Long-horned cattle and other rock art in the Laas Gaal complex.
|Location||Laas Gaal, Somalia|
Laas Gaal (Somali: Laas geel) is a complex of caves and rock shelters in Somaliland, a self-declared republic that is internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia. Famous for their rock art, the caves are located in a rural area on the outskirts of Hargeisa. They contain some of the earliest known cave paintings in the Horn of Africa. Laas Gaal's rock art is estimated to date back to somewhere between 9,000–8,000 and 3,000 BCE.
During November and December 2002, an archaeological survey was carried out in northern Somalia by a French team of researchers. The expedition's objective was to search for rock shelters and caves containing stratified archaeological infills capable of documenting the period when production economy appeared in this part of the Horn of Africa (circa 5,000 and 2,000 BCE). During the course of the survey, the French archaeological team discovered the Laas Gaal cave paintings, encompassing an area of ten rock alcoves (caves). In an excellent state of preservation, the paintings show ancient humans of the area raising their hands and worshipping humpless cows with large lyre-shaped horns.
The rock art had been known to the area's inhabitants for centuries before the French discovery. However, the existence of the site had not been broadcast to the international community. In November 2003, a mission returned to Laas Gaal and a team of experts undertook a detailed study of the paintings and their prehistoric context.
Northern Somalia in general is home to numerous such archaeological sites, with similar rock art and/or ancient edifices found at Haylaan, Qa’ableh, Qombo'ul and Elaayo. However, many of these old structures have yet to be properly explored, a process which would help shed further light on local history and facilitate their preservation for posterity.
The Laas Gaal cave paintings are thought to be some of the best preserved in Africa. Among other things, they depict cows in ceremonial robes accompanied by humans, who are believed to have been inhabitants of the region. The necks of the cows are embellished with a kind of plastron. Some of the cows are also portrayed wearing decorative robes. Besides long-horned cattle, the rock art also shows an image of a domesticated dog, several paintings of canidae as well as a giraffe.
Simon Reeve visited the cave paintings as part of his television programme Places That Don't Exist. Amazed at the excellent preservation and vibrant colors of the paintings, he said that "Laas Ga'al, it transpires, is probably the most significant Neolithic rock painting site in the whole of Africa" and that "few people know that Somalia is home to such treasures." The late Osman Bile Ali, who showed Reeve the site, described the Laas Gaal cave paintings as beautiful.
- The Journal of African Archeology Volume 1.2 (2003) Chapter 3
- Michael Hodd, East African Handbook, (Trade & Travel Publications: 1994), p.640.
- BBC News, This World, available online at , accessed on August 25, 2006