ANIMAL ART OF THE DAY for World Giraffe Day: The Dabous Giraffes

June 21st is World Giraffe Day!

Giraffe taxonomy is currently in flux, with multiple competing species concepts; the IUCN still only recognizes a single species with nine subspecies, but the Giraffe Conservation Foundation supports a four species/seven subspecies model based on more recent DNA research. This infographic from Peppermint Narwhal Creative is based on their model.

Dabous Giraffes
Photo: Albert Backer (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Dabous Giraffes
Photo: Matthew Paulson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

These two life-size giraffe petroglyphs are the largest known animal carvings in the world! They are found in Africa the Aïr Massif region of the Sahara Desert in modern-day Niger, and have been dated to the Neolithic c. 6000-8000 BCE., during the lusher African Humid Period.

Recorded in 1987 by French archaeologist Christian Dupuy, two remarkable life-size engravings of giraffe have generated much interest due to the size, realism and technique of the depictions. The two giraffe, thought to be one large male in front of a smaller female, were engraved on the weathered surface of a sandstone outcrop. The larger giraffe measures 5.4 m from top to toe and combines several techniques of production, including scraping, smoothing and deep engraving of the outlines.

Each giraffe has an incised line emanating from its mouth or nose, meandering down to a small human figure. This motif is not unusual in Saharan rock art, but its meaning remains a mystery. Interpretations have suggested the line may indicate that giraffe were hunted or even domesticated, or may reflect a religious, mythical or cultural association. It has also been suggested that the lines and human figures were later additions.

[British Museum]

An additional 828 figures have been identified in the surrounding rocks, including 704 zoomorphs; animals identified include not only more giraffes, but also bovines/cattle, ostriches, antelope and gazelle, camels, canids, rhinoceroses, equids, monkeys, elephants, and a lion.

One of the smaller giraffe petroglyphs in the surrounding area.
Photo: Albert Backer (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 1999, a mold and aluminum casts were made of the petroglyphs to preserve a record of its appearance, as it was at continued risk of both natural and human degradation:

Aluminum case of the Dabous Giraffes
(image © Bradshaw Foundation)

Read more about the Dabous Giraffes and the surrounding rock art here:

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