Petroglyphs of Tizounine. Southern Morocco

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This petroglyph site – located in the far south of Morocco – has only a small number of decorated panels. Yet there is a surprising variety in imagery, which ranges from biomorphic figures (mainly quadrupeds of the Tazina Style) and abstract motifs, one of which may well depict an (unplayable) game-board. A few (abstract?) motifs are enigmatic.

By Maarten van Hoek



Petroglyphs of Tizounine

Southern Morocco


Maarten van Hoek


Cover Photo: The boulder with Panel 11 at Tizounine (roughly looking south), described in this study (see Figure 11). Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Click on any illustration to see an enlargement.



The rock art site of Tizounine (Figure 1) is located in the extreme south of Morocco, a short distance (12 km SE) of the mountain ridge of Jebel Bani and thus between the Anti-Atlas and the River Draa (26 km to the SE). The Draa may be regarded to separate the Sahara from the Anti Atlas. My wife Elles and I visited the site in 2019, but only inspected a section on the north ridge, because our main goal of the day was to survey the nearby rock art site of Oum el Aleg (Van Hoek 2023), which is found some 20 km further NE. The extensive rock art complex of Aït Ouabelli (Van Hoek 2020) is located 14 km to the WSW of Tizounine. Tizounine has only petroglyphs and is – confusingly – also known (whether correct or not) by the names of Tiounziouine (Van Hoek 2023: Fig. 4), Tinzounine, Touzounine and possibly even as Tiounzfouine (yet, I do not pretend that I use the correct name for the site in this study).

Figure 1. Location of Tizounine in the south of Morocco. Map © by Maarten van Hoek, based on the map © by OpenStreetMap – Contributors.

On the north ridge (which is about 3300 m in length, having a maximum width of 250 m) we could identify 14 panels with petroglyphs on either outcrops or boulders. At least one boulder has two decorated panels. Most decorated panels were located by us in the area around and west of the 440 m mark in Figure 2. Additionally, there are at least four more panels that we did not see, bringing the total to 18, but of course there may be more petroglyphs. Photographs of those four additional panels have been uploaded onto the internet by Ibrahim Lamnay. The Google Earth Map posted by Ibrahim Lamnay on the internet also shows that – according to him – there are more petroglyphs at the far west end of the north ridge, as well as on the south ridge. Some of his photos may therefore concern boulders on the south ridge.

Figure 2. Map of the rock art site of Tizounine. Map © by Maarten van Hoek, based on Google Earth (2009).


The Petroglyphs

Although it is only a minor site, Tizounine is interesting for its relatively great variety of petroglyphs, even in view of the limited amount of panels that we have surveyed. There are petroglyphs that are extremely clear (suggesting a more recent origin), while many others are extremely faint and are hardly visible in the field and in the photos. Indeed, one needs extremely good lighting (preferably slanting sunlight; which is not always available) to see petroglyphs (more) clearly.

There are some abstract petroglyphs (including a rare depiction of an ancient “game” and some unusual oval-shaped petroglyphs), a variety  of zoomorphic images (including bovines, antelopes and ostriches), as well as at least one possible anthropomorphic figure (suggested to represent an archer).

All panels will be (very) briefly described, accompanied with some photographs wherever possible. All photos have been enhanced by the author to make them (somewhat) more legible. The panels have been numbered from 1 to 14 in the photos, while in some cases some individual petroglyphs have been assigned a letter in order to facilitate easy reference. Scales are not available and the panels have been presented in a completely random order, because no site-plan is available.

PANEL 1. A very faint petroglyph (Figure 3.1), possibly depicting an outlined Tazina Style quadruped (see Picher and Rodrigue 2003 for a lengthy discussion about the Tazina Style).

PANEL 2. A somewhat clearer petroglyph of a Tazina Style, outlined quadruped, possibly a gazelle (Figure 3.2; notice the five short, parallel polished grooves at the lower end).

PANEL 3. Very faint lines (abstracts and/or quadrupeds?) (Figure 3.3 and Figure 4).

Figure 3. Panels 1 to 3 at Tizounine. Photographs © by Elles and Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 4. Panel 3 at Tizounine; the lower part possibly bearing one or two Tazina Style quadrupeds. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.


PANEL 4. This panel features two large petroglyphs of ostriches, both looking to the left, the smaller example directly below the tail of the larger ostrich. Both petroglyphs clearly belong to the Tazina Style (Figure 5). Hovering over the tail of the larger ostrich are two very faint images of possible quadrupeds (manufactured at an earlier stage?).

Figure 5. Panel 4 at Tizounine. Photographs and drawing © by Elles and Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 6. Panel 5 at Tizounine. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.


PANEL 5. A clearly incised square pattern (an ancient game-board?) and some polished grooves at the top (Figure 6). This image will more fully be discussed in the Conclusions.

PANEL 6. A clearly incised, yet confusing pattern of parallel and intersecting lines of different widths, and thus most likely of different ages (Figure 7.6).

PANEL 7A. A roughly pecked abstract pattern (Figure 7.7A). PANEL 7B. On the other side of the boulder are two roughly pecked petroglyphs of quadrupeds (Figure 8).

PANEL 8. A single, roughly pecked oval (Figure 7.8).

Figure 7. Panels 6, 7A and 8 at Tizounine. Photographs © by Elles and Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 8. Panel 7B at Tizounine. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.


PANEL 9. A confusion of very faint lines, among which at least one image of an outlined quadruped of the Tazina Style is recognisable. This possible gazelle looks to the left (Figure 9).

Figure 9. Panel 9 at Tizounine. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.


PANEL 10. A faint Tazina Style petroglyph depicting an unidentified, outlined quadruped that is looking to the right (Figure 10). There may be more, yet faint anthropic lines.

Figure 10. Panel 10 at Tizounine. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.


PANEL 11. A very clear abstract pattern depicting a circular, roughly pecked motif crossed by some incised lines. Near the image are a roughly pecked groove hovering over the circular motif, as well as a small cluster of rough peck-marks (Figure 11 and Cover Photo).

Figure 11. Panel 11 at Tizounine. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.


PANEL 12. A group of very faint, polished lines on a rather rough and mottled surface, not showing a recognisable pattern (Figure 12). It might be a (Tazina Style?) biomorphic image.

Figure 12. Panel 12 at Tizounine. Photographs © by Elles and Maarten van Hoek.


PANEL 13. At least two roughly pecked (but worn smooth) abstract motifs (A and B in Figure 13), one of which (A) looks like a vulva-symbol. There are also two outlined Tazina Style quadrupeds (C and D in Figures 13 and 14); possibly gazelles (bellies facing each other).

Figure 13. Panel 13 at Tizounine. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Figure 14. The quadrupeds on Panel 13 at Tizounine. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.


PANEL 14. Very faint lines possibly of an outlined quadruped of the Tazina Style (Figure 15).

Figure 15. The quadruped (?) on Panel 14 at Tizounine. Photographs © by Elles van Hoek.

The following four entries of petroglyphs at Tizounine concern petroglyphs that have not been recorded by us. The descriptions below are based on the photos uploaded onto the internet by Ibrahim Lamnay. Because we have not seen these four panels, it may be uncertain exactly where the panels are located.

PANEL 15. This panel shows a very roughly pecked abstract pattern, including a large circle with eight or nine “spokes” radiating from a small circle at the centre of the larger circle (the “wheel” being too large and too complex to depict the [single] wheel of a [two-wheel] chariot?). The “wheel” at Tizounine is similar to a petroglyph at Oued el Kebch (145 km NE of Tizounine), which has been interpreted as a trap (Rodrigue and Wolff 1999: 108; Fig. 7.5).

PANEL 16. A pecked rectangle (more recent?) and a pecked petroglyph of a simple, rectangular, outlined quadruped (not of the Tazina Style) that seems to look to the right.

PANEL 17. A rather distinct petroglyph on an almost vertical surface of a boulder, depicts the outlined image of a gazelle of the Tazina Style. The animal looks to the right.

PANEL 18. The very faint petroglyphs of at least one outlined, Tazina Style quadruped (looking to the right) and an even fainter petroglyph of what could be an outlined anthropomorphic figure, tentatively interpreted by Ibrahim Lamnay as a possible archer (Van Hoek 2023: 7).



Despite the small number of decorated panels at Tizounine, the site is still interesting because of some specific images. The site predominantly has zoomorphic images of the Tazina Style (Figure 14) and only very few Pecked-cattle Style images (Figure 8). There are some abstract figures, like the circular motif on Panel 11 (Figure 11) and the oval on Panel 8 (Figure 7.8) that both look not that old. Therefore, the site must have been visited over a long period of time.

On Panel 13 is at least one rather large, oval-shaped motif comprising two pecked concentric ovals around a centrally placed raised oval (Figure 16). It seems that the outer oval continues as a sort of tail. Although the whole petroglyph is worn smooth, it seems as if parts of the petroglyph have been incised (at a later date?). The patination of the petroglyph is the same as the patination of the natural rock surface and thus most likely is very old. Ancienety is also confirmed by the fact that one of the two Tazina Style petroglyphs (C in Figure 13) superimposes a similar, yet more irregular motif (B in Figure 13). The oval-motif looks like a vulva or a comet, but the significance is still obscure. It is more likely that it depicts a trap (“piège” in French). Another possible clue that some petroglyphs at the site may be very old, is the presence (on Panel 18) of the almost worn-off image of a purported hunter, who is possibly hunting (?) a quadruped.

Figure 16. Detail of Panel 13. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Certainly more recent (but probably still old) is the square grid motif on Panel 8 (Figure 17). It seems to depict an ancient game-board, which may be classified as an “Alquerque”. This motif is rare, yet widespread across Europe and Northern Afrika. For example a fine alquerque-board is found on a windowsill in Hampton Court Palace (UK), providing a fixed maximum date. Interestingly, there are many different lay-outs of ancient game-boards (Ulbrich (2015).

Figure 17. Detail of Panel 8. Photograph © by Maarten van Hoek.

Also the south of Morocco has some petroglyphs of squares that may be interpreted as depictions of such ancient game-boards. Without pretending that I have knowledge of all Moroccan rock art images, examples have for instance been recorded at Amda (a rock art site about 13 km to the Se of Aït Saadane; roughly 360 km NE of Tizounine) by Richard Wolff  (2004: Fig. 4; petroglyph measuring 16.5 cm), while at Imaoun (44 km north of Tizounine) I recorded two petroglyphs of possible game-boards. However, in many cases there is always an element of doubt, because there are often grid-patterns and other abstract motifs that only look like [unfinished?] game-boards; especially when associated with Tazina Style petroglyphs, like the comparable (yet too complex) petroglyph recorded by me at Aït Ouazik (Van Hoek 2015: Fig. 13). Petroglyphs possibly depicting ancient games-boards (my interpretation) have also been recorded by Alain Rodrigue (2014: Fig. 4; no scale given) at Tighremt n’Ouazdidene in the High Atlas.

Much further west, in the Atlantic Ocean, several petroglyphs of possible game-boards have been recorded in some of the Canary Islands. For instance, Werner Pichler recorded a petroglyph of a gameboard at Barranco de la Herradura, Fuerteventura (roughly 555 km west of Tizounine) that is almost identical to the example at Tizounine (Hans-Joachim Ulbrich 2015: Fig. 3a).

Although I did not take any measurements at Tizounine, I still think that the petroglyph of the purported game-board is (too?) small for being played. Interestingly, when discussing several petroglyphs of ancient game-boards on Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, Hans-Joachim Ulbrich (2015: 64) correctly argues that the positions of those petroglyphs for the players are often too uncomfortable; even impossible when executed (high up) on vertical panels. Moreover, so he argues, the design is often confusing and not arranged according to the rules of the game and often the rock art image is too small to be playable. In short: the position and size of such “impossible” petroglyphs are not ergonomic; not playable.

Therefore Ulbrich convincingly suggests that such petroglyphs are possibly symbols for luck, happiness and prosperity, even without playing the game (if possible). According to Ulbrich, also the design illustrated by him (2015: Fig. 2.6; looking very much like the petroglyph on Panel 5 at Tizounine) is not playable and may therefore also represent only an expression of religious wishful thinking. Thus also the Tizounine example may communicate the same concept. And perhaps many more rock art images (if not all?) express the same sort of wish, not only at Tizounine, but at numerous other rock art sites in the world. But lacking informed knowledge, we will never be sure about the exact meaning of each individual rock art image, a complex panel with several petroglyphs – often superimposed – is very hard to explain.



I am grateful to my wife Elles for assisting me while surveying the rock art site of Tizounine and for her support at home while preparing this article.



Rodrigue, A. 2014. The rock engravings of Tighremt n’Ouazdidene (High Atlas, Morocco). Almogaren. Vol. 44-45 / 2013-2014; pp. 167 – 172. Institutum Canarium, Wien.

Rodrigue, A. and R. Wolff. 1999. Nouvelles gravures rupestres a l’Oued El Kebch (Sud marocain). Bulletin de la Société d’études et recherches préhistorique des EYZIES. Vol. 48; pp. 106 – 118.

Pichler, W. and A. Rodrigue. 2003. The «Tazina Style». Sahara. Vol. 14; pp. 89 –  106.

Searight, S. 2001. The Prehistoric Rock Art of Morocco. A Study of its extension, environment and meaning. Thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements of Bournemouth University for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Bournemouth.

Ulbrich, H.-J. 2015. Communicating with the gods: superstition on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. Expression. Vol. 10; pp. 62 – 65. ATELIER, Centro di ricerca per l’antropologia concettuale), Capo di Ponte (Brescia). Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2015. Signs of Infinity at Aït Ouazik, Southern Morocco, and Beyond. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin. Italy. Linked with African Rock Art video No. X.

Van Hoek, M. 2020. First Fighting, Then Mating. A ‘Unique’ Petroglyph Scene in Southern Morocco. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Van Hoek, M. 2023.  The Archers of Oum el Aleg, Morocco. In: TRACCE – Online Rock Art Bulletin, Italy.

Wolff, R. 2004. La « barrière » dans les gravures rupestres du sud marocain. Préhistoires Méditerranéennes. Vol. 13; pp. 43 – 54.

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