Tassili n'Ajjer is a vast plateau in south-east Algeria at the borders of Libya, Niger and Mali, covering an area of 72,000 sq. km. The exceptional density of paintings and engravings, and the presence of many prehistoric vestiges, are remarkable testimonies to Prehistory.
From 10,000 BC to the first centuries of our era, successive peoples left many archaeological remains, habitations, burial mounds and enclosures which have yielded abundant lithic and ceramic material.
However, it is the rock art (engravings and paintings) that have made Tassili world famous as from 1933, the date of its discovery. 15,000 engravings have been identified to date.
The property is also of great geological and aesthetic interest: the panorama of geological formations with "rock forests" of eroded sandstone resembles a strange lunar landscape.
Criterion (i): The impressive array of paintings and rock engravings of various periods gives world recognition to the property. The representations of the Round Heads Period evoke possible magic-religious practices some 10,000 years old, whereas the representations of the Cattle Period depicting daily and social life, and which are amongst the most famous prehistoric parietal art, have an aesthetic naturalistic realism. The last images represent the taming of horses and camels.
Criterion (iii): The rock art images cover a period of about 10,000 years.
With the archaeological remains, they testify in a particularly lively manner to climate changes, changes in fauna and flora, and particularly to possibilities provided for farming and pastoral life linked to impregnable defensive sites during certain prehistoric periods.
Criterion (vii): With the eroded sandstone forming "rock forests", the property is of remarkable scenic interest.
The sandstone has kept intact the traces and marks of the major geological and climatic events. The corrosive effects of water, and then wind, have contributed to the formation of a particular morphology, that of a plateau carved by water and softened by the wind.
Criterion (viii): The geological conformation of Tassili n'Ajjer includes Precambrian crystalline elements and sedimentary sandstone successions of great paleo-geographical and paleo-ecological interest.
Humans lived in this area by developing cultural and physiological behaviour adapted to the harsh climate; their vestiges date back to several hundreds of thousands of years.
The richness of the cultural heritage of rock art and archaeological vestiges, together with the natural diversity of the ecosystem, fauna, flora and wetlands, fully reflect Outstanding Universal Value.
It is vulnerable to deterioration caused by climatic phenomena, and to damage caused by visitors.
Protection and management requirements (2009)
Tassili, a mountainous region in the centre of the Sahara, situated to the south-east of the Algerian Sahara and bordered by the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Niger and Mali, is a strange lunar landscape of deep gorges, dry river beds and 'stone forests'.
During the prehistoric period Tassili benefited from climatic conditions which were more favourable to human occupation. The abundance of game, the possibilities of animal husbandry and of pastoral life which lay within immediate proximity of impregnable defensive sites constituted the basic factors which favoured population development
The unique rock formations and networks of steep-sided valleys of the plateau are a result of the alternation of wet and dry periods. At the end of the Upper Pleistocene, for example, there were huge lakes in the region, in what are today the great Ergs. The lakes were fed by rivers flowing down the Tassili, and dry river beds remain from this period.
The action of the rivers on the surface of the plateau formed deep gorges and separate plateaux. Over the last 10,000 years the area has become steadily drier, although this process was reversed by a more humid period from 4000 BC to 2000 BC. Wind erosion during dryer periods has formed rock formations which resemble ruins, known as 'stone forests'.
The plants and animals found on the plateau bear witness to former wetter periods. Relict species surviving in wet microclimates include fish and shrimp and, until the 1940s, a dwarf Saharan crocodile, many thousands of kilometres from the nearest population in Egypt.
From about 6000 BC to the early centuries of the Christian era, the various peoples who inhabited this plateau left numerous traces in the archaeological record: settlements, tumuli and enclosures that have yielded abundant ceramic material. However, Tassili owes its world renown to the paintings and the rock engravings of all kinds found since 1933. This art covers several periods, each of which corresponds to a particular fauna, yet each can equally be characterized by stylistic differences, without reference to an ecosystem.
Five different periods can be identified: the naturalistic period, in which the fauna of the savannah is depicted; the archaic period, when small schematic figures or colossal forms assume the aspects of pictograms charged with an evident magical significance; the Bovidian period (4000-1500 BC), the dominant period in terms of the number of paintings, during which the representation of bovine herds and the scenes of daily life, incorporating a renewed naturalistic aesthetic, are among the best known examples of prehistoric mural art; the Equidian period, covering the end of the Neolithic and protohistoric periods, which corresponds to the disappearance of numerous species from the effects of progressive desiccation and to the appearance of the horse; and the Cameline period, during the first centuries of the Christian era, coinciding with the onset of the hyper-arid desert climate and with the appearance of the dromedary.
This site has one of the most important groups of prehistoric cave art in the world. The most important group of paintings is situated to the east of Djanet in the National Park; other remarkable works of rock art are located to the north, in the region of the Wadi Djerat near Illizi.