The Bubalus Period, also known as the Large Wild Fauna period, is the earliest known period of Saharan rock art. Most of the engravings from this period have been dated between 10,000 BCE and 7,000 BCE. There are no images of pottery, cattle, or crops, which means that these carvings were mostly likely produced by a hunter-gatherer culture and not by a pastoralist culture, although the two may have existed simultaneously during a brief period of time. The majority of the rock engravings in the Large Wild Fauna style are located in what is known as the Maghreb region of the Sahara, encompassing a wide area spanning across Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia – specifically, the Fezzan region of southwestern Libya. During a period of time when the desert was well-watered and fertile, this region was populated by nomadic groups known today as the Berbers (from the Greek "barbarian," a term they used for all foreigners). Nomadic groups such as these had trade routes across the Saharan region, many of which are older than the desert itself. It is believed that the Berbers were responsible for much of the rock engravings in the area.
The names of this particular style of rock art – "Large Wild Fauna" and "Bubalus" – refer to the subject matter depicted in the majority of the engravings. Most Bubalus art consists of animals that would have been plentiful in the region when it was fertile: giraffes, elephants, and a now-extinct species of bovine known as Bubalus antiquus. The images are nearly life-sized and fairly naturalistic in style. The images have been carved in continuously flowing white lines that make it easy to forget that each image was painstakingly ground into the rock faces by hand. A distinct feature of this style is the outsized, rounded feet of the animals.
Other subjects depicted in the carvings include humans and animal-headed humans (a theme which is widespread in the Art of ancient Egypt). Men are shown armed with clubs, throwing sticks, axes and bows, but never spears. One image depicts a rhinoceros on its back, surrounded by jackal-headed humans armed with clubs. Interpretations of this image are up to debate, but some believe hunting scenes like these may refer to "Hunting magic," a ritualistic attempt to control the animals they hunted. Others think that the images are likely far more in-depth in religious meaning than that, but nothing has been determined with certainty in regard to an interpretation. We do know that the animal-headed humans depicted here definitely preceded those seen in Egypt.
After the Sahara became the desert we know today (ca., 1,000 BCE), most of its ancient inhabitants migrated to other parts of Africa, taking their culture with them. Many artistic styles throughout African history owe their origins to the early Saharan rock art.
- Methodology and African prehistory By Jacqueline Ki-Zerbo, Joseph Ki-Zerbo
- Visonà, Monica Blackmun (2008). A History of Art in Africa - Second Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 07458: Pearson Education, Inc. pp. 22–24. ISBN 0-13-612872-6.
- Nalsh, David. "The ‘Great bubalus’ in ancient African rock art". Science Blogs. Retrieved 4 October 2012.