A ‘Unique’ Petroglyph Scene in Southern Morocco

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Mating scenes involving mammals of the same species are rather rare in global rock art, but surprisingly fighting scenes are even more extraordinary. This study discusses a specific petroglyph panel in the south of Morocco where – in my opinion uniquely – a fighting and a mating scene was recorded by us in 2019. This panel is analysed and put into a wider context.

By Maarten van Hoek


First Fighting, Then Mating

A ‘Unique’ Petroglyph Scene in Southern Morocco


Maarten van Hoek

Independent Rock Art Researcher – Holland



Regarding the Illustrations

While I have visited quite a few of the sites mentioned in this study, for a big part I am drawing (literally and metaphorically) from the help of many people, but also from the publications that I have available at home and otherwise from other sources, mainly found online (though sometimes meagre and possibly unreliable). Therefore several site locations and drawings that you will find in this study may be imprecise and, I am sure, sometimes even incorrect. It may be the nature of the source I used; it may be my incorrect interpretation of that source. However, be assured that I did my utmost to produce reliable drawings based on photos made by me, but especially when made by other authors. But even then, especially salient details may have been misinterpreted by me and thus I am again the only one responsible for any error.

All the photographs used in this study have been digitally enhanced (not changed) by me. Therefore colours and other properties may well be different from the original illustrations and again I am the only person who is responsible for those enhanced pictures. Regarding the drawings it must be noted that in most cases only the relevant images are shown. The other images on the same panel have often been ignored by me and in most instances no scales have been added and figures are reduced to a standard size. Also the distances mentioned in this study (all based on Google Earth) are only roughly correct.

Finally, all my graphic material may be used and published by anyone on the strict condition that any illustration always remains completely unchanged and thus always includes my name and the information that I added to the illustration. Moreover, I should be credited in the caption. Illustrative material in this book by other authors (see the captions and acknowledgements) always remains their copyright and my permission to use my material therefore excludes the use of their material. In case someone wishes to use a photograph made by another author, please contact the relevant person to ask permission.

To view a larger version of each illustration, please click on the image.



Planet Earth was and still is a beautiful yet extremely violent planet. This not only concerns the restless physical world, it also involves the very essence of the biological world. From the very beginning of life, it has been a matter of ‘survival of the fittest’ (now unfortunately turned into the ‘survival of the richest’). As a consequence since the dawn of life countless confrontations and conflicts between living beings occurred, often resulting in death, ranging from a single, often acceptable killing for food, to utterly senseless massacres; shamefully the human species being the most ‘successful’ in this respect.

Inevitably, also in global rock art such confrontations and conflicts between humans have frequently been depicted, as I demonstrated by – for example – discussing the archer in rock art (Van Hoek 2019). However, also confrontations between animals occur in rock art, like dogs attacking goats in a rock art scene at Har Karkom, Negev Desert (see Figure 2G). However, this study will mainly discuss mammals of the same species that apparently are fighting each other for a specific reason. Unexpectedly, unambiguous fighting scenes between mammals of the same species are (relatively) extremely rare in global rock art. To demonstrate this rarity first a selection of apparent fighting scenes in rock art will be discussed (realising that there are probably more examples). I also emphasise that generally (my) interpretations may be ambiguous, as in most instances the intention of the manufacturer is completely unknown. Ultimately the focus of this study will be on one specific rock panel that my wife Elles and I recorded at Taheouacht in southern Morocco in 2019.


2. Fighting Scenes in Global Rock Art

Across the world there probably are millions of images of biomorphs at thousands of rock art sites. Based on this general observation one would expect to find numerous scenes in rock art involving mammals. Surprisingly however, in most cases rock art images of mammals are found either in isolation or apparently randomly – even chaotically (see for instance Blanc et all. Fig. 38.II) – arranged in groups of uniform or mixed species. Of course there are scenes – for instance of offspring of mammals suckling – but in general those illustrative and intentional arrangements are relatively scarce. Despite the abundance of images of mammals in rock art it proves that unambiguous scenes of two mammals of the same species that confront or fight each other are very rare, although such scenes already emerged very early in rock art. For instance images of confronting mammals are found among the Palaeolithic pictographs in the cave of Chauvet in France, where they include aurochs and horses that are facing each other. But whether all those early ‘confrontations’ depict an (intended) fight is another question.

It is understandable – yet often debatable – that several of those ‘confrontations’ are too easily (and often uncritically) being interpreted as combat scenes, while in fact the two animals could simply be passing each other or are about to pass each other. Other purported ‘combat confrontations’ could involve the natural act of sniffing or even greeting each other. Not only male goats approach each other, also oestrous ewes contact males and rub their heads or bodies (Ralfs’ Wildlife and Wild Places 2019). Also scenes of mammals playing with each other, whether for educational purposes or not, could have been depicted (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Petroglyphs of two confronting ‘Spitters’ on Boulder TM-Bg-017 at Toro Muerto, southern Peru. Are they fighting or playing? Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

In the southern part of the Caucasus Mountains (at a rock art site on the Bjejug-Dash Mountain) is a petroglyph scene of two (sexless [this means here that no genitals are shown in the rock art figures]) bulls facing each other at a short distance. Although it is suggested that they are about to clash (Ksica and Ksicova 1994: 67), there is no specific graphical evidence to support their interpretation. Although their reading may be correct, the animals might simply be looking at each other. In Armenia, south of the Caucasus, petroglyphs of two confronting ibexes have been recorded (Tokhatyan 2015), their impressive horns (although not factually touching) being larger than the animals drawn (Figure 2A).

At the rock art site of Dardarbati Das, northern Pakistan (Bruneau and Bellezza 2013: Fig. IV.22), petroglyphs of two goats are facing each other as if they are about to start a combat (my interpretation). But again this scene may just represent a peaceful meeting as well. Also at the rock art site of Jubbah, Saudi-Arabia, two petroglyphs of confronting male goats (ibexes) just possibly are about to start a fight, but again this is not certain. Their sex is identified by their impressive horns; the larger animal may depict the dominant male (my interpretation).

At the rock art site of Tavan Bogd in the Mongolian Altai Mountains are two bulls that are facing (but not at all touching) each other. One bull is fully pecked (black?); the other is outlined (white?), but both do not show sex and – as is suggested by Pavel Filatov (2010) – they might represent a black and a white bull fighting. The same goes for the two petroglyphs at Ust-Tuba, a rock art site at the Yenisei-Tuba confluence in southern Siberia, involving two wild Argali sheep (Ovis ammon) that are said (according to an article in The Siberian Times [2018]) to be squaring up (for a fight?). Interestingly, this – now submerged – scene is said to be seen as unique (in that area). In the West Karakol Valley of the Tien Shan Mountains, central Asia, is a petroglyph scene depicting two opposing male ibexes (Figure 3E). The larger animal seems to have two horns and may therefore be the dominant male. Although they are not touching each other, this scene might depict an impending fight, although the smaller animal may be a female.

Also very rare is the (very ancient) fine-line petroglyph scene at Vaalpan in South Africa. The lines are so faint that I missed them when surveying the site. It depicts two front-halves of Roan antelopes (Hippotragus equinus) that are facing each other from close-by. They are said to be fighting (Fock and Fock 1989; Tafel 46) and although this interpretation may be right, the scene may simply express a peaceful meeting.

Rock art researcher Ulrich Hallier discovered an interesting composition of three giraffes on a rock panel on the Djado Plateau, Niger, northern Africa (1990: 131; Tafel 141). He describes the scene as follows: Möglicherweise rechts zwei Bullen, die mit den Hälsen schlagend und den Hufen tretend um die Kuh links kämpfen? Freely translated he argues that possibly there have been depicted two male giraffes with their necks crossed as if they are hitting each other (Figure 2E), possibly fighting for the female giraffe depicted on the left. It proves from the description that Hallier only tentatively suggests that possibly the two giraffes are fighting each other. However, when two giraffes are passing each other or when one giraffe just stands behind the other giraffe both looking in opposite directions, one gets the same configuration. Although Hallier’s interpretation of fighting giraffes is still undecided, I do not contest his reading in any way. It still may be a valid interpretation.

Hallier (1990: 131) mentions another giraffe-fight at the rock art site of Uan Abu (Tabu?) in the Tassili Mountains of Algeria, but I could not find an illustration of that alleged scene. The only other possible contender for a giraffe-fight that I could find is found on a panel at the rock art site of Niekerksrus in South Africa, where there are petroglyphs of two incomplete giraffes that seem to be fighting each  other (Fock and Fock 1984: Tafel 95-1). Also in eastern Africa (Tanzania, but site location not specified) two giraffe images confronting (fighting?) each other have been recorded (Figure 3B) (Senter 2012: Fig. 7.2). In general it proves that also scenes of fighting giraffes are extremely rare among the possibly thousands of giraffe images in the rock art of the whole of Africa.

At the petroglyph site of Sarmysch-Saj in Kazachstan is a composite scene depicting two confronting quadrupeds that has been interpreted as the fight of two horses (Ksica and Ksicova 1994: 122). Because none of the horses is showing sex, the scene may as well depict two female horses that are fighting. However, on the same panel is a petroglyph of a small horse that is said to depict a fowl. This may be an indication that indeed two males are fighting each other and that possibly the fowl is the (desired?) offspring. At the rock art site of Terekty-Aulie in central Kazachstan the rather deeply recessed petroglyphs of two upright horses with their front hooves clashing have been recorded (Samashev et all. 2000: Fig. 2). Again no sex has been indicated. Also in Kazachstan petroglyphs of  confronting ibexes have been recorded by Alexander Petrov at the rock art sites of Zheltau and Zyngyrtas. At the rock art site of Ur-Maral, 30 km southwest of Talas in the northwest of neighbouring Kirghizstan, Luc Hermann recorded the petroglyphs of two confronting ibexes (2017: Fig. 2).

In the eastern Caucasus is a rock art scene of two (sexless) felines that are said to be fighting each other (Ksica and Ksicova 1994: 49). They may indeed be fighting to gain the right to produce offspring, but equally they may be fighting each other over a prey (which is not shown). The same may apply for the well-known petroglyph scene of two confronting cats in Wadi Mathendous, southern Libya. Interestingly, both cats may have male sex indicated by a thin line from the genital area.

Figure 2: A. Goat petroglyphs from Armenia (based on a photo by Tokhatyan 2015); B. Rhinoceros pictographs from France (based on a drawing by Fritz and Tosello 2007); C. Camelid petroglyphs from Chile (based on a photo by Maarten van Hoek); D. Petroglyphs of Bighorns from California (based on a photo by Atlas Obscura); E. Giraffe petroglyphs from Niger (based on a photo by Hallier 1990); F. Bull petroglyphs from Russia (based on a drawing in Bourgeois et all. 2015); G. Goat petroglyphs from Israel (based on a drawing by Anati 1987); H. Eland pictographs from South Africa (based on a photo by Maarten van Hoek); I. Deer petroglyphs from Italy (based on a photo by Fossati 2007); J. Bovine petroglyphs from southern Morocco (based on a drawing by Rodrigue and Wolf 1999). All drawings © by Maarten van Hoek.

Of course there are rock art scenes where it is most likely that two challengers are indeed fighting each other. Yet one has to be cautious. This study actually deals with only fights between two male mammals of the same species. Unfortunately genitals are hardly ever shown in such scenes. Even the species may be hard to determine. For instance, at the rock art site of Uzungur-2 in the Dzhazator Valley (Russian Altai Mountains) is a scene in which it seems as if two bulls are fighting each other as ‘their horns’ are joined (Figure 2F). However, in fact it is a bear that is opposed to the bull, a composition that seems to represent an attack on the bull by a bear; the horns of the bull apparently joined to the ears of the bear (Bourgeois et all. 2015: Fig. 11)  This is the only confrontation scene on this boulder, which is covered with a chaos of zoomorphic petroglyphs.

A petroglyph scene at Har Salaa (Upper Tsagaan Gol) in the Mongolian Altai Mountains depicts two opposing bulls (again no sex shown). Two attached anthropomorphic figures (one inverted though not shown in Kubarev 2006: Fig.13) may be interpreted as trying to separate the two bulls (that were about to start a fight?). Kubarev interpreted this scene as the plot of the ‘taming of the heavenly bulls’.

Yet there are rock art scenes in which it is more likely that two male challengers of the same species are indeed fighting each other. It proves that the decisive criterium to accept a scene as a fighting scene is when the two heads of mammals of the same species are really touching each other head-on (and even then a fighting interpretation may be debatable). But also when the necks (of species like giraffes and camelids) or horns (of for instance bovines and goats) are factually touching each other, a fight has more likely been depicted. Because it is not the goal of this study to mention or describe all fighting scenes, it will suffice to give a few examples. The possibly oldest known example is the Palaeolithic scene of two – apparently fighting – rhinoceroses in the Chauvet Cave in France (Figure 2B; a third rhino in this scene has been ignored by me). Another example are the fighting goat petroglyphs at Le Roc de Sers, also in France (see Figure 23).

In the rock art repertoire of western USA images of deer are rather common, but fighting scenes are very rare (even absent?). A boulder at the Hedgpeth Hills rock art site just north of Phoenix, Arizona, has two petroglyphs of confronting deer, both male (although no genitals are shown their sex is indicated by the antlers). It is uncertain whether they are fighting or about to fight, as only their noses are touching. Petroglyphs of two confronting yet very static deer have also been recorded from Hakeröd, Kville, Sweden (Fredell n.d.). I will return to this site later on.

Petroglyphs of deer are also quite numerous in the rich rock art repertoire of the Valcamonica rock art complexes in northern Italy. Yet I know of only one scene that may depict a fighting scene. It is found on Rock 4 of the In Vall complex at Paspardo and is described as ‘two deer duelling head-on during the mating season, while a third animal waits in the wings to engage the victor’ by Angelo Fossati (2007: 152; Fig. 22). Although no sex is shown, the animals are clearly male because of the large antlers they both have (Figure 2i). But again, it is not unambiguously certain that they are fighting or about to start a fight. Interestingly, there are no mating scenes on this large rock. Also in Valcamonica – on Roccia 35 of the Naquane rock art group –  is a petroglyph scene of two dogs that are challenging each other with open jaws. Again no sex is shown. This confrontation may involve a territorial fight, which is common among many animals; mammals and birds alike.

Among the many petroglyphs of Har Karkom in the Negev Desert of Israel is an uncommon scene where four canines and an archer are attacking two ibexes (Anati 1987: 22). Interestingly, the two ibexes are confronting each other in an almost jumping composition, unusual in rock art (Figure 2G; only two canines shown). They may be fighting (their noses are touching), although the horns are not actually joined. I now tentatively suggest that it is even possible that the canines and the archer were added at a later stage.

At the heavily vandalised rock art site of Sulek on the left bank of the River Pechishche, a tributary of the River Black Iüs in the Minusinsk Basin of Siberia, are several petroglyphs of camelids (Mukhareva 2007). On one panel an isolated camel is said to represent a female  next to a pair of camels that is facing each other with aggressively lowered necks and head, while another pair is apparently fighting each other (Figure 3A) (in order to  gain the right to mate with the nearby female?) (Ksica and Ksicova 1994: 197). Another scene at Sulek shows two camels that are biting each other’s hind legs. Possible camel-fight petroglyphs have also been recorded at Karatau, also in the Minusinsk Basin (Mukhareva 2007: Figs 4 and 5).

Figure 3: A. Camel petroglyphs from Siberia (based on a drawing by Ksica and Ksicova 1994); B. Giraffe pictographs from Tanzania (based on a drawing by Senter 2012); C. Camelid petroglyphs from Chile (based on a photo by Maarten van Hoek); D. Petroglyphs of Bighorns from Utah (based on a photo by Kay Blackwell); E. Ibex petroglyphs from Kyrgyzstan (based on a photo by Fabian von Poser). All drawings © by Maarten van Hoek.

Further south in central Asia, in the rich rock art repertoire of Tibet and adjacent areas, numerous images of wild yaks have been recorded by John Vincent Bellezza (who estimates a number of 4000+ yak images to exist in Upper Tibet) and yet only very few scenes of confronting yaks possibly fighting each other have been reported (Bellezza illustrates only three examples [2017: Figs 197, 213 [Figure 4] and 216]). In the same area also petroglyphs of mating yaks are very rare (again Bellezza illustrates only three examples [2017: Figs 219 to 221]), but he could not recall any panel where both fighting scenes and mating scenes occur together on one panel in Tibetan rock art (Bellezza pers. comm. 2019).

Figure 4: Petroglyphs of two confronting yaks from Tibet. Photograph © by John Vincent Bellezza 2017.

On the other side of the globe are the Andes Mountains of South America and (to the west of that mountain range) the coastal Desert Andes where numerous rock art images (both petroglyphs and pictographs) of camelids have been recorded, mainly involving rather static examples. Having surveyed many sites in the Desert Andes, I still only know of very few fighting scenes between camelids. On Panel ARQn-146 at Ariquilda (Figure 3C) in the Aroma Valley of northern Chile I recorded a scene of two small camelids arranged in an exceptionally dynamic position with crossed necks (similar to the necks in giraffe-fight scenes) and open mouths. At this most important site are also several scenes of (more static) camelid petroglyphs that have been depicted in clearly confronting situations (for instance on Panels ARQs-021 and 024 and ARQx-228). A similar fighting scene (with one camelid in an aggressive upright position) was recorded by me on Panel TAM1-032A at Tamentica-1 in the Huatacondo valley of northern Chile (Figure 2C).

On panel OFR-028 at Ofragía-1 in the Codpa Valley, northern Chile, I recorded two zoomorphic figures (camelids?) that both are in an upright position and facing each other (Van Hoek 2013: 3). The ‘male’ figure on the right has an animal head, two front legs, a tail and a phallus, while the two hind legs have been positioned as if they are human legs. The phallus of this figure is directed to two lines emerging from the genital area of the opposite figure. These two lines may indicate either the (exaggerated) labia, or the vulva, but since there are (besides the tail) three ‘parallel’ lines at the rear end, the topmost line may also depict a phallus and then the scene may depict a combat between two males. Therefore, this confusing arrangement can be interpreted as a fighting scene and it may even symbolise a copulation scene (however, Andean camelids are inclined to copulate while lying on the ground). Despite the enormous abundance of camelid images, scenes of mating camelids are very rare in Andean rock art (Van Hoek 2013: 71 – 92) and have – as far as I could check – not been reported at Ariquilda, Tamentica or at Ofragía.

The only Andean site – that I know of – where possible fighting scenes occur together with definite mating scenes is Toro Muerto in southern Peru, but the combination of the two scenes is never found on one panel. There are several scenes at Toro Muerto where animals labelled by me as ‘Spitters’ are clearly confronting each other (see Figure 1). They may be fighting (disputing a prey?), but they equally may be playing. However, in at least two instances such a ‘Spitter’ is associated with a copulation scene involving different species, though.

Also other instances show how rare fighting scenes actually are in global rock art. Of the probably thousands of petroglyphs depicting Bighorn sheep in the Coso Range of California, I know of only one scene of two male Bighorns that are (possibly) fighting each other head-on (Figure 2D). Also in Utah numerous petroglyphs of Bighorns have been recorded. Yet only very few have been depicted in a (possible) confronting/fighting situation, but Wendy Harrell recorded a petroglyph of an anthropomorph with a headdress formed by butting Bighorns (see Fig. 64.B). Yet, some examples – one at Nine Mile Canyon (Matheny et all. 1997: Fig. 6); another at Grand  Gold Butte (Figure 3D) and still others at Butler Wash and Capitol Reef – most likely only involve scent sniffing (see Figure 24). It is said that nose-to-nose contact between rams often involves dominance activities, usually followed by the actual fight (Matheny et all. 1997: Fig. 7). Importantly, I am not aware of any copulation scene of Bighorns in the enormous rock art repertoire of Nine Mile Canyon. In fact, mating scenes involving Bighorns are rather rare in the rich rock art repertoire of the SW of the USA, although two examples have been recorded by me on one panel in Shay Canyon, Utah. However, as far as I could check, there is no fighting scene at this extensive site.

The same goes for rock art images of eland in the south of Africa. Numerous petroglyphs and pictographs of this most important animal have been recorded, but I only know of one possible fighting scene, which I recorded on the vertical sandstone cliff face at Modderpoort in the Free State of South Africa (Figure 2H). Similarly, in the Sahara desert of north Africa numerous rock art images of bovines have been recorded. Yet, the only definite fighting scene between bovines that I know of is found at El Richa, Algeria, where two enormous bulls (Bubalus antiquus) are apparently engaged in a combat. Not only their enormous horns are clearly indicated (and intertwined), also their genitals have modestly been indicated (Figure 5). Huard et all. (1980: Fig. 13.9) illustrate a fighting scene between two gazelles at the rock art site of Gara Melias near Figuig in eastern Morocco, each having two necks with a head. Two of those necks-heads rather convincingly positioned in an attacking/fighting position. Finally, at the rock art site of L’oued El Kebch, 40 km SSW of Foum Zguid, southern Morocco, Alain Rodrigue and Richard Wolff recorded a petroglyph scene (Figure 2J) depicting two bovines (1999: Fig. 2.5) that are possibly fighting each other head-on (my interpretation).

Figure 5: Bull petroglyphs from El Richa, Algeria. Photograph © by Manfred Lentz.

Despite all those still very rare rock art scenes of fighting, there has – as far as I know – not been reported a single instance where on one panel a combination of both fighting and mating mammals of the same species occurs. Therefore, graphical evidence depicting the concept of ‘First Fighting, Then Mating’ is regarded by me to be extremely rare – perhaps even unique – in global rock art. However, such a panel does exist and it is found only 160 km WSW of L’oued El Kebch at the rock art complex of Taheouacht-1 in southern Morocco. This possibly unique example and its context will now be discussed in more detail.


3. The ‘Unique’ Panel at Taheouacht-1

My Video about Taheouacht

3.1. An Introduction to the Taheouacht Complex

Before discussing the ‘unique’ panel at Taheouacht-1 it will be necessary to put the rock art of Taheouacht in a proper perspective, graphically and geographically. The panel in question is located at the rock art complex of Taheouacht in the south of Morocco (Figure 6), which is located only about 32 km NW of the west flowing River Draa (now forming the border with Alegria). The complex is found a short distance SW of the Anti-Atlas and only 7 km SSE of the foum of Aït Ouabelli in the long sandstone ridge of the Jebel Bani. Just south of the foum (a natural gap in a [mountain] ridge) is the village of Aït Ouabelli (or Ait Wabelli), after which the rock art complex is often (incorrectly) referred to. My Study Area covers the zone from Oukas to Tachokalt and Taheouacht (Figure 6; see also Figure 26).

Figure 6: The Study Area (framed) in SW Morocco, with only a selection of rock art sites indicated. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek; map © OpenStreetMap-Contributors.

The rock art complex of Taheouacht comprises six long ridges of heavily tilted and much fragmented, fossiliferous Ordovician sandstone that run in straight lines from SW to NE. The altitude of the slightly sloping plain ranges from 465 m in the NW to 400 m in the SE. The ridges vary considerably in height; the highest point in the complex being about 520 m. At many places such a ridge only barely projects above the sandy plain (Figure 7). At other spots they may tower 10 to even 90 m above ground level. The ridges also have modest foums (gaps) through which water of the Wadi Ouabelli (from the Anti-Atlas) intermittently rushes to the River Draa further to the SE. Between ridge five and six (the southernmost ridge) are two very large Pre-Islamic tumuli, one (60 m in length) having a shape that can be interpreted as a giant vulva (T in Figure 8, Inset).

Figure 7: View of the Taheouacht Complex from the NW, southern Morocco. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth.

Figure 8: Map of the Taheouacht Complex (red frame), southern Morocco. Inset. A Pre-Islamic tumulus. Map composed by and © by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth.

3.2. The Petroglyphs of Taheouacht: Antecedents

So far, petroglyphs are said to have been recorded on five of the six ridges within the complex and on one isolated hillock in the eastern part. The rock art sites marked with yellow squares in Figure 8 were recorded by André Simoneau as early as 1971-72 (1972: 29). The five green squares indicate the sites that are indicated on the map by Renate Heckendorf (2008: Abb. 60; Karte 4), although these also include some of the sites previously indicated by Simoneau. Heckendorf uses different names for the nine sites that she has marked on her Karte 4. The site that I have labelled Taheouacht-1 is indicated as Site FH4/06 by her, simultaneously giving three alternative names for the site: Oum el Fkarn, Melfkari and Bezet-1. Taheouacht-2 is indicated as Site FH4/07 by her and is also called Oum el Fkarn, Melfkari or Bezet-2. The other sites in the Taheouacht Complex are called Agadir Ou ‘Arabene North and South, Melfkari 3 or Oum Tsougharht, Tarhafirt, Tazakt n’Zida, Taheouacht and Azag South (Melfkari) by her. The two orange squares in Figure 8 refer to sites on Ridge 1 said by Ibrahim Lamnay (2015) to have some petroglyphs (of often bad quality).

There does not exist a complete graphical inventory of the complex. Even the extensive and most thorough in-depth survey of the rock art in this part of southern Morocco by Renate Heckendorf (2008) does not offer a complete graphic inventory of the Taheouacht Complex. Although her survey is the only publication covering most of my Study Area, her sections about Taheouacht-1 and 2 are not supported by graphics of every panel; only 19 illustrations have been published by her. Therefore, I will use my own numbering system that will cover only the two sites that my wife and I surveyed (Taheouacht-1 and 2; only separated by a gap of 225 m – Figure 9), referring to the panels as respectively TAH-1-001 and TAH-2-001 etc.

Figure 9: Taheouacht-1 and 2, southern Morocco. Drawing ©  by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth.

Earlier Simoneau described the complex as follows (1972: 17; freely translated by me; my additions and emphases): Taheouacht is located 7 km to the SSE of the palm grove of the foum at Aït Ouabelli at the centre of a sector of ridges that are traversed by wadis from the piedmont descending from Jebel Bani towards Adrar Azougarh. The  images are mostly pecked: the analysis of a rocky hillock yielded 24 bovines among the 56 representations. So we are here in a milieu of hunter-gatherers where pastoral life becomes dominant. The cultural heritage of hunting remains important, however. Wildlife is represented in all its diversity: rhinoceros, elephants, lion, giraffe, antelopes and ostriches, mouflons. We noticed concentric circles associated with elephants, one archer with a quiver on the back (a hunting scene), superimposed animals (all at Taheouacht-2). Another finely pecked archer behind a mouflon (a bovine, rather?) has a triangular cap on his head. An ithyphallic figure who seems to carry a torch in his hand approaches an elephant from behind (Figure 10A). In his 1977 publication Taheouacht is listed as No. 150.139, while his Planche 49 shows the archer behind the purported ‘mouflon’. The numbers of mouflons (in my study conveniently referred to as goats) are not mentioned, however.

Figure 10: A. Taheouacht, Morocco (after Simoneau 1972: 33); B. Moumersal-East, Morocco (after Cornellà et al. 2011: Fig. 9); C. Fum el Hasan, Morocco (after Topper 1990); D. Tachokalt, Morocco (after Cornellà et al. 2014: Fig. 15); E. Asif Icht, Morocco (after Topper 1993); F. Imgrad n’Tayaline, Morocco (after Heckendorf 2008: Abb. 52; Element 3); G. Imgrad n’Tayaline, Morocco (after Heckendorf 2008: Abb. 51; Element 3). All drawings © by Maarten van Hoek.

In her extensive thesis about Moroccan rock art Susan Searight only briefly describes the site (2001: 304; my emphases), referring only to the two publications by Simoneau: S53 – Taheouacht – Aït Ouabelli (Taheouast 150.139, Akka). About 100 petroglyphs. Situation: on blocks and sides of series of sandstone ridges, 7 km SSE of Aït Ouabelli. Bibliography: Simoneau, 1972a; 1977: 52, 53. Contents: majority pecked, a few polished; (about 30 bovids, 15 antelopes, 17 animals not identified, 1 lion, 6 elephants, 1 rhinoceros, 2 giraffes, 4 ostriches, 2 Barbary sheep, 1 sheep, 2 humans, 1 snake, 1 scorpion, 12 enigmatic, 1 hache-pelte). Archaeological material: numerous tumuli. However, the numbers presented by Searight proved to represent only a part of the imagery at Taheouacht. We recorded at least 90 panels at Taheouacht-1 and 2 only and because several panels have more than one petroglyph, the actual number of petroglyphs is most likely (much) higher, especially when taking in account that all other eleven sites in the complex have not been surveyed by us in 2019. Therefore, the numbers mentioned by Searight seem to represent the very minimum. For instance, we recorded two rhinoceroses at Taheouacht-2. Also her count of three sheep (or rather, goats) is surprisingly low, as will be demonstrated.

3.3. The Goat

Regarding the recording of goat-like petroglyphs it is confusing to see that in rock art publications so many names are being used to describe the goat (belonging to the subfamily Caprinae, which also includes sheep). Several authors call those goat-like images mouflon (Ovis aries), others call them Bighorns (Ovis canadensis), Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia ornata), Aoudad (Ammotragus lervia) or just sheep or goats. In French publications they are referred to as ‘mouflons a manchette’ (Ammotragus lervia), ‘caprinés’, ‘chèvres’ and ‘bouquetins’ (Capra ibex). In German publications goat images are referred to as ‘Mufflon’, ‘Hausziegen’ or just ‘Ziegen’ (Capra hircus) and as ‘Mähnenschafe’ (Ammotragus lervia). Several authors also admit that identification of the exact animal species is often problematic.

To avoid confusion I will refer to all those goat-like images (referred to as either goats, sheep, ibexes, mouflons or even as antelopes) simply as being depictions of goats or as goat-like images. It must also be realised that hardly ever completely realistic rock art pictures of animals were manufactured. Many images concern subjective interpretations based on mind-imagery and often the manufacturer emphasised the parts relevant for her or him. Consequently the exact species is often hard to determine. However, to be admitted as a goat or goat-like image in this study, the lay-out of the image must be more or less similar. Therefore goat images of a clearly different lay-out (like the petroglyph of  Capra hircus at Imgrad n’Tayaline [Figure 10F] or the fully pecked goat petroglyphs at Foum Chenna) are excluded.

In view of this study it is important to know that goat rams have a strict dominance hierarchy. Before mating season or ‘rut’, which is from late autumn to early winter, rams try to create a dominance hierarchy to determine access to females for mating (Matheny et all. 1997: 77; Fig. 6). Most important in view of this study is that rams usually fight one another mainly head-on to obtain dominance and then the victor wins the opportunity to mate with females.

There exists another type of fighting between Aoudad; the neck-fight. At its simplest, one Aoudad places its head and neck over the body of the other and presses down, sometimes until the animal sinks to its knees. The full weight of the body may also be used, with the attacker draping his whole forequarters so far over the shoulders of the other that his head hangs down the other side (Ralfs’ Wildlife and Wild Places 2019). This type of fight might as well have been depicted by some configurations of goat images in southern Morocco.

Live fighting scenes between adult rams – especially during the rut – are often very impressive to observe and to hear (the sound of fighting goats can be heard from over one kilometer). It is therefore surprising to notice that globally there are actually extremely few rock art images depicting such fights. However, in southern Morocco there are some exceptional exceptions.

3.3.1. The Goats of Taheouacht

Because my wife and I surveyed only two sites at Taheouacht (labelled Taheouacht-1 and 2 in this study; see Figure 9), it is certain that the number of goat petroglyphs mentioned in this study will only represent a minimum. Altogether we recorded 58 panels with petroglyphs at Taheouacht-1 (Site FH4/06 by Heckendorf, who registered 32 panels with 91 petroglyphs [2008: 174]) and 32 panels at Taheouacht-2 (Site FH4/07 by Heckendorf, who registered 39 panels with 88 petroglyphs [2008: 177]), the latter site characterised by mainly images of bovines, as well as by two rhinos, two giraffes being hunted by five archers, some other images and – surprisingly – only one (or three?) goats. Quite contrasting however, the imagery at Taheouacht-1 included no less than 58 petroglyphs of goats (including 18 doubtful examples). All goat petroglyphs at those two sites represent outlined examples that have been laterally depicted, several of which are (intentionally?) incomplete (mainly with missing or unfinished legs). The emphasis is clearly on the head and the horns. Occasionally only one horn is drawn with an (often much) smaller projection behind, which depicts a single ear.

Emphasising the importance of the head/horns even further are the several frontally depicted head-only petroglyphs of goats, as well as petroglyphs of laterally depicted goats with frontally orientated head (twisted perspective) at the rock art site of Tachokalt (Figure 10D; see Figure 19), much further west (Rodrigue et all. 2014: 50). Only on Panel TAH-1-017 at Taheouacht-1 we recorded a possibly similarly depicted goat-like petroglyph with five curved lines emerging from the top of the head; a possible instance of twisted perspective, especially as the two horns (formed by four lines) are curved in opposite positions almost forming an oval. The fifth line might represent a (failed?) ear or is possibly part of another (abandoned?) image (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Goat-like petroglyph on Panel TAH-1-017 at Taheouacht-1, possibly depicted in twisted perspective. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Facial features seem to be generally lacking at goat petroglyphs, also at Taheouacht, but at the rock art sites of Moumersal-East further west (not visited by us) and Guelta Oukas (visited by us in 2019) there are a few goat petroglyphs that have a simple dot for an eye and a short line for a mouth, for example on Panel FH2/01/002B at Moumersal-East (Heckendorf 2008: Anhang-5, Katalog 1) and on Panel GOU-012 at Guelta Oukas (Figure 12) (see also Blanc et all. 2003: 93).

Figure 12: Goat-like petroglyph on Panel GOU-012 at Guelta Oukas. Photograph © by Heribert Bechen; drawing by Maarten van Hoek.

The goat images at Taheouacht-1 are mainly horizontally orientated, but diagonally placed or even vertically positioned examples on fixed (outcrop) panels also occur (also at other sites). The patina of most examples at Taheouacht is slightly brighter than the natural rock surfaces, but a few examples have a dark patina that is almost similar to the patina of the support. Some goat images appear isolated on a rock panel, while others occur in groups, often randomly arranged, like the group on Panel TAH-1-009 (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Goat-like petroglyphs on Panel TAH-1-009 at Taheouacht-1. All the numbered panels have goat-like petroglyphs. Photograph © by Elles van Hoek and (partial) drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

There are however several panels at Taheouacht-1 depicting scenes involving goats. However, I emphasise again that my interpretation of the scenes and the species and the sex of the animals mentioned in this study may be erroneous. Also for that reason I subjectively labelled the petroglyphs relevant to this study as ‘goats’ or goat-like images. However, those uncertainties do not distract from the exceptionality of the scenes on Panel TAH-1-023, still to be discussed.

On Panel TAH-1-003 (Figure 14) are two goat-like petroglyphs that could tentatively be interpreted as a (female?) goat approaching a (male?) goat from behind (although also two males may have been depicted). More interesting is Panel TAH-1-006 where two goats are confronting each other head-on. This scene may well represent a fight, (or an intended fight, because the heads are not exactly touching). To the left of this scene is a smaller goat image (symbolising the female or the desired offspring?).

Figure 14: Goat-like petroglyphs on Panel TAH-1-003 at Taheouacht-1. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Also important are the petroglyphs of two ‘strangely’ joined mammals on Panel TAH-1-008 (location: Figure 15). Significantly, the belly-line of the larger animal (a goat with badly executed head?) simultaneously represents the back-line of the smaller animal (goat?) petroglyph (Figure 16). This arrangement could well represent or symbolise a mating scene, also because of the presence of a small, fully pecked, triangular projection at the rear end of the smaller animal (not a tail, though!). This projection is repeated in another – more obvious – mating scene at this site. One of the six goat petroglyphs on Panel TAH-1-009 seems to have a much smaller, unfinished zoomorphic (goat?) image positioned in its body (highlighted in orange in Figure 13). Could this have been intended to symbolise pregnancy, even when a male goat has been depicted? I will return to this possibility later on.

Figure 15: View of Taheouacht-1, looking NW with the locations of Panels TAH-1-006, 008 and 023 indicated. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 16: Goat-like petroglyphs on Panel TAH-1-008 at Taheouacht-1. Photograph and drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

3.3.2. The ‘Unique’ Taheouacht Panel

Despite the uncertainties of several of my interpretations in the previous paragraphs, there is one panel at Taheouacht-1 that I regard to be unambiguously unique for Moroccan rock art, and possibly for global rock art as well (there may be two exceptions, though). It concerns Panel TAH-1-023, which was probably recorded much earlier, but I could only find a reference in Heckendorf (2008: Abb. 63; 176), who labelled the panel FH4/06/016.

Five petroglyphs of goats have been executed on the almost vertical, SW-facing surface of this large, detached boulder (Figure 17) just below the crest of the ridge (for the location of Panel TAH-1-023 see Figures 9 and 15), as well as some more uncertain designs (possibly two – unfinished? – ostriches, which are more often seen in combination with goat images, for instance on Panel TAH-1-014). Interestingly, Heckendorf (2008: Abb. 63) describes the images on Panel TAH-1-023 as ‘Geometrische Formen und Hornträger (u. a. Damaliscus korrigum)’. However, I could not trace unambiguous geometric designs on this panel; at most some curvilinear lines that may well have been part of (unfinished?) zoomorphic images, like ostriches.

Figure 17: Goat-like petroglyphs on Panel TAH-1-023 at Taheouacht-1. Inset: Goat petroglyph at Guelta Oukas. Photographs © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 18: Goat-like petroglyphs on Panel TAH-1-023 at Taheouacht-1. The numbering is the same as in Heckendorf 2008: Abb. 63. Photograph and drawing © by Maarten van Hoek.

Prominently, on Panel TAH-1-023 two large male goats are definitely fighting each other head-on as their heads are intimately joined (petroglyphs highlighted as 1 and 6 in Figure 18). In fact there are no two separate heads, as only one thick pecked line represents the two firmly joined foreheads. It is remarkable that Heckendorf does not identify this configuration on Panel TAH-1-023 as a fighting scene, especially as she describes an almost similar scene on Panel FH2/01/015 at Moumersal-East (see Figure 20C) as ‘zwei Hornträger Kopf an Kopf, möglicherwiese im Kampf abgebildet’ (2008: 192), in which – however – the two composing elements are said by her to represent different mammal species. Element FH2/01/015/1 has been labelled Damaliscus (an antelope) and Element FH2/01/015/2 Ammotragus (a goat) by her (2008: Anhang 5; Katalog, Verzeichnis 1). However, it is very unlikely that two bovids of different species would be engaged in a fight and for that reason I regard both animals to represent goats. Moreover, it is remarkable that long-legged Damaliscus would have been depicted with unfinished or missing legs. I now speculate (completely subjectively!) that the complete goat (1 on Panel TAH-1-023) is the dominant male, while animal (6) may represent the defeated goat (unfinished for that reason?). Remarkably, Heckendorf does not recognise/mention this fighting scene, nor the mating scene on Panel TAH-1-023. Moreover, Alessandra Bravin (pers. comm. 2020) recorded a second fighting scene on Boulder MOU-011 at Moumersal East (see Figure 22) that is not mentioned by Heckendorf.

To my untrained eye – regarding rock art depictions of animal species of northern Africa – the animals on Panel TAH-1-023 are similar to several petroglyphs labelled as goats (caprinae) at other rock art sites (Guelta Oukas: Blanc et all. 2003; Moumersal-East: Heckendorf 2008). It is therefore confusing to see that Heckendorf (2008: Anhang 5; Katalog, Verzeichnis 1) identifies two of the goat-like petroglyphs on Panel TAH-1-023 as goats (Goats 1 and 6 in Figure 18), but others as antelopes (Goats 2 and 3 in Figure 18) and as bovids (Goat 4 and failed ostrich? 5 in Figure 18).

In this study I demonstrated that in itself such a head-on fighting scene between mammals of the same species is not unique in global rock art. What makes this panel at Taheouacht-1 exceptional though is that below the definite combat scene there are two more goat petroglyphs (3 and 4) that are so intimately joined that it is almost certain that this configuration depicts a mating scene. The belly-line of goat (3) simultaneously is the back-line of goat (4), while the front leg of the upper goat clearly superimposes the lower animal. The combination is definitely no case of random superimposition. Also notice the small, fully pecked, triangular projection near the genital area of the male (upper) goat (and compare this element with Figure 16). This triangular area may well represent the male genital area (as it often does in Saharan bovine imagery). To the left of the mating scene is another, slightly smaller goat (2) petroglyph that – again – might symbolise (the wish for healthy) offspring.

Observing the style and layout of the goat petroglyphs, it seems to be acceptable that all five goat petroglyphs have been executed in the same period of time, although I am well aware that petroglyphs on one panel need not be contemporary. For that reason I am inclined to argue that the mating scene may have been added later, as it has a slightly brighter patina and has peck marks that are smaller than those in the fighting scene. It is even possible that the upper goat (3) has been added later, superimposing the lower goat (in order to achieve a mating scene). Still I am convinced that the unity on the panel (whether achieved at the same time by the same hand or at different stages by different manufacturers) distinctively depicts the concept of ‘First Fighting, Then Mating’. Of course the analysis of the five goat petroglyphs on this panel only represents my subjective interpretation. What exactly the prehistoric manufacturer(s) really intended to convey with this ensemble will always remain obscure.

3.4. Graphical Context

Susan Searight (2001: 74) remarks that scenes with sexual connotations are rare in Moroccan rock art. She argues that they involve either a male (anthropomorph [my addition]) and what can be resumed to be a female figure, or a male figure with an animal. In this respect it is noteworthy that André Simoneau recorded a petroglyph scene at Taheouacht (exact location unknown to me) of a scene of an anthropomorph with an erect phallus apparently attempting sexual intercourse with an elephant (see Figure 10A). The scene was described by Simoneau as an instance of ‘bestiality’ (Simoneau 1972: 33).

However, Searight rightly argues that the extremely large size of the contact animal – in most cases buffalos, elephants, rhinoceroses or giraffes – makes physical reality unlikely. She also correctly remarks (2001: 208) that Le Quellec, discussing human-animal contacts in Saharan rock art, not only condemned the moralising tone of the word ‘bestiality’ (in my opinion  more likely the result of the 1972 time-spirit), but preferred to see such contacts as a form of magical control or a wish to dominate, rather than a physical reality (Le Quellec 1993: 438). I fully agree with their conclusions, but I would like to point out that it is remarkable that in the Taheouacht Complex possibly sexually related scenes – although still very rare – occur more often than anywhere else in this area. Also, I do not know of any other unambiguous mating scene involving goats (yet, two goat petroglyphs at Moumersal might depict a mating scene) in the rock art repertoire of larger area from Zagora to Assa, although Tazina Style configurations of gazelles at a rock art site near Tata (Aman sur Ighribin?) and at the rock art site of Jebel Iourarhane (east of the village of Alnif), might depict (or symbolise?) mating scenes. However, in Tazina Style petroglyph art mammals (often of the same species) quite frequently occur in typically stacked configurations, thus sometimes only suggesting mating activities. Also in the High Atlas only very few petroglyphs might depict mating scenes between mammals of the same species (Rodrigue 1999: for instance 235-358; 341-266).

3.5. Geographical Contexts

Although I have – understandably – no knowledge of all rock art images in the area from Smara to Zagora, I noticed some remarkable idiosyncrasies regarding the statistics and the distribution of goat petroglyphs in my Study Area. First of all, Heckendorf explicitly writes that (in her Study Area) ‘Mahnenschafbilder ausschließlich an der Felsbildstation FH2/01-2 vertreten sind’ (2008: 237; my emphasis). She thus claims that only at Moumersal-East images of Ammotragus lervia occur. Quite contradictorily other researchers (Simoneau [1972] and Searight [2001]) speak of petroglyphs of mouflons and Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) at the Taheouacht Complex.

Moreover, goat petroglyphs (whether depicting Ammotragus lervia or another caprinae species) are found (sporadically) across southern Morocco, for instance at Foum Chenna, Jebel Iourarhane, Tantana, L’oued El Kebch, Imaoun-3, Oued Imi Tek (interpreted by Heckendorf [2006: Abb. 2] as Hippotragus equinus, an antelope), Imgrad n’Tayaline, Oum Aleg?, Tamzarar (Salih and Heckendorf 1998: mentioning no numbers), Moumersal-East, Asif Icht, Tachokalt, Tahewascht (a site according to Topper [1990: 229] located near Tighert, 15 km WSW of Fum el Hasan), Tirscht? (reported by Topper [1990: 232] but of uncertain status; could not be found by me in 2019), Guelta Oukas, Bou Ifecht, Jebel Idmisane, Wazzouzount (Taghjijt), Tanzirt (including an apparently jumping goat petroglyph), Tourirt-n-Tislatine (Site ST-F2) (interpreted by Alain Rodrigue [2010: Fig. 4.3] as a bovine) and even as far west as Sidi Ahmed Laarosi near Smara, but in most cases the number of goat-like petroglyphs at those sites is relatively low. However, there are four statistical exceptions: Guelta Oukas, Tachokalt, Moumersal-East and – of course – Taheouacht-1, which makes it necessary to briefly discuss the available statistics of goat petroglyphs at those sites.

Earlier it was claimed that – apart from the 23 goat petroglyphs recorded at Tachokalt (20 examples at Tachokalt-West and only 3 at Tachokalt-East [Rodrigue et all. 2014: Fig. 2]) – the second highest number of goat petroglyphs in any rock art region of southern Morocco was recorded in the Taghjijt region (Rodrigue et all. 2014). Earlier still however Alain Rodrigue (2010: 144) wrote that in the whole of the Taghjijt region (with about 36 rock art [sub]sites) no less than 17 rock art images of goats have been recorded. However, according to Rodrigue those 17 goat petroglyphs (19 according to Wolff 1978: 191) are found at four sites and only one of those four sites (Tanzirt: Site ST-G17, which is located on the southern part of the rock ridge of Jebel Tarslt) may boast to have (just) ten of those 17 goat petroglyphs.

However, at Taheouacht-1 we recorded up to 58 goat-like petroglyphs (including 18 possible examples), while at Taheouacht-2 only one (possibly three) goat petroglyph(s) could be recorded by us. The total at Taheouacht therefore counts 41 true goat petroglyphs and 20 possible examples, emphasising again that not the whole complex at Taheouacht has been surveyed by us. It is even certain that we have not seen every petroglyph panel at Taheouacht-1 and 2. Importantly, for the moment this study establishes Taheouacht-1 to have the highest number of goat petroglyphs in my Study Area (see Figure 26) and – possibly – even in the larger Smara-Zagora area.

3.5.1. Discrepancies on Meso and Micro Level

Also the statistical discrepancy between Taheouacht-1 and 2 (sites that are only about 225 m apart, yet distinctly separated by a foum featuring a small but pleasant palm grove) is striking. For some unknown reason prehistoric people favoured Taheouacht-1 (with 58 goat images) as the site over Taheouacht-2 (with only 3? goat images) to execute their goat images, including the exceptional fighting/mating scenes. This is regarded by me as a discrepancy on micro level. When comparing Taheouacht-1 and 2 with the other sites in the Taheouacht Complex, there proves also to exist discrepancies on meso level.

Importantly, on meso level remarkable statistical discrepancies seem to have been repeated at several other sites in the area. For instance, at Imgrad n’Tayaline, NW of Akka and of Jebel Bani, at least one goat-like petroglyph (Figure 10G; possibly Ammotragus; but identified by Heckendorf [2008] as an antelope [Taurotragus; an eland]) has been recorded (not counting the petroglyph of another kind of goat, identified by Heckendorf as Capra hircus [2008: KK8/04/111; Element 3], which is clearly of a completely different lay-out [Figure 10F]). However, at the extensive site of Adrar n’Metgourine – only 1060 m to the north of Imgrad n’Tayaline (with 268+ petroglyphs) – no goat images have so far been reported among the 365+ petroglyphs.

Similarly, about 44 km NW of Taheouacht, at the impressive but hard to reach rock art site of Guelta Oukas in the Tamanart Valley no less than 29 or 30 petroglyphs of goats (including 10 uncertain examples) have been recorded (Blanc et all. 2003: 82, 83). Most goat petroglyphs at Guelta Oukas are similar to the examples at Taheouacht (see Figure 17: inset), although some examples at Guelta Oukas are much larger, clearly superimposing earlier petroglyphs (see Figure 12). The Tamanart Valley was a very important through route from the Sahara into the Anti-Atlas (and vice versa) and – especially the guelta (a permanent water basin) at Oukas – is still used by Berber herders today.

However at the rock art site of Manast (or Douroudi?), located in the same Tamanart Valley and overlooking the confluence of Assif Imi n’Talat and Assif Ousgin, yet only 2300 m to the NNE of Guelta Oukas, we could not spot a single goat petroglyph and thus a discrepancy on meso level emerges between the two sites. Bovines and ostriches dominate the imagery at Manast.

About 57 km SW of Taheouacht are the rock art sites of Tachokalt (also known as Tachoucalt,  Taschukalt and Tachoukent) and Tanzida (also known as Tanzeda or Tan Zega) that are located only about 2600 m apart (both not visited by us). The rock art site of Tachokalt (with 29 outcrop panels and 96 boulders) has a total of 23 goat petroglyphs, including several frontally depicted head-only images (Figure 19; see also Figure 10E), while nearby Tanzida (with 10 outcrop panels and 14 boulders) is said to have zero goat images (Rodrigue et all.: 2014: Fig. 2); another example on meso-level.

Figure 19: Goat-like petroglyphs at Tachokalt.  Notice the frontally depicted head at the extreme right. Photograph © by Alain Rodrigue.

Regarding Tachokalt it is noteworthy to remark that Uwe Topper (1990: 236) states that eight blocks of stone with petroglyphs once had been removed from possibly (!) Tachokalt (or even from Tanzida?) and had been transported to Fum el Hasan (Foum el Hassane), a village about 25 to the north. His Block 2 has one goat petroglyph. Block 4 was said by Topper (1990: 248) to depict petroglyphs of two goats (Steinböcke) that are composed contiguously, so that the front legs of the upper goat touch the back of the lower one (see Figure 10C). Although this configuration seems to depict a mating scene, I only can interpret this configuration at most as a possible attempt at mating, especially as no genitals are shown. Most likely it just represents two adult male goats.

In 1992 Uwe Topper also reported the discovery of a new rock art site at a spot only about 9 km due east of Fum el Hasan and south of Jebel Bani. The site, which he labelled Fum el Hasan: LOC 10, comprises two ridges separated by a small foum of about 120 m wide (with palms and a waterhole) through which (in wet times) the River Icht runs. Being too far east from Fum el Hasan, I have re-labelled his site Asif Icht (see Figure 26). This site is a fine example of the statistical discrepancy on micro level as Topper recorded three pecked goat petroglyphs at the south facing side of the western ridge (one depicting a head-only [Figure 10E]), while the eastern ridge did not have goat petroglyphs.

3.6. The Case of Moumersal

The same statistical discrepancy on meso level may apply for the sites of Mouchaouf (four boulders with petroglyphs, but unfortunately its graphical content is unknown to me; hence ‘?’ goats in Figure 26) and nearby Moumersal (37 boulders with 177 petroglyphs, including goat images). Both sites (only 2000 m apart) are located about 9 km NE of Asif Icht and 22 km SW of Taheouacht and are found in an area called the Feija mou Mersen (most likely another name for Moumersal).

Moreover, like at Tachokalt and Asif Icht, the same statistical discrepancy is also present at micro level. At Moumersal-East (Site FH2/01 according to Heckendorf 2008) there are at least 45 goat-like petroglyphs (including seven doubtful examples), many incomplete (often their profile-heads-only have been depicted), while at Moumersal-West (Site FH2/02 according to Heckendorf) no goat images haven been recorded (Heckendorf 2008: 192). It must be mentioned here that my count of 45 goat-like petroglyphs is based on my interpretation of the photos that I have available of Moumersal. In contrast, Heckendorf registered only twelve petroglyphs of Caprinae at Moumersal-East (2008: Anhang 5; KatalogVerzeichnis 1).

There are several interesting (and relevant) goat-like images at Moumersal-East. On Boulder MOU-007 one petroglyph of a mammal seems to represent a goat (with one thick, backwards curving horn) that has possibly been changed (into a bovid?) by adding two forward curving horns. Approaching from behind is another – hard to identify – mammal; an attempt at mating? Boulder MOU-002 shows one large (male!?) goat petroglyph that a has smaller goat inside its body (thus possibly symbolising pregnancy?) (Figure 10B; the smaller goat possibly not recognised by Heckendorf [2008: FH2/01/002A] who marked only one petroglyph). However, in Saharan rock art there are several instances of smaller animals being drawn inside a larger rock art image. For instance, at L’Oued Tigzert-II (about 70 km SW of Assa) there are two smaller rhino petroglyphs executed within a much larger rhinoceros; a questionable (but possible; rhinos can produce twins) indication of a pregnancy.

At Moumersal-East several goats have also been superimposed on one another, while there are numerous smooth and empty surfaces that are suitable to receive petroglyphs. Superimposition must therefore have been a deliberate choice. At Moumersal-East at least one case of superimposition might depict (or rather, symbolise) a mating scene. It is found on Boulder MOU-010B (FH2/01/010B according to Heckendorf [2008], who numbered only one image). The assemblage involves a smaller (30 cm across) and more finely pecked (female?) goat-like image clearly superimposed by a larger (42 cm across) and more crudely pecked goat petroglyph (Figure 20A). The position of the larger (male?) goat is not at all biologically correct to depict a mating scene, even though the genital areas are more or less touching. However, lack of space on the rather small boulder may have been the reason why the manufacturer intentionally (there are many blanc canvasses at Moumersal-East) superimposed the larger animal almost vertically upon the smaller goat (in order to still suggest copulation?). In contrast, other cases of superimposition at Moumersal-East – for instance on Boulder MOU-016 (FH2/01/016 according to Heckendorf [2008]) – clearly do not involve (an attempt to) depict copulation. Concluding, although there are several goat petroglyphs at Moumersal-East that are (often confusingly) superimposed and intermingled, I do not know of a mating scene at Moumersal-East that is identical to the two mating scenes at Taheouacht-1, in which all (four) animals have a fixed horizontal (mating) position (see Figures 16 and 17).

Figure 20: Goat-like petroglyphs at Moumersal-East. A. Boulder MOU-010B; based on a photograph by Heckendorf (2008); B. Boulder MOU-008; based on the photograph by Alessandra Bravin (see Figure 21); C. Boulder MOU-015, based on a photograph by Heckendorf (2008; the numbering is the same as in Heckendorf 2008). Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek.

Surprisingly, also fighting scenes may be present on three of the 35 decorated panels at Moumersal-East. One boulder (labelled MOU-008 by me because Heckendorf [2008] does not include a description nor an illustration of this panel) shows an incomplete goat petroglyph that is intimately joined to a head-only petroglyph of a smaller goat (Figure 20B and Figure 21). The boulder with this apparent fighting scene is located immediately to the right and in front of Boulder MOU-009 (labelled FH2/01/011A by Heckendorf [2008]).

Figure 21: Fighting goat-like petroglyphs on Boulder MOU-008 at Moumersal-East.  For a drawing see Figure 20B. Photograph © by Alessandra Bravin.

A photograph kindly supplied by archaeologist Alessandra Bravin (pers. comm. 2020) shows a second unambiguous fighting scene on another boulder (labelled MOU-011 by me because Heckendorf [2008] does not include a description nor an illustration of this panel). It may be important that one of the goat petroglyphs (the winner?) is more or less complete, while the other goat only shows the front half. Notice the incomplete third goat across the ‘winner’ (Figure 22).

Figure 22: Fighting goat-like petroglyphs on Boulder MOU-011 at Moumersal-East. Photograph © by Alessandra Bravin.

Finally, Boulder MOU-015 (FH2/01/015 according to Heckendorf [2008]) shows two goats that are again completely joined by their fore-heads (Figure 20C). The larger, more or less complete animal (goat 1: identified by Heckendorf as the long-legged antelope Damaliscus; however, note the missing legs) has a long, slightly curved horn that partially touches the (curved) horn of the other, smaller and incomplete animal (goat 2: identified by Heckendorf as a goat: Ammotragus). I already argued that a fight between two different species of different heights and posture is highly unlikely in real life and thus even more unlikely to have been depicted in rock art. Therefore I regard all images in Figure 19 to depict goats. Two smaller (female?) goats (3 and 4) seem to be following the larger (dominant?) goat.

Despite the occurrences of those three fighting scenes and (a) possible mating scene(s?) at Moumersal-East, the (provisional) conclusion is clear. Only at Taheouacht-1 a fighting scene seems to have uniquely been combined with a mating scene on one panel, most likely on purpose (whether executed simultaneously or not).



4.1 General Observations

Some remarkable observations can be made based on the results of this study. First of all it proves that confrontation/fighting scenes between mammals of the same species depicted in rock art are very old and date back as far as the Palaeolithic Period. This also applies to depictions of goats. For instance, a very early but extremely rare scene of unambiguously fighting goats have been recorded at the rock art site of Le Roc de Sers, 15 km SE from Angouleme in France (Bandi et all. 1961: 43). This scene (Figure 23) is possibly 15.000 years old. Yet, most examples of fighting mammals in rock art mentioned in this study are much more recent.

Figure 23: Petroglyphs of two fighting goats from Le Roc de Sers, France. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, after Bandi et all. (1961: Fig. 12).

This study also argues that – in general – rock art representations of two or more mammals on one rock art panel mainly depict the animals without an obvious association. Often – especially when depicting the same species – they are arranged horizontally but still at random, or they are randomly orientated (including diagonally and vertically positioned examples). In many instances they even are (partially) superimposed without the apparent intention to configure a specific association. Moreover, often several species are present on one panel. It also proved that unambiguous associations or scenes are rather scarce and – relatively speaking – only few rock art images involve mammals definitely attacking another mammal (not necessarily of the same species). And in the case of a close encounter it is always possible that the mammals are not at all fighting, but simply greeting each other, for instance by sniffing. This may be the case with the petroglyphs of two peacefully depicted bovines recorded by Ursula Zürich in the Tassili du Hoggar in the central Sahara (Figure 24).

Figure 24: Petroglyphs of two touching bovines from the Tasilli du Hoggar, Algeria. Drawing © by Maarten van Hoek, based on a photograph by Ursula Zürich.

This study also firmly confirms that rock art images of two mammals of the same species that are definitely fighting each other are very rare in global rock art. In itself this is a remarkable fact, as it is absolutely certain that many individuals across the globe must have witnessed such impressive confrontations, especially of Asian Ibexes and American Bighorns. The reasons why such confrontations are hardly ever depicted in rock art globally are still enigmatic. After all prehistoric peoples must have realised that the furious fights of male mammals of the same species (especially at a certain time of the year; the rut) are very often intimately linked with the right to mate with the females of the group. And fertility generally was (and still is) an important concern among (prehistoric) people, whether it concerned plants, animals or humans.

Finally, it is remarkable that most rock art scenes involving confronting or fighting mammals of the same species – especially goat images – hardly ever show genitals. In the case of goat images I know of only one unambiguous example where a couple of rams – that are clearly in a confronting and possibly fighting situation – both show male sex. This petroglyph-scene has been recorded by Chris Goddard at the rock art site of Bichigt Khad in the Bayan Mountains of Mongolia (Goddard, pers. comm. 2020). The two males may even be fighting each other to gain the right to mate with the smaller (sexless!) female (?) goat to their left (Figure 25).

Figure 25: Confronting goat petroglyphs at Bichigt Khad in the Bayan Mountains (Mongolia). Photograph © by Chris Goddard.


4.2 Observations Regarding Moroccan Goat Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs of goats occur at many sites in southern Morocco, mainly in small numbers however. It is nonetheless significant that they are absent at many sites (especially at Tazina Style sites). Strikingly, goat petroglyphs are sometimes concentrated in rather large numbers at sites that were obviously intentionally selected to receive many goat images. Even more strikingly, in my Study Area there seems to exist specific distribution patterns at three levels.

On macro level most of the goat petroglyphs (#135 minimum; including doubtful examples) are found south of Jebel Bani (Figure 26). Interestingly, also fighting and (possible) mating scenes only occur in the area south of Jebel Bani and have been recorded (so far) only at Taheouacht-1 and Moumersal-East. Those high concentrations south of Jebel Bani and at Guelta Oukas must have had a reason. Perhaps those sites with an above average of goat images indicate an ancient (transhumance?) route involving goats from the Sahara via Taheouacht and Moumersal (and via Tachokalt and Fum el Hasan) through the funnel of the Tamanart Valley into the Anti Atlas (and vice versa?). It is possible that rivalling groups of goats with dominant males started to fight during encounters when approaching and converging near the funnels (the ‘foums’) in the Jebel Bani ridge.

Figure 26: Distribution and numbers of goat-like petroglyphs in the Study Area (Guelta Oukas to Tachokalt-Taheouacht). Green squares: sites with goat images and their numbers. Map composed by and © by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth.

It is also remarkable that on meso level sites with some or many goat petroglyphs and sites with few or even zero goat petroglyphs are often found rather close together. This proved to be the case at Imgrad n’Tayaline (compared with Adrar d’Metgourine), Guelta Oukas (compared with Manast), Tachokalt (compared with Tanzida), Moumersal (compared with Mouchaouf) and also at Taheouacht-1 and 2 (compared with nine other sites in the Taheouacht Complex). Even at micro level a similar discrepancy has been noted, especially at Tachokalt West (20 goat images) and Tachokalt East (3 goat images), Moumersal West (0) and Moumersal East (45), Asif Icht West (3) and Assif Icht East (0) and of course at Taheouacht-1 (West: 58) and Taheouacht-2 (East: 3).

4.3. To Be Unique or Not to Be?

Mating scenes are – although slightly more frequent than fighting scenes – still not at all common among Moroccan rock art scenes involving mammals of the same species. As far as I could check Heckendorf does not include the activity of animals copulating in her Tabellen 8.5 and 10.20, neither in her Anhang 5 (2008: Katalog Verzeichnis 1; page 5). Moreover, it is remarkable that in Saharan rock art there are many more images of humans copulating or showing (off?)  their often absurdly exaggerated depicted genitals (Souleilhavoup 2003), and even of humans allegedly copulating with big game (Le Quellec 1995), than there are scenes of mammals of the same species mating. In fact, unambiguous mating scenes of mammals of the same species are very rare in Saharan rock art. The two lavishly illustrated books by Huard et all. (1980) do not include a single rock art scene of two mammals mating. Moreover, when a rock art composition seemingly depicts copulation, there often remains (much) doubt whether the two mammals are actually copulating (as is the case with – for instance – petroglyphs of stacked Tazina Style mammals).

It is therefore surprising to see that – as far as I know – in southern Morocco only the rock art complexes of Taheouacht and Moumersal have possible mating and (definite) fighting scenes involving goats. However, only at Taheouacht-1 occurs a possibly unique combination of a fighting scene that is associated with and related to a mating scene, involving altogether four goat petroglyphs on one panel (TAH-1-023). Those two scenes combined definitely reflect the procreative behaviour of the goat. Unfortunately this study could not offer an explanation why such a specific scenes-combination has not been repeated anywhere else in the rock art of southern Morocco (and indeed across the globe). However, there may be two possible exceptions (not involving goats, though), which may render the Taheouacht scene a fraction less ‘unique’.

Roughly 3600 km NE of Taheouacht in SW Sweden is a domed outcrop rock at Hakeröd, Kville, Bohuslän, where rock art researcher Åsa Fredell (n.d.) tentatively interpreted a group of zoomorphic petroglyphs (ignoring the probably earlier ship and anthropomorphic petroglyphs) ‘arranged’ in a similar way. She interpreted two confronting male deer petroglyphs (1 in Figure 27), clearly adorned with antlers but without genitals (genitals however are often a feature of Bohuslän stag images) as ‘rutting stags fighting over the two does on heat’, all four rather depicted in a static way, though (2 in Figure 27). She argues that those (match-stick) females do not show the typical long tail that is a characteristic for similarly-looking match-stick horse petroglyphs in the area. The isolated male deer (3 in Figure 27) is considered by her as ‘the loser walking away’. She continues to argue that ‘the winner gets the right to mate’, which – according to her – has been depicted in an – otherwise rare – copulation scene to the left (4 in Figure 27). A smaller zoomorph above the copulation scene (5 in Figure 27) is regarded by her as a young suckling, while the elongated zoomorph (6 in Figure 27) is regarded by her to be the mother doe. Zoomorph 7 does not form part of the scene according to her. It may be following zoomorph 3.

Figure 27: Petroglyphs at Hakeröd, Kville, Bohuslän, SW Sweden. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, based on illustrations (originally by Fredsjö Åke) available at the web site of the Swedish Rock Art Research Archives (SHFA).

Her narrative is rather convincing, whether intended by the manufacturer(s) or not. There are only a few ‘flaws’. The copulation scene does not seem to involve a stag (no antlers or male genitals are shown) and thus the scene may involve different species. Moreover, I do not regard the young to be in a typical suckling position (see for a better example further down), while the four-legged, elongated zoomorph (6) may also depict another species and even may represent an abandoned and (later?) altered ship petroglyph (see two other incomplete boat petroglyphs on this panel). Finally, in my opinion there are no indications that the two zoomorphs (2 in Figure 27) are indeed in heat.

Surprisingly, the final (?) example of a possible combination of a ‘First Fighting – Then Mating’ combination is also found in Bohuslän. It is literally hidden among the numerous petroglyphs on Panel 1 at the rock art site of Brastad-29 (Toreld and Andersson 2017: 122), only 20 km SE of the Hakeröd panel. The scene is interpreted by me as follows. Clearly engaged in a fight are two clearly male horses (1 in Figure 28), while three mares (2) seem to be awaiting the outcome of the fight. About 150 cm to the left are two horses (3 in Figure 28), one (the mare?) depicted upside-down (but not symbolising death in my opinion); the other horse possibly representing the stallion, its phallus may be shown. This unusual configuration (also resembling the position of horses in a chariot configuration, for instance at Bärby Svarteborg in Bohuslän) may as well symbolise a mating scene, despite the bulging bellies that seem to suggest pregnancy in both animals. About 100 cm to the left is a scene where a smaller horse is in the typical suckling position below a larger mare (4 in Figure 28). At the extreme left hand side of the outcrop is another possible mating scene (5 in Figure 28) of two hard to determine zoomorphic figures. The ‘flaws’ in my reasoning are that the individual scenes are distinctly separated and that only the fighting scene and the suckling scene (about 3 metres further west on the outcrop) are unambiguous, while the purported mating scene is doubtful, even while the two animals (Figure 28: inset) are too close together  to be part of a chariot scene.

Figure 28: Petroglyphs at Brastad-29, Bohuslän, SW Sweden. Drawings © by Maarten van Hoek, based on the drawing in Toreld and Andersson (2017: 122) and (inset) on a drawing available at the web site of the Swedish Rock Art Research Archives (SHFA).

Finally, it may be concluded that ‘First Fighting – Then Mating’ scenes involving mammals of the same species on one rock panel are probably extremely rare in global rock art. The Taheouacht scene may be the only one involving goats, while the Swedish examples may be the only ones concerning respectively horses and deer. However, only the Taheouacht configuration has the fighting scene very close to the mating scene (the two scenes almost touch each other), while the Swedish examples are rather widely distributed across the panel, which makes a definite association less convincing. To end with a general remark, without reliable informed knowledge it always remains obscure what the factual intention of the manufacturer(s?) of the images has been.


A study like this could never have been written without the help of other people. Therefore I would like to express my gratitude to all the people who helped me in several ways, especially to Alessandra Bravin who assisted me significantly by sharing two very useful photos of Moumersal with me (Figures 21 and 22); to Manfred Lentz who provided me with a high quality photo of Figure 5; Heribert Bechen who kindly allowed me to reproduce all his photographs (Figure 12);  Chris Goddard who has sent me a high resolution photo of Figure 25; John Vincent Bellezza who allowed me to reproduce all his photos (Figure 4) and Alain Rodrigue who provided me with a high resolution photo of Figure 19 and shared useful information with me. I am also grateful to Renate Heckendorf for her valuable suggestions and the useful information she has shared with me. Also Luc Hermann shared useful information with me and permitted me to use his material.  Last, but certainly not least, I thank my wife Elles for her assistance in the field and her ongoing support at home.

I’m weighing the risk of brain damage against a life of celibacy

(by Mike Twohy).



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