Niger’s Dabous Giraffes: Sculptures From the New Stone Age



The Dabous Giraffes are two life-sized rock carvings, or petroglyphs, in the Ténéré Desert in Niger. The highly detailed male (over 18 feet tall!) and female are side-by-side, and each has a line coming down from its mouth, with a human figure at the other end. Nearby are some 800 smaller carvings of other giraffes, animals, and people.

Found on a sandstone slab in the Air Mountains of the Sahara, the giraffes were created during the New Stone Age around 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. Cut into the rock through a combination of scraping, smoothing, and engraving, they’re considered one of the world’s finest examples of ancient rock art — as well as one of its most endangered monuments.

Some of the danger simply comes from being outside, exposed to the elements and random natural events. But keeping the giraffes safe from humans has also been a challenge. As more people learned about the place, more and more visitors tramped through the site, sometimes accidentally damaging the carvings by walking on them. Other people even took pieces of the carvings or left graffiti on them!

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) joined with the Niger government and various preservation organizations to secure the site and hire a full-time caretaker. Then they began the careful process of copying the Dabous Giraffes. In 1999, specialists made a mold of the carvings, and then created castings from the mold. Several copies were produced to show in public places and raise the giraffes’ profile, so more people could discover and appreciate them.

One of the casts is on display at an airport in Niger, but if you ever go to the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., you can see a copy of the Dabous Giraffes there too.