Book review: The Search for the Tassili Frescoes ~ Henri Lhote

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Tassili N’Ajjer mule trek (gallery)


Henri Lhote, 1959 (o/p)

There are several picture books describing or including the rock art of the Tassili. The best known though not best admired is this one: The Search for the Tassili Frescoes published (in English) in 1959 and easily available used on the web. It was he who led an expedition to record the art for posterity as the colony of Algeria was slipping out of France’s hands. Unfortunately Lhote and those in his service adopted the practise of wetting the rock art to produce more vivid photographs – something which has accelerated fading in a few decades after surviving millennia on the plateau.


In this case he may not have known any better, though a little-known Swiss expedition recorded many of the Tassili’s sites in the late 1940s; doing a much more thorough job than the well-publicised Lhote missions. But Lhote was also accused of turning a blind eye and indeed including fakes (painted as a joke) among his recorded discoveries. The slinky quartet known as ‘The Bird Headed Goddesses of Jabbaren’ are known to be one such fake, supposedly included (but excised from later editions and indeed Jabbaren itself) to help attribute the style to ancient Egyptian influences. If anything it was probably the other way round.

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