The complex cave and rock shelters of Laas Geel, Dhagah Kureh, and Dhagah Nabi Galay lie just 30-45 minutes outside of Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, a self-declared republic and autonomous region of Somalia. Exhibiting outstanding Neolithic rock art, the sites’ cave paintings are considered to be some of the best preserved rock paintings in all of Africa, and are essential to the Horn of Africa’s historical and heritage legacy. These rock art sites are endangered from a number of factors, both natural and human caused.
In order to preserve the heritage of the Horn of Africa and safely share it with the world, CyArk partnered with the Horn Heritage Charity to perform digital documentation of the sites and provide technical training.
Dhagah Kureh translates to “the stone with the head” in the Somali language. The site is located in a beautiful and naturally green landscape with fertile farming lands nearby.
Dhagah Kureh is located 43km from Hargeisa, 28km on the Boorama road then 15km on a track road to the north. Mohamed Abdi Ali of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism first took the French team to visit this site in December of 2004. The rock shelters are made of stony outcrops with rocks resting on each other above an approximately 4km-long granite range.
The rock art site of Dhagah Kureh is comprised of large slabs piled on top of each other. Paintings are located on the smooth surfaces of the interiors and exteriors of the shelters. Paintings appear to have been completed directly on the untreated rock surface.
Representations of Cows:
The greatest number of rock art panels depicting large cows in Somaliland is found in Shelter 1 of Dhagah Kureh. Although Laas Geel does not contain as many as Dhagah Kureh, a still significant number exists in Shelters 1 and 10.
Laas Geel contains animal depictions of greater dimensions and variations, size and composition. At Dhagah Kureh, horns are located in the back of the head as common in Somaliland and at Laas Geel. Here, the position of the udders is either realistic or low or very low on the back leg of the animal. However, the necks can be either thin or large, with claws or large horns on the front of the head, with or without a plastron, and having a straight back. Depictions of zebus (Bos indicus), a more recent species, also appear at Dhagah Kureh, which also indicates superimposition.
The human anthropomorphic figures are of different styles, with different shaped heads and hairstyles, with some wearing masks and ornaments in their hair or on their heads. Their arms are engaged in one way or another--either stretched on the sides or upwards in a symbolic ritualistic manner, or holding a stick or other unidentifiable objects and wearing “trousers.” These figures are often behind the cow while most in Laas Geel are under the animals.
Giraffes are the second-most depicted animals at Dhagah Kureh.
At Dhagah Kureh, there are other markings, including recent graffiti, recent Arabic writings, and what appear to be tribal markings.
Site Degradation and Conservation Problems:
There is recent graffiti and intentional vandalism at Dhagah Kureh. The graffiti continues, people utilizing black (charcoal) or white (chalk) which leave permanent marks. Wind and rains also have an eroding effect on most paintings.
One of the sites associated with Laas Geel, Dhagah Nabi Galay is unique in that it features what is considered to be the first examples of writing in East Africa. There has been minimal research conducted on this site, but it offers a wonderful opportunity to study the Neolithic Horn of Africa anterior to the introduction of Islam.
Translating to "The Camels' Well" in Somali, Laas Geel is located halfway between the cities of Hargeisa and Berbera in Somaliland, a self-declared republic and autonomous region of Somalia. It became known to the international community for the first time in 2002 through the mission of a French team, led by Professor Xavier Gutherz of Paul-Valéry University, Montpellier III, and guided by Somaliland’s Mohamed Ali Abdi.
The Laas Geel shelters are made of naturally occurring rock formations. Although Laas Geel consists of about twenty shelters of varying size, the largest are about ten meters long with a depth of about 5 m. These shelters feature polychrome painted panels that are considered to be the oldest known rock art in the Horn of Africa. Paintings have also been noted in smaller shelters around the Laas Geel area. The site is excellently preserved thanks to the location of the paintings being covered by the granite overhangs.
Shelter 1 is one of the most important shelters at Laas Geel due to the richness of variations and composition of its rock art. The size of this shelter is 170 m2, with a ceiling of 97 m2 that is completely covered with paintings. It is estimated that there are three hundred and fifty animal and human representations as well as numerous tribal marks among the rock art at Laas Geel. These paintings are extremely well preserved throughout the site.
Representations of Cows:
Bovines painted here are thought to be of the Bos Taurus species. Stylization of the painted panels is distinctive for Laas Geel and Somaliland in general, where a similar style of painting has been noted at the rock art sites of Dhambalin, Jilib Rihin and Haadh (discovered by Sada Mire) and that of Karin Hagane (studied by Steven Brandt). The colors of these paintings are rich and polychrome.
The painted bovines at Laas Geel are depicted with heads appearing like beakers and situated close to the horns, often large ones. Around their necks there is decoration resembling a piece of garment. This could also be a symbol of fertility (a fat neck) joining the body through a line (possibly representing the spine). These parts are combined in various colors and produce a complete polychrome figure. Often the cows are depicted with full udders with discernible teats. The colors are comprised of various shades of red, orange, yellow, white, and violet.
The representation of the human figures at Laas Geel displays an ambiguity as to whether they depict humans or also deities or imagined figures. These mostly appear under the udders or the hind areas of the bovines. They are painted in the same colors and techniques as the cows, usually with chests striped in white or red. Filiform arms lift upwards and occasionally have hands. The legs are often in what look like “trousers,” but no feet appear. A circle or radiating lines surround the heads, which narrow into the shape of a tulip.
Other animals depicted within the painted panels at Laas Geel include dogs or canidae which accompany the human figures.
In addition, more recent tribal markings are present in some shelters at Laas Geel.
As normal with rock art sites, the dating remains a problem even at Laas Geel as the only thing it is based on seems to be small fragments of pigments found in layers believed to date to 3500-2500BC. There is not a single ceramic segment found at Laas Geel’s Shelter 7, which is the only excavated shelter and upon which the dating estimation is based on.
Site Degradation and Conservation Problems:
The site suffers degradation caused by a great deal of erosion.