anthropic. It may well have been smoothened by anthropic (ritual?) actions. The surface of Boulder ‘A’ at this point is horizontal enough to contain water or whatever substance (hence its different colour?).
Boulder ‘A’ – Petroglyph 5: This very complex interlaced design involving loops is actually the main subject of this paper. Susan Searight possibly refers to a complex interlaced design at Aït Ouazik (on Boulder ‘A’?) as ‘complex polished spiral design’ (2001: 297), but that description may also refer to the row of spirals described above (Figure 7), especially as Petroglyph 5 is definitely not a spiral. Petroglyph 5 (together with part of Petroglyph 3) has been drawn by Paul Huard and Jean Leclant (1988: Fig. 96-10). Obviously they regard this complex pattern to represent a trap as well. However, their rendering (Figure 15.A) is rather sketchy and moreover incomplete/incorrect and does not do justice to the factual layout of Petroglyph 5 (and 3).
Interesting are the observations by El Mati Daoudi. He argues that the arrangement of the three images (Petroglyphs 2, 3 and 5) that he illustrates and describes (1997: Fig. 21) depicts the hunting technique that uses a net. This net – so he argues – is represented by one single cord that is intricately interlaced, roughly forming a square, which has intentionally been placed in front of two zoomorphs in order to lure them to fall into the trap. He moreover argues that ‘the two antelopes run desperately towards the net’. Regarding his interpretations, I have three observations. Firstly, Petroglyph 3 definitely does not consist of one single (continuous) line, despite the impression given by the slightly incorrect rendering of Douadi (Figure 14), as at two points the ‘continuous’ line is broken (indicated with a red arrow in Figure 15.B). Secondly, there is no evidence at all that all petroglyphs on Boulder ‘A’ are made by the same hand and/or at the same time. Petroglyph 5 may well be a later addition or even the very first mark on this stone. Finally, as I already pointed out, it is highly questionable whether Petroglyph 3 is indeed a Gemsbok.
Figure 15. A: Petroglyph 5 on Boulder ‘A’, Aït Ouazik. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on the illustration by Paul Huard and Jean Leclant (1988: Fig. 96-10). B: Petroglyph 5 on Boulder ‘A’, Aït Ouazik. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek.
The interlaced pattern of Petroglyph 5 (Figure 15.B) is in fact characterised by four loops at each corner of the design that are joined by slightly curving and parallel (horizontal and vertical) grooves and one straight, diagonal groove. It seems as if some grooves superimpose other grooves. In my subjective drawing yellow grooves are suggested to superimpose black grooves. Where yellow grooves cross yellow grooves it was impossible for me to determine which groove is superimposed. The grooves, however, do not form a continuous pattern, despite the impression of being uninterrupted, nor is it a type of labyrinth or spiral. At its left (NW) side five grooves continue for a very short distance beyond the design and peter out rapidly (indicated with a yellow arrow in Figure 15.B). This may be due to the possibility that the manufacturer – ergonomically sitting (?) on the boulder at the spot where Petroglyphs 2 and 3 are located – polished the (now ‘horizontal’) grooves in a vertical fashion and (unintentionally?) continued those grooves a little bit outside the intended pattern. It may also be possible that those (now ‘horizontal’) grooves were repeatedly polished by later visitors to the site.
Boulder ‘A’ – Petroglyph 6: Because it is located on the NW facing, almost vertical panel of Boulder ‘A’, this petroglyph also seems to remain unnoticed, despite the fact that it actually represents a clearly visible, deeply incised, rectangular outlined box filled with a pattern of closely packed, diagonal grooves crossing each other (Figure 12.6). It most likely represents a sort of trap.
Boulder ‘A’ – Petroglyph 7: To the right of Petroglyph 6 is a long vertical groove joined by six diagonal grooves at its lower end, giving the impression of an arrow or feather (Figure 12.7). Although it is unknown what this configuration signifies, it may well represent a plant.
Analogies of the Interlaced Design on Stone ‘A’
Boulder ‘C’ at Aït Ouazik: Surprisingly, the pattern of Petroglyph 5 on Boulder ‘A’ seems to be repeated in an even more complex way, namely on Boulder ‘C’, only 1 metre to the NE of Boulder ‘A’. On the horizontal upper surface of this boulder are a large number of random grooves, a group of nine somewhat larger and deeper grooves (polissoirs?), a zoomorphic petroglyph (possibly depicting an elephant) and a very complex interlaced pattern below the tail of that zoomorph.
The two petroglyphs on Boulder ‘C’ (the zoomorph and the interlaced pattern) have been drawn by Paul Huard and Jean Leclant (1988: Fig. 96-9). Again they regard this complex pattern to represent a trap. Unfortunately, their drawing (Figure 16) is incorrect again and does not do justice to the factual layout of the petroglyph(s). A photograph of the petroglyphs on Boulder ‘C’ appears in the publication of Philippe Masy (1988: Fig. 15), which he correctly describes as: ‘Motif de lignes entrelacées associées à un éléphant (?). Aït Ouazik Ouest (publié par Simoneau 1971 et 1977, Huard et Leclant 1980)’, and as (1988: 22): ‘Sur la photo 15, un éléphant (?) surmonte un entrelacement de lignes torsadées (Aït Ouazik ouest, André Simoneau 1971 : 113 pl 1, photo 3 : “spirale, filet ?”)’. Susan Searight (2001: 221) refers to the configuration on Boulder ‘C’ as follows: ‘A complex plait motif on SE20 (Zone 5) (attached to the tail of an elephant and perhaps therefore a trap) can be compared to the large plaited motif in the Oued Djerat (Lhote, 1975: 503)’. Unfortunately she does not offer an illustration of the ‘plaited motif in the Oued Djerat’, which might be the same as the Oufêké (or Youf Ehakit) petroglyph (Figure 8). If that is indeed the case, the Oufêké petroglyph cannot be compared with the Aït Ouazik continuous pattern as I have demonstrated in this paper.
Figure 16. Petroglyphs on Boulder ‘C’, Aït Ouazik. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on based on the illustration by Paul Huard and Jean Leclant (1988: Fig. 96-9).
The elongated interlaced design on Boulder ‘C’ is quite weathered in places and patinated to the same colour of the surface of the panel. As a consequence several lines are almost invisible at the moment. However, my (subjective) reconstruction of the interlaced design (Figure 17) clearly shows that the underlying pattern – with five parallel rows of loops this time – is basically similar to Petroglyph 5 on Boulder ‘A’. Unfortunately it cannot be distinguished anymore whether this pattern involved continuous loop designs.
Figure 17. Petroglyphs on Boulder ‘C’, Aït Ouazik. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek.
The similarity with Petroglyph 5 and the very close proximity to Boulder ‘A’ make it quite acceptable that there is a relationship between the two patterns. Perhaps they are made by the same manufacturer, or perhaps someone copied the basic idea from one of the stones or from a design elsewhere. Petroglyph 5 on Boulder ‘A’ is rather deeply incised, whereas the interlaced pattern on Boulder ‘C’ is more superficially incised (and much more weathered). Those differences may point to a greater age of the pattern on Boulder ‘C’, although repeated re-polishing (?) of Petroglyph 5 on Boulder ‘A’ may have hidden its greater age.
Boulder ‘i’ at Aït Ouazik: Possibly related to the interlaced designs on Boulders ‘A’ and ‘C’ is the only complex petroglyph on Boulder ‘i’. This small boulder (possibly disturbed) is found a few meters to the SE of Boulder ‘A’. The petroglyph we are interested in appears on a vertical panel, almost immediately above ground level (photographs – see video – were made while lying flat on the ground). All the grooves of this complex pattern are deeply patinated to the same degree as the natural surface of the boulder. All lines are rather superficially executed and in several instances they are too indistinguishable to be certain about the exact layout. The ‘hidden’ location and the deep patination of the lines may be the reasons why this petroglyph escaped being noticed.
There are three groups of grooves. My (subjective) rendering of this complex pattern shows an interlaced pattern (indicated in orange) that has a row of six (sometimes incomplete) loops at the left side and another row of six loops at the right side (Figure 18.A). However, the connecting horizontal and diagonal grooves are not as perfectly drawn as in Petroglyph 5 on Boulder ‘A’, and thus the pattern is by no means continuous. It only inexactly mirrors the patterns on Boulders ‘A’ and ‘B’. The interlaced pattern seems to be filled for a big part with very thin parallel lines, mainly diagonally executed, while the third group of lines comprises a bunch of rather distinct vertical (now?) grooves that seem to superimpose (obliterate or annul?) the previous two groups of lines in this configuration.
Figure 18. A: Petroglyphs on Boulder ‘i’, Aït Ouazik. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek.
Figure 18. B: Petroglyphs on the Warden’s Cottage Boulder, Aït Ouazik. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek.
The Warden’s Cottage Boulder at Aït Ouazik: Just north of the warden’s cottage there is a boulder with four abstract petroglyphs (plus an incised device looking like a spearhead and the usual short grooves). Two of the abstract motifs may be regarded as continuous looped patterns; variations of the sign of infinity (Figure 18.B). They are much weathered and are found on a rough patch of the rock’s surface. Each pattern consists of two grooves running parallel to each other, each looking like two joined ‘figures of 8’ with a bigger middle section; the whole looking like a more complex sign of infinity. Their relationship with the previously described interlaced patterns is uncertain.
Tazzarine: Paul Huard and Jean Leclant (1988: Fig. 96-14) illustrate a possible trap petroglyph from nearby Tazzarine (1988: 89, 271). This outlined (?) figure may be perceived to represent an interlaced pattern with nine small loops.
Ikfh n’Ouaroun: It is almost certain that Aït Ouazik is part of an extensive system of important thoroughfares. This is clearly demonstrated by a series of rock art sites along the route. About 5 km SSE of the village of Aït Ouazik is Aït Ouazik South and 13 km to the SSE is the Tazina style rock art site of Anou n’Ouamersemlal where two examples of the spoked-wheel design have been recorded. About 45 km SE of Aït Ouazik, following the same route between two high sandstone ridges (Jebel Bani to the west and Jebel Mrah to the east), is the rock art complex of Ikfh n’Ouaroun, actually consisting of a series of at least five sites (Searight 2001: 297 – 298). Interestingly, Susan Searight mentions a ‘complex curvilinear design’ at Ikfh n’Ouaroun (the site of Asguine – SE26), but she did not offer an illustration.
However, without an illustration nothing can be said about the exact layout of this ‘complex curvilinear design’, but fortunately a video on YouTube provided a clue. This video included a picture of a complex design ‘somewhere in southern Morocco’.
Dr. Helene Hagan, director of the Tazzla Institute for Cultural Diversity, who produced the video (Amazigh Video Productions 1997), provided me with a high resolution photograph and confirmed that it was the same site as listed by Susan Searight as Ikfh n’Ouaroun – Asguine – SE26 (Helene Hagan 2014: Pers. Comm.). My drawing of the photograph (reproduced here with the kind permission of Dr. Helene Hagan as Figure 19) clearly shows that the designs concerned two adjoining interlaced patterns (Figure 20) that – although different – are definitely related to the interlaced patterns on the boulders at Aït Ouazik. The connection of this area with Aït Ouazik is moreover firmly confirmed by the recording of a spoked-wheel design – almost identical to the example at Aït Ouazik – at the neighbouring site of Azigzaou Brahim (SE27) at Ikfh n’Ouaroun (Huard and Leclant 1988: Fig. 97-1; Searight 2001: Fig. 15c).
Figure 19. Petroglyphs on a rock surface at Ikfh n’Ouaroun – Asguine. Photograph Copyright by Helene Hagan; Tazzla Institute for Cultural Diversity, Amazigh Video Productions 1997.
Figure 20. Petroglyphs on a rock surface at Ikfh n’Ouaroun – Asguine. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph (Figure 19) by Helene Hagan; Tazzla Institute for Cultural Diversity, Amazigh Video Productions 1997.
Tizi n’Mgarbiya: After having published this paper, I learned of a publication by Abdelhadi Ewague, Adil Moumane et Abdellah Lachheb (2013) who described a new site in the area, called Tizi n’Mgarbiya, located at the northern foot of Jebel Bani. One of the panels they describe features a Tazina style antelope next to an abstract design (2013: Fig. 13). Though smaller, it is very similar to the pattern at Asguine – Ikfh n’Ouaroun (Figures 19 and 20). Abdelhadi Ewague, Adil Moumane and Abdellah Lachheb suggest that the abstract design may represent a trap and that the two petroglyphs together may represent a hunting scene.
Ewague, A., A. Moumane and A. Lachheb. 2013. Un nouveau site rupestre du Draa-Bani: Tizi n’Mgarbiya. Sahara. Vol. 24, pp. 207 – 213. Milano, Italia.
Tizi n’Mgarbiya (site not shown in Figure 2) is located some 25 km SE of Zagora, 20 km due west of the point where the river Draa breaks through the Jebel Bani ridge (see Figure 2) and 44 km SW of Asguine – Ikfh n’Ouaroun. Thus also this site fits well in the migration route of the “sign of infinity” pattern that I suggest in this paper.
Oum el Aleg: Although (often irregular) curvilinear designs occur at several rock art sites in Morocco, especially at the impressive petroglyph site of Imaoun NNW of the town of Akka (Searight 1999; Searight 2001: Fig. 46, 303), these mainly are of a different type than the interlaced designs described in this paper. Possibly interesting however is the ‘continuous loop coil motif’ (measuring 12 by 9 cm) reported on Panel 232 at Oum el Aleg (Searight 2001: 148, 286), 10 km SSE of Akka (see Figure 1 for location). Her brief description suggests that it involves a pattern that may be related to the interlaced designs at Aït Ouazik and Ikfh n’Ouaroun. The possible relationship of Oum el Aleg (approximately 290 km SW of Aït Ouazik) with those two sites, also seems to be confirmed by the presence of a ‘spoked circle’ petroglyph on Panel 263 at Oum el Aleg (Searight 2001: 287), while a similar design has been reported on Panel S6 at Adrar n’Metgourine (Searight 2001: 278), a rock art site only 21 km to the NW of Oum el Aleg.
Traps or Just Interlaced Designs?
Throughout this paper it proves that many representations of purportedly geometric patterns (from simple straight lines to complex grid patterns) are actually considered by many researchers not as abstract designs with an unknown meaning, but as depictions of traps used in hunting animals (called pièges or nasses in French publications). Especially Paul Huard and Jean Leclant offer an enormously large collection of illustrations of isolated traps and traps (directly and indirectly) associated with all sorts of zoomorphs (1988: 232 – 274). The graphics representing traps vary from one single line (1988: Fig. 79-26) or a simple circle (1988: Fig. 84-1) to most complex patterns, like Petroglyph 5 on Boulder ‘A’ at Aït Ouazik (Figure 15.B).
Although I agree with Huard and Leclant that many of their examples indeed may be representations of traps (bear in mind the similarity between the ‘spoked-wheel’ design and actual traps still used today in the Sahara), there are some observations that must be made. First of all I would like to point out that only the combination on one panel of a zoomorph and an ‘abstract’ design does not mean that the abstract design or single line automatically represents or symbolises a trap. Accepting this hypothesis as a reality is a trap in itself. Secondly, in order to be able to interpret an alleged ‘trap-scene’ correctly, all the markings on the panel must be drawn and considered. Isolating only the ‘suitable’ markings can lead to deceptive conclusions. Moreover, regarding the Tazina style petroglyphs of ‘bag-shaped objects with crescentic horns’ (nasses) considered by several authors to represent traps, Susan Searight remarks that ‘there is no ethnological support for this theory, no similar objects having been found or reported by ethnologists’ (Searight 2001: 72; see however Le Quellec et al. 2012). Although I have no problem to accept that several of the complex designs described in this paper may represent traps or nets used in hunting practices, I also would like to take into consideration the possibility that some of those designs symbolise something else.
Parallel Evolution or Diffusion?
The distribution of Tazina style zoomorphs, interlaced patterns and ‘spoked-wheel’ designs described in this survey clearly demonstrates that the occurrence of these designs at several distant sites is the result of diffusion. As it is unknown to me exactly where the very first manifestations of the Tazina style developed, I restrict my self to conclude that the migration of the Tazina style at least used the corridors immediately east and south of the 500 km long mountain chain of Jebel Bani. The fact (?) that Tazina style rock art sites have so far not been recorded in the Draa valley north of the town of Zagora and west of the alleged ‘Tazina’ corridor, an area where Libyco-Berber rock art sites like Foum Chenna (Van Hoek 2014b) predominate, may indicate that the Tazina style entered the area from the east and then used the corridor east of Jebel Bani to spread to the south and west, or vice versa.
The Oukaimeden Case: However, the continuous loop pattern seems to have an unexpected but isolated parallel that does not seem to fit in the diffusion theory. About 220 km WNW of Aït Ouazik is the well known rock art site of Oukaimeden in the High Atlas (see Figure 1 for location). Situated at an altitude of 2595 m O.D. is Sector VII of the Oukaimeden rock art complex, called Tifina by Alain Rodrigue (1999: Fig. 6) or Tizi n’Tifina (Pass of Tifina) by Susan Searight who published a detailed study of this Sector (2001: 110 – 120).
Importantly, Sector VII has the biggest concentration of petroglyphs at Oukaimeden. Yet, from the study by Searight it proves that the Tizi n’Tifina petroglyph group has only one image of the so called High Atlas ‘shield’ symbols. ‘Shield’ motifs are usually large, outlined circles or rectangles – often filled with complex decoration – that occur more often at other Sectors at Oukaimeden (Figure 21) (see also Rodrigue 1999: 151) and at other High Atlas rock art sites like Yagour (for example Rodrigue 1999: 381 – 385), Tainant (Rodrigue 1999: 392) and Jebel Rat (especially at Tizi n’Tirlist where several fully pecked but still internally decorated discs occur). Searight (2001: 118) remarks that ‘researchers are divided as to the numerous internally decorated circles of the High Atlas are sun-symbols or round shields’. For matters of convenience I will follow Searight’s ‘preference’ and will call them ‘shields’ in this survey, allowing for any other interpretation to be valid, though.
Figure 21. Petroglyphs at Oukaimeden, High Atlas, Morocco. Photograph Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, 2015.
Most interesting in the scope of this paper is the only ‘shield’ petroglyph at Sector VII (or Tizi n’Tifina) of the Oukaimeden complex. This ‘shield’ petroglyph probably was first illustrated as drawing 155.24b by Jean Malhomme (1959) and most likely reproduced by other researchers like George Souville (1991: Fig. 4). A slightly different rendering was published by Alain Rodrigue (1999: 207 – Planche 62: O/VII/235), and another slightly different (inaccurate?) drawing appears in the thesis by El Mati Daoudi (1997: Fig. 141). A close-up photograph of the petroglyph was published by Susan Searight (2001: Fig. 27c). Because I have not personally seen this petroglyph during my visit to Oukaimeden I will use the drawing by Alain Rodrigue (Figure 22).
Figure 22. Petroglyph on Rock ‘K’ at Tizi n’Tifina, Oukaimeden, High Atlas, Morocco. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on the drawing by Alain Rodrigue (1999: 207 – Planche 62: O/VII/235).
The petroglyph in question appears next to a partial dagger (?) petroglyph on a nearly horizontal outcrop labelled Rock ‘K’ by Searight (2001: 116, 276, Fig. 25b). The ‘shield’ in question is an outlined circle that measures 45 by 45 cm (disregarding the external, partial arc of small cupules). The interior space is decorated with one small single arc and two sets of two concentric arcs that are attached to the large circle. More striking is the large interlaced pattern that completely occupies the internal space. Especially when isolated from the large circle and the other, smaller elements, it proofs that in fact it is a complex, continuous loop design with altogether ten loops (Figure 22). I do not know of any other ‘shield’ petroglyph in the High Atlas that has this type of decoration. However, most striking is the parallel between the Oukaimeden pattern and the interlaced designs of Aït Ouazik and – in particular – the looped pattern at Ikfh n’Ouaroun. Interestingly however, there is another, more distant, parallel.
The Djebel Lakhdar Case: About 800 km NE of Aït Ouazik and 950 km NE of Oukaimeden is the Djedar ‘A’, one of several monumental Berber mausoleums located on the hill of Djebel Lakhdar, south of the town of Tiaret in northern Algeria. A photograph by Fatima Kadaria Kadra (1993; reproduced in: Camps 1995) of one of the blocks of stone in this mausoleum shows an interesting design that proves to consist of two intertwined continuous loop patterns (actually two superimposed/interlaced Bowen Knots) and, although the exact layout is not that distinct in the photograph, the whole to some extent looks like the Oukaimeden pattern (Figure 23).
Figure 23. Pattern on one of the stones in Djedar ‘A’, Djebel Lakhdar, Tiaret, northern Algeria. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Fatima Kadaria Kadra (1993) reproduced by Camps (1995).
As these pre-Islamic tombs date from roughly A.D. 400 to A.D. 700, it is unlikely that this case involves an instance of diffusion. In my opinion the Djebel Lakhdar pattern is a clear example of parallel evolution of the continuous loop pattern. The motif may have been manufactured for possibly purely decorative reasons, representing architectural art, rather than rock art. Yet, it may well have been the intention of the manufacturer to create a motif that symbolises infinity; an appropriate symbol on a mausoleum wall.
High Atlas – Anti Atlas Contacts?
The problem is now (in view of the High Atlas – Anti Atlas contacts), is the Oukaimeden looped pattern an instance of diffusion as well? Or is it possible that it is an instance of parallel evolution? It is beyond any doubt that there have been many types of contact, both secular and spiritual, between the Anti Atlas and the High Atlas and the areas beyond. Rock art images seem to confirm such contacts between the Anti Atlas and the High Atlas, especially regarding the Libyco-Berber group of petroglyphs.
However, as far as Tazina style imagery is concerned, the direction of any purported contact seems to have been exclusively from the High Atlas towards the Anti Atlas, not vice versa. With this I mean that the Tazina style rock art is unknown in the High Atlas (and also north of it), while it is claimed that certain High Atlas elements occur in the rock art of the area around Aït Ouazik. For instance, Susan Searight (2001: 89) mentions the occurrence of a petroglyph possibly depicting a High Atlas type dagger at the site of Tamsahelt (SE17), only 10 km NW of Aït Ouazik (Figure 24.A). Undeniably, the layout of this thinly incised (dagger?) petroglyph looks very similar to High Atlas petroglyphs of (metal) daggers (Figure 24.B). Importantly however, the Tamsahelt petroglyph, if indeed depicting a dagger, seems to represent a unique example in the rock art of the Anti Atlas.
Figure 24. A: Petroglyph of a dagger from Tamsahelt, Morocco. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by “Claire and Jean Claude” (n.d), which is no longer available on the internet. B: Petroglyph of a dagger; Petroglyph 4, Panel 2, Israoun, High Atlas, Morocco. Drawing Copyright by Maarten van Hoek (Van Hoek 2014c: Fig. 6).
It will therefore be no surprise that also the High Atlas ‘shield’ design is not a standard motif of the Tazina style rock art repertoire. In fact, High Atlas ‘shield’ motifs seem to be absent in the Anti Atlas. Yet, there is at least one large, incised and outlined circle with (premeditated?) internal decoration of straight parallel lines at Aït Ouazik (see video). Is this circular motif an instance of diffusion (indeed representing a [High Atlas] ‘shield’?), or – more likely – is it just coincidence and thus a case of parallel evolution? In the latter case the circular petroglyph at Aït Ouazik West (SE20) may not even be a ‘shield’. This circular petroglyph is also not the same as the ‘round shield’ mentioned by Susan Searight (2001: 200, 297), which is found at Aït Ouazik South (SE19); a petroglyph of which I have no picture. Interestingly though, Searight narrates of another High Atlas ‘shield’ design at Aït Ouazik South.
Searight namely describes a configuration of petroglyphs from Aït Ouazik (SE19) comprising a 40 cm tall phallic anthropomorphic figure in the ‘surrendering’ position that is surrounded by a rectangular ‘shield’ and a ‘club’, all manufactured with a very shallow incision, unlike the other petroglyphs on the site (2011: 200). Also this scene seems to be a unique case in the Anti Atlas. Yet, she argues that this scene at SE19 is a small version of a 200 cm tall petroglyph of an anthropomorph (also in the ‘surrendering’ position) at the High Atlas site of Israoun or Israoul (referred to by her as HA20; this should however be HA28), 200 km WNW of Aït Ouazik. This HA28 anthropomorph (often called ‘l’homme d’Israoul’) is found at the northernmost rock art site on the Yagour Plateau, far across the High Atlas watershed. This High Atlas petroglyph represents – according to Searight – a ‘dead chief’.
She now speculates that also the Anti Atlas petroglyph of SE19 could represent ‘a dead chief from the High Atlas, perhaps killed on a foray from the mountains, or a local chief who had acquired these prestige items during the group’s nomadising in the High Atlas’ (2001: 201). She moreover speculates that the Tamsahelt dagger may be connected to the same event.
By presenting those two theories she seems to offer two plausible explanations for possible cases of diffusion. Because Tazina style petroglyphs do not seem to occur in the High Atlas or in the area to the north of this mountain chain (Searight 2001: Fig. 41), her explanations seem to dictate that one time someone must have seen the impressively large anthropomorphic petroglyph (and the daggers) at Israoun and copied it at Aït Ouazik; not the other way around. In my opinion however, both the foray and the nomadising events would more likely have taken place from or at the southern side of the High Atlas (for instance at Tainant or Telouet) instead from or at the rather isolated site of Israoun (with only two rock art panels), far across the watershed on the very northern side the High Atlas, simultaneously skipping many rock art sites (mainly at Yagour). Therefore, simple chance – or in other words: a parallel evolution – for the manufacturing of the ‘dead chief’ petroglyphs at two distant spots cannot be ruled out, although I am still perplexed to see the similarities between the two scenes.
Another analogy has – as far as I know – not been discussed in earlier literature. At least two panels at Aït Ouazik feature isolated spearhead-like petroglyphs (see video), in which a straight groove bisects a pointed oval; all lines incised. Another boulder has three concentric, triangular spearhead-like designs sharing one short groove (a shaft?). It is unknown to me if those designs at Aït Ouazik depict weapons, but petroglyphs of similar oval ‘objects’ have been reported at several sites in the High Atlas: at Yagour (Rodrigue 1999: 249, 268, 281, 299, 361, 362), Oukaimeden (Rodrigue 1999: 154, 158, 209) and at Telouet (Rodrigue 1999: 388). Similar spear-head-like motifs have also been reported at Jebel Rat in the High Atlas (Bravin 2013: Table I). In most cases the High Atlas devices are drawn in isolation as well. However, in one case at Oukaimeden (Rodrigue 1999: 194) and another case at Yagour (Rodrigue 1999: 327), such spear-like motifs indeed seem to represent a weapon, as in both cases the object is pointing towards (hitting?) a large anthropomorphic figure. Notwithstanding the similarities, it is uncertain if there is any relationship between the High Atlas and Anti Atlas regarding this motif.
Thus, in general it proves that the graphical links between the High Atlas and the Anti Atlas are very meagre. Moreover, the (ethno)graphical ‘evidence’ is most unconvincing or lacking. There are only a handful of rock art images (excluding images from the Libyco-Berber group) that might indicate a link between the High Atlas and the Anti Atlas. Any hypothesis in this respect is based on too few (purportedly matching) ‘High Atlas motifs’ in the Aït Ouazik area.
Although it is striking to see the similarity between especially the looped patterns at Ikfh n’Ouaroun and the Oukaimeden pattern, this parallel also offers not enough evidence to rightly claim it to be an instance of diffusion. The Oukaimeden pattern more likely concerns an instance of parallel evolution. Yet, there are several instances where specific distant motifs are said to be related, even over very long distances.
Long Distance Examples
For example, Ernesto Martín Rodríguez links many Saharan rock art patterns with motifs found in the Canary Islands (1997: 215). Interestingly, he compares the ‘spoked-wheel’ design, for instance found at of Aït Ouazik and Ikfh n’Ouaroun, with a slightly similar petroglyph at Lomo de Fajana, a rock art site on the island of La Palma, one of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, 1200 km west of Aït Ouazik. The adjoining designs at Lomo de Fajana (and motifs at many other petroglyph sites in La Palma – for instance at La Zarza) are possibly graphically more related to the imagery of Imaoun in southern Morocco; an area where also ‘spoked-wheel’ designs have been recorded (at Tiiganne, Adrar n’Metgourine and at Oum el Aleg). Still it remains uncertain whether the La Palma example represents an instance of diffusion. If it indeed is an instance of diffusion, then possibly only the layout may have been copied and migrated; not necessarily its original meaning (a trap?).
There are more examples of unexpected and incredible parallels of alleged diffusion. Christian Dupuy (2009) relates of images of the so called ‘Camunian Rose’; a rock art motif often compared with the Swastika symbol. This very specific design has been reported by him at the petroglyph site of Issamadanen, Adrar des Iforas, NE Mali. Surprisingly this motif is also found in Italy, in Portugal, in England (actually in Yorkshire – not in Northumberland – and locally called the Swastika Stone) and, finally, in Sweden at a site 4360 km north of Issamadanen (2009: Fig. 2). Dupuy argues that the distribution of this symbol ‘bears witness to interactions over extremely long distances between the Bronze and the old Iron Ages from the North Sea to the southern border of the Sahara, under conditions which are impossible to determine in the absence of a reliable archaeological context’.
Christian Dupuy (2010: 51) more or less repeats the essence of his statement when discussing specific petroglyphs (including two cross-shaped motifs, found together with the ‘Camunian Rose’ on the same boulder at Issamadanen – 2001: Fig. 4 and 5b; 2010: Fig. 5a): ‘Leur spécificité, leur rareté et leur vaste répartition géographique permettent d’y voir les manifestations d’interactions rapides et conjuguées sur de longues distances’. It is uncertain whether he – with this statement – specifically refers to the cross-shaped motif, but it is certain that the outlined cross-shaped motif is indeed found repeated at distant sites (although he does not mention analogies). For instance, the cross-shaped motif of Issamadanen has also been reported at Imaoun in southern Morocco, 1450 km NW of Issamadanen (Searight 1999). Therefore, his statements may be correct, but how would he explain the following analogies regarding the cross-shaped motif, which is also known as the outlined-cross or – more controversially – as the ‘Venus-cross’?
What Dupuy may have been unaware of, is that similar cross-shaped symbols occur at many rock art sites that are incredibly far apart. For instance the design also occurs at Storsteinen, Alta, in the far north of Norway (5700 km NNE of Issamadanen), and even more distant examples of the outlined cross have been recorded by me on the island of Bonaire in the Caribbean Sea (7485 km west), at various sites in the Andes of South America (for example at Cerro Mulato, northern Peru, 9330 km SW of Issamadanen, in NW Argentina [Van Hoek 2011]), but also in the Rocky Mountains of North America (for example in the South Mountains of Arizona, 10840 km WNW of Issamadanen), all found across the vast Atlantic Ocean. But there is more. There is also a striking concentration of such outlined crosses in New Caledonia (Coffman 2002: Fig. 47); an island in the Pacific Ocean, no less than 18357 km east of Issamadanen.
Based on these facts, I regard the various examples of the outlined cross to represent unambiguous examples of parallel evolution, although ‘small-scale’ diffusion within a confined area (for instance the Andes) always remains a possibility. Moreover, despite the graphical similarities I do not wish to claim the same symbolic content for all the manifestations of this widely distributed symbol, as is suggested by some authors (Sánchez P. 2008), especially when the symbol is referred to as the ‘Venus-cross’.
A last instance of an unambiguous instance of parallel evolution concerns the two petroglyphs of joined ‘figures-of-8’ at Aït Ouazik (Figure 18.B). Although the pattern is not identical, they may be compared with the, possibly 4000 years old, ‘figure-of-8’ design (∞) that occurs on an outcrop at the solitary petroglyph site of La Firma del Diablo (Figure 25) located in the rugged foothills of the Andes (Van Hoek 2014a: Fig. 18), NNE of the city of Trujillo, Peru; 8870 km SW of Aït Ouazik. This clearly looped symbol is very rare in Andean rock art and its meaning is still obscure. However, it may as well symbolise a sign of infinity.
Figure 25. Petroglyphs at La Firma del Diablo, Chicama Valley, Peru. Photograph Copyright by Maarten van Hoek, 2015.
I am grateful to the warden at Aït Ouazik for expertly guiding me around the site and for all the useful additional information that he gave me. Helene E. Hagan, director of the Tazzla Institute for Cultural Diversity, kindly provided me with a high resolution photograph of – and additional information about – the interlaced petroglyph at Ikfh n’Ouaroun that also featured in a YouTube video (Amazigh Video Productions 1997). I am also grateful to Helene Hagan for her kind permission to reproduce the photo (Figure 19) in this paper. Terry Little (Trust for African Rock Art – TARA) kindly permitted me to use his photograph of Aït Ouazik South, which has been reproduced here as Figure 6. Last but not least I thank my wife Elles for her ongoing assistance in the field and at home.
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