Jebel Uweinat: gold and art in eastern Sahara

At a focal point in the Eastern Sahara where the borders of Sudan, Libya and Egypt meet, lies a 2,000-meter large rocky outcrop known as Jebel Uweinat, which has been neglected and subjected to looting since Libya’s 2011 revolution.

More than 60 percent of the mountain range lie in Libyans territories, while 40 percent are located on Egyptian-Sudanese borders.

In the past few years, illegal gold mining boomed at the foothills of Uweinat by Libyan armed groups and gangs coming from Sudan and Chad due to the insecurity that Libya has witnessed.

The insecurity in Libya backed by the easy extraction process of the gold, which does not require deep excavation, attracts many thieves to the region.

The mountain is composed of two different parts. The western part of the massive range consists of a collapsed dome of intrusive granite, arranged in a ring shape, separated by three eroded wadis: Karkur Idriss, Karkur Hamid and Karkur Ibrahim.

The eastern part consists of a large block of paleozoic sandstone, resting upon metamorphic Proterozoic basement, propped against the granite dome to the west.

Hence, Libya is ranked the fourth among Arab countries after Saudi Arabia and 31st in the world in terms of its gold reserves, according to a report issued by the World Gold Council in 2016.

The mountain is not only famous for its wealth, but prehistoric artwork is also scattered all over the mountain, varying from paintings and engravings, commonly of animals and overwhelmingly of domestic cattle.

Jebel Uweinat is so isolated that, until 1923, the proliferation of the rock art had never been documented until an Egyptian discoverer, Ahmed Pasha Hassanein, reported about the mountain for the first time.

Probably made between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago, the depictions of cattle and herds were been found in 337 painted sites out of 414, which have been counted along with the depictions of human in various forms.

Disparity could be seen in the spread of the artworks as engravings are predominantly at lower levels than the paintings, near the base of the mountain and valley floors, with the paintings at greater altitude.

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