Rock Art, Landscape and Settlement in the High Atlas (Morocco)

Engravings: Anthropomorphic figure surrounded by symbols and cupmarks

This is a joint project between the Complutense University in Madrid (UCM) and the National Institute of Archaeological and Heritage Sciences (INSAP) in Morocco. Led by Dr. María Luisa Ruiz-Gálvez (UCM), it involves researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), INSAP, UCM, the University of Alcalá de Henares, the Geological and Mining Institute (IGME), the Regional Government of Extremadura and the National Archaeological Museum (MAN).

The project falls within the field of landscape archaeology, which studies how human beings perceived their environment physically as well as from a cognitive, social and emotional perspective, and how this perception impacted on the way they viewed the environment in which they lived.

General view of the Oukaimeden Valley

Thus, while sedentary farmers fenced off the space they had tamed and claimed for cultivation, ranchers thought of their territory as points on a mental map, which helped them to move confidently across the landscape. For example, prominent rocks, high mountains and other landmarks served as references for tracing routes, paths and accesses and locating resources. These points also provided a medium on which to inscribe messages related to their physical or epiphanic aspects.

This is the focus of the rock art study currently being conducted in the Oukaimeden Valley in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, an area of high pastures still used by Berber shepherds whose mobility patterns are undoubtedly very similar to those of their prehistoric ancestors and whose rights of access to the valley are governed by complex rituals imbued with symbolic and mythical meanings. In addition to studying and recording these artistic manifestations, the project also explores their archaeological, palaeoenvironmental and geological aspects.