The plateau at the northern foot of Jebel Rat, in the heart of the High Atlas, Morocco, is a major rock-art centre, mainly known for its numerous petroglyphs of horsemen. There are also large circles (interpreted as round shields, some of them decorated) and weapons like daggers, halberds and axes. The anthropomorphic figures are not so well known. Some of them are similar to the ones present at Oukaimeden and Yagour, while others are typical of this plateau. Those figures are round or oval, their heads drawn with coils or spirals. A number of newly found anthropomorphs are presented in this paper.
by Alessandra Bravin
New Anthropomorphic Figures from Jebel Rat
High Atlas, Morocco
Alessandra Bravin – firstname.lastname@example.org
Translation of the paper published in: SAHARA; Vol. 24 (2013); pp. 119 - 128.
Nuove Figure Antropomorfe Del Jebel Rat, Alto Atlante, Marocco.
Translated 2014 - Uploaded and edited by Maarten van Hoek, 2015.
The High Atlas is a large mountain range that stretches SW to NE for about 700 km from the Atlantic Ocean to Algeria. Rock art sites have since long been known on plateaus at elevations between 1800 and 2600 meters and have been the subject of publications and inventories (Malhomme, 1959 and 1961; Rodrigue, 1999; Chenorkian, 1979 and 1988). The main sites of Oukaimeden, Yagour, Jebel Rat, and the lesser sites of of Tainant and Telouèt mostly have petroglyphs depicting metallic weapon-designs (spear-points, daggers, halberds), large rectangular and circular shields with interior decorations, domestic and wild animals, chariots, anthropomorphs and Libyco-Berber inscriptions. In the Jebel Rat area there is also a large collection of petroglyphs from the Horse Period (see Note 1).
Note 1: The Horse Period of the Jebel Rat and Foum Chenna (Draa Valley) was the topic of the doctoral thesis by the author. I thank the Direction du Patrimoine of the Ministry of Culture, Rabat, for their consent. The Jebel Rat article was written during the research for the doctorate (successfully accomplished in 2014).
Figure 1. The location of Jebel Rat in the High Atlas of Morocco. Map by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth Relief Maps. Scale is 100 km.
Click on the map to enlarge > return to the TRACCE web page using the back-arrow (left-hand top-corner). All photographs may be enlarged by clicking on the photo. To return, click again.
Jebel Rat (3797 m) is one of the peaks of the southern slope of the High Atlas (Figure 1). It looks like a great table, oriented NE-SW, with steep slopes, formed by “une barre calcaire à structure en tepee et organisée en bancs métriques à la base et massifs en haut” (Mehdi et al., 2003:230). It is an isolated mountain, visible from far away, surrounded by valleys on the east, south and west, and by a large plateau on the north. Its snow-cap, lasting several months each year, represents a water supply for agriculture and pasture of the valleys. The plateau is composed of Permian-Triassic sandstones. Most petroglyphs are executed on surfaces with brown or black-brown patina that covers the so-called “grès de l’Oukaimeden” (Boizumault, 2008: 73).
Figure 2A. Panorama of the pass at Tizi ‘n Tirghiyst and of the high plateau beyond, looking north from Jebel Rat. The main group of petroglyphs at the pass is found at the far left near the construction (see Figure 2B). Photograph Copyright by Alessandra Bravin.
Figure 2B. Detail of the pass at Tizi ‘n Tirghiyst (3) and (part) of the high plateau (2) beyond, looking north from the northern slope of Jebel Rat (4). The main group of petroglyphs at the pass is found in an enclosure (1). Information added by Maarten van Hoek. Photograph Copyright by Alessandra Bravin.
At the foot of the northern slope, at 2400 m, there is the pass of Tizi ‘n Tirghiyst, from which the plateau derives its name (Figures 2A and 2B). The pass connects two valleys that are inhabited by shepherds and farmers. The plateau is a vast extent of pastures of about 3.5 km2, frequented in summer by the shepherds of the nearby valleys, who make a short-haul transhumance and live in “azib” (dry-stone lodgings with adjoining enclosure for animals). It is likely that the practice of transhumance dates back to ancient times and that the shepherds were the authors of the petroglyphs. These petroglyphs, located both at the pass and scattered on the plateau, are all executed on horizontal or slightly sloping plates of sandstone without any particular orientation.
The petroglyphs at Tizi ‘n Tirghiyst were for the first time studied and published by A. Glory in 1953. Only many years later new publications revealed the wealth of sites and the extent of this rock art area (Simoneau, 1967). Our ongoing research has added new sites and further extended the area with rock art. In particular the number of anthropomorphic images has increased considerably. The group of anthropomorphic figures counts 47 figures of different shape, size and style (excluding Type IV that by itself includes 283 motifs; see below). The figures without citations are all published for the first time in this paper (see also the Notes at the end).
Different typologies have been proposed to classify the anthropomorphic figures executed on the rocks of the High Atlas (Noubel, 1993; Rodrigue, 1999; Ezziani, 2004). The typology proposed by Rodrigue seems to offer the most comprehensive classification. He divided the anthropomorphic figures into four types based on a choice of very simple discriminating criteria and with a strictly morphological approach. His classification is flexible enough to cover almost all of the anthropomorphic figures in the Jebel Rat area.
The Types I to IV are presented in Table 1 (to open: click this link). Scales are 10 cm, unless indicated otherwise. Each Table will open in a new window, so that they can be used together with the text page. To close a Table, click the cross in the right-hand top-corner.
Type I: is the simplest representation which consists of depictions of parts of the body, like an arm and a hand, a head or a footprint. These images do not concern unfinished figures, because these anatomical parts are sometimes repeated in series, like for example four arms arranged next to each other (Simoneau, 1997: 102). Petroglyphs of this type have been made with pecking producing filiform grooves (see below). There are six examples of Type I.
Type II: petroglyphs of this type have been executed with pecking producing filiform grooves, i.e. “chaque partie du corps est représentée par un seul trait” (Noubel, 1993: 31). This group shows more variability: the simplest form is a groove representing the whole body, which has no legs, while the arms are bent in a V-shape. In most cases the figures are more complete, with arms perpendicular to the body or in the “praying” position; the legs are wide apart or bent. Anatomical details are numerous and include details of the head, like the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the ears; other details include: the shoulder-blades or clavicle, the pelvis bones, the fingers of hands and feet, and ribs depicted with parallel grooves perpendicular to the torso. The sizes range from a minimum of 25 to a maximum of 100 cm. There are 21 examples of Type II (e.g. Figure 3).
Figure 3. Type II: Anthropomorph with outstretched arms and legs enclosed by a circular groove with a fringe at its lower part. The head is lacking because that part of the rock has flaked off. Total height is 130 cm. Photograph Copyright by Alessandra Bravin.
Type III: consists of figures drawn in outline, both open and closed, giving the effect of a certain volume and this distinguishes it from the previous group, to which it resembles in many ways: in size and in anatomical and technical details. There are nine examples of Type III petroglyphs (e.g. Figures 4, 5 and 6).
Figure 5. Type III: Long anthropomorph with outstretched arms and legs showing sex. Between its left arm and left leg is an oval-shaped anthropomorph with circular head (see Table 2, Type III, No. 6). The height of the oval-shaped anthropomorph, which is found on a (nearly) horizontal panel and thus only seemingly appearing in an ‘inverted’ position in the photo, is 50 cm. Photograph Copyright by Alessandra Bravin.
While belonging to this category, two figures, with very similar properties, stand out because of their size. It concerns male figures depicted in the “praying” position. Their patina is the same as the natural rock surface. The first figure (Table 1, Type III, No. 2) (Malhomme, 1961: 160, no. 1385) measures 100 cm and has its arms raised; the fingers are visible and it wears a bracelet. The torso is barely visible and has a U-sign inside it. The left leg and the sexual organs are barely visible, while the right leg seems to be unfinished. The petroglyph has been executed by pecking, but it also shows traces of polishing.
The second figure (Table 1, Type III, No. 3 and Figure 7, detail of the upper part), measuring 150 cm, is a massive figure with upper and lower limbs bent at right angles. The fingers of hands and feet are indicated by small cupules. The head, partialy weathered off, features large ears with an ear hole (?), and eyes (two, of possibly four cupules). The exaggerated neck consists of three parallel lines. The torso comprises thirteen parallel lines that might represent a garment. Its sex is also oversized. The entire figure has been pecked out and then polished.
Figure 7. Type III: The upper part of an anthropomorph with outlined body. For the whole picture see Table 1, Type III, No. 3. Photograph Copyright by Alessandra Bravin.
Type IV: concerns petroglyphs from the Horse Period. The anthropomorphs of this group have been depicted on horseback or on foot, and usually are armed with a small round shield and sometimes with a spear. They are pecked, but in two cases they are polished. Their dimensions do not exceed 20-30 cm. The style is simplified and omits anatomical details such as the legs of the rider. As mentioned above, with 283 examples this group of anthropomorphic figures is the main group of petroglyphs at Jebel Rat. A few examples are shown in the following photo.
In addition to these four Types, we include into our typology figures of Type V from the classification of P. Noubel, in agreement with this author who considers the subjects of her type V to represent anthropomorphic figures, though of a particular genre. Rodrigue, in establishing the types of anthropomorphic figures of Oukaimeden and Yagour, did not consider these petroglyphs for several reasons: the scarcity of numbers (only four examples were known at that time), the fact that they are unique to Jebel Rat and mainly because he believes that these figures more represent “de l’imagerie symbolique que de la représentation réaliste ou sub-réaliste” (1999: 56). In her type V, Noubel groups “personnages circulaires” (1993: 186), i.e. anthropomorphic figures enclosed by a circle or an oval. Their distinctive features are:
Types V and VI are presented in Table 2 (to open: click this link). Scales are 10 cm, unless indicated otherwise. Each Table will open in a new window, so that they can be used together with the text page. To close a Table, click the cross in the right-hand top-corner.
Type V: consists of a group of figures that drew the attention of the first rock art scholars because of their originality (Glory, 1953; Simoneau, 1967, 1977; Searight et Hourbette, 1992; Rodrigue, 2001) and because they only occur in the Jebel Rat area. They represent circular or ovoid figures, called “idols” (Simoneau, 1967-68) that have an anthropomorphic appearance, while inside or outside such figures volutes or spiral-patterns (heads?) are depicted (e.g. Figures 8, 9, 10 11 and 12). The idea that these figures could represent anthropomorphic petroglyphs is reinforced, with only a few exceptions, by the presence of the upper and lower limbs. At present the group consists of eleven figures. Two figures have been recorded in 1961 (Malhomme: 157-158). They measure 130 and 105 cm and are located a short distance from each other. One figure is round and the other one is elliptical and they seem to form a couple. The other two, each measuring approximately 50 cm, were published by A. Simoneau (1977: 101) and are also located close to each other. One is a round figure and the other an oval one. All these four figures are polished.
Figure 9. Type V: Anthropomorph with spiral-like head and arms. The left-hand side shows gaps but fingers are visible. See Table 2, Type V, No. 1. Height is 100 cm. Photograph Copyright by Alessandra Bravin.
Figure 12. The spirals of this figure are found inside the body. At the top there are external curvilinear motifs. See Table 2, Type V, No. 4. Height is 80 cm. Photograph Copyright by Alessandra Bravin.
The other seven figures have been recorded for the first time by the author and are presented in Table 2. These figures range from medium size to big dimensions, such as the monumental three-metre high figure (Table 2, Type V, No. 7: detail of the upper zone).
However, some figures do not fall into any of the Types described above, and although it concerns only three figures, we thought it to be appropriate to classify them as Type VI.
Type VI: these figures are found at great distances from each other and at different spots on the plateau. They have in common their style (which could be called naturalistic), but also their size (for two of them) and the technique, in which the bodies consist of fully pecked areas.
An imprecise tracing of the first figure (Table 2, Type VI, No. 1 and Figure 13) was published by A. Luquet (1967) with the words “Talat N’Issil. Figure complexe “. He drew the figure upside down and provided an incorrect location. It concerns a 40 cm tall anthropomorphic figure, sexed, with prominent buttocks, one arm pointing downwards; the other arm resting on the hip. The torso is frontally shown while the rest of the body is depicted in profile; the feet are not drawn. Next to the figure there is an irregular heart-shaped groove. On the same outcrop of stone, a short distance away, there are three other figures belonging to the type II, type III and type V.
The second figure (Table 2, Type VI, No. 2 and Figure 14), measuring 40 cm and executed in the same way, has a small, slightly tilted head, long arms that both end in big hands that point upwards and one raised leg, suggesting a movement. A curved line links it to another long, pecked groove, representing the body of an anthropomorph with a head that contains five cupules. At the same site there are also two figures of Type II and Type III.
The third figure (Table 2, Type VI, No. 3; in Luquet, 1967; his location is incorrect) is about 20 cm high; it has been frontally depicted and has a fully pecked body. Its arms are raised and the feet are indicated.
All six Types are presented in Table 1 and Table 2 (to open: click the links). Scales are 10 cm, unless indicated otherwise. Each Table will open in a new window, so that they can be used together with the text page. To close a Table, click the cross in the right-hand top-corner.
The figures of the first three Types have strong affinities with those found on the plateaus of Yagour and Oukaimeden, which confirms that “un certain nombre de sujets (sont) très proches (sinon identiques) des anthropomorphes de l’Oukaimeden et du Yagour” (Rodrigue, 2001: 84). Types I, II and III concern anthropomorphic figures that are most often represented on the three plateaus, with a dominance of Type II. Together with the themes of metal weapons and shields, these anthropomorphic figures connect the Jebel Rat plateau with the artistic “High Atlas” tradition, while chronologically they belong to the Bronze Age (Malhomme 1959 and 1961; Rodrigue, 1999). These figures normally occur isolated or are found on slabs together with designs of dots, daggers, undulating grooves, cattle (Figure 15), circles and round shields.
Figure 15. Type II: Anthropomorph with raised arms and outstretched legs next to undulating grooves, a dagger (at the bottom) and an upside-down cattle petroglyph (left-hand top corner). Width of the group is 60 cm. Photograph Copyright by Alessandra Bravin.
Unlike Oukaimeden and Yagour, the theme of big anthropomorphs accompanied by weapons is absent at Jebel Rat. Only one Type II anthropomorph has a big spearhead between the right foot and hand (Table 1, II-2 and Figure 16), but the composition is different from those at the other two plateaus because the spear-head is not pointing towards the figure. Another Type II anthropomorph (Figure 17) seems to hold two boomerangs, and, even if it has been identified as a dagger (Rodrigue, 2001), the object near the head is not a dagger and that part of the figure remains incomprehensible.
Figure 16. Type II: Anthropomorph showing sex, having a big spear-point (partially re-pecked) superimposed upon its right-hand foot. See Table 1, Type II, No. 2 (in the drawing the grey areas of the spear-point have been re-pecked). Height is 60 cm. Photograph Copyright by Alessandra Bravin.
Figure 17. Type II: Anthropomorph with outstretched arms and legs. The figure seems to hold two ‘boomerangs’. The left side of the head is distorted. Height is 75 cm. Photograph Copyright by Alessandra Bravin.
Among the figures of Type IV, i.e. riders on horseback and on foot engaged in scenes of battle and hunting, the ones located at the pass of Tizi n’ Tirghiyst are the most known. The slabs are rich in these scenes, for which A. Glory (1953) created the imaginative though evocative terms of “great battle” and “little battle”. These definitions still persist in popularization texts and in the explanations of the tourist guides, thus enhancing the idea that the dominant theme was that of the Horsemen, and masking the wealth of other themes present on the plateau.
Compared to other Horse Period sites in Morocco, the Horse Period of Jebel Rat is characterized by the large number of riders who are carrying oversized spears that show details like the spearhead with dividing line (Table 1, Type IV, No. 2 and No. 3), and who are holding shields with “decorations” (Table 1, Type IV, No. 4). Such details are unique to the Jebel Rat area.
But is it relevant to include this group in a typology that deals with anthropomorphic figures? The creation of this type originates from the analysis by P. Noubel, and is defended by Rodrigue and Ezziani. We will keep it in our typology because in the Horse Period the human figure is actually represented, but one has to admit that, compared to other Types, the focus on the human figure has strongly shifted. In the Horse Period the focus is not so much on the anthropomorphic figure, but on the scenes or actions in which they are engaged. The human figures, always depicted in a simple style, are overshadowed by weapons, which are enhanced by details such as the ribs on the spearheads and the decorations on the shield. In the Horse Period the contents of the drawing is not the representation of a personage, real or abstract, but of a real and concrete action, alluding to balance of power (war) or hierarchy (horseman against foot soldier), which are alien in the iconography of the other types, thus providing a clear-cut demarcation with the previous periods.
Type V forms a class unique to the Jebel Rat area. The figures are found isolated, or associated with concentric circles, or they can form a “couple” or occur next to anthropomorphic figures belonging to other Types (Figure 18). They are never associated with weapons. They are found scattered around at various spots on the plateau. This spiral pattern is not unique to the Jebel Rat area. In the south of Morocco, at the site of Tanoumrhit with “Tazina” style figures, we can see a petroglyph (40 cm across) of what appears to be a mask containing spiral motifs (Simoneau, 1971: 113). Simoneau notes that “un masque spiralé fait songer au bétyle de Tihigaline (see Note 2), mais aussi aux idoles aux yeux spiralés du Rhat. Ces yeux spiralés semblent bien un legs du néolithique saharien” (id.).
Note 2: The bethel (decorated menhir) of Tihigaline has been published by J. P. Savary (1965: Fig. 2 - 20).
Also regarding Type VI, especially Figure 13 (Table 2, Type VI, No. 1), some similarities with images from southern Morocco are to be pointed out. About a figurine with polished contour and with arms in the “praying” position, A. Simoneau writes: “On notera la petite tête et l’allure stéatopige du personnage” (1977: 41).
When have these figures been created? Although information to base answers upon is scarce, it is possible to propose a relative chronology. Type V is suggested to represent the oldest group of petroglyphs, because of the Neolithic Saharan affinity mentioned above. The spiral- or volute pattern and the polishing technique confirm this chronological placement. It is possible that Type VI is equally old, despite the difference in technique and style, but the steatopygic nature of two of the three personages has affinities with ancient Saharan rock art. More recent are the figures of Types I, II and III, that are related in every way to the symbolism of the Bronze Age, which is present in the context of the Jebel Rat. More recent are the figures of Type IV; figures made in proto-historic times or, more likely, in the historical epoch.
All photographs and all drawings (except Figure 1) are by the author.
The following petroglyphs have recorded for the first time on-site by the author:
Type I, No. 1 and 2.
Type II, No. 1 and 3.
Type III, No. 1 and 3 (Fig. 7).
Type IV, No. 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Type V, No. 1 (Fig. 9), 2 (Fig. 11), 3, 4 (Fig. 12), 5, 6, 7 (Fig. 18).
Type VI, No. 2 (Fig. 14).
How to cite this paper:
Questions or suggestions? Contact Alessandra Bravin: email@example.com
Alessandra Bravin; Centre National du Patrimoine Rupestre; Agadir.
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