Foggini-Mestekawi Cave
Foggini Mestekawi cave This cave is now recognised as one of the most important rock art sites in the whole of the Sahara, yet it was only discovered in 2002. The cave is named after Jacopo Foggini, an Italian explorer, and General Mestekawi of Zarzora Expeditions. This cave was alluded to in the narative of "War Gold", as Khaled was telling Hillary about the Wadi Sora shelter.

In retrospect, it seems strange that so large a rock art site, easily accessible and sited as it is so close to another famous rock site, Wadi Sora, should have remained unfound for so long. There are, no doubt, a lot of Western Desert regulars who have passed by this spot many times, who are now kicking themselves that they did not find it.

The main cave itself is largely filled with sand. The very top of the cave mouth - where the paintings are - is still clear and picture on the left does not give a good impression of the size, but the sand slope before the visible cave itself is about 20 metres high. It is quite a stiff clamber to get to the top of the heaped up sand, where the paintings can be seen.

Complex site There is a single panel in the cave, which is perhaps 10 metres wide. There is no real pattern to the paintings, which at first strikes one as a sort of pre-historic graffiti. A complex jumble of images jostle for position on the curved back wall of the cave. It is clear too that there more paintings under the sand which has built up at the back of the cave. Who knows how far down the paintings go?

This picture shows a particular feature of paintings in this area, the so called "headless beast". There are four of them in the centre of the picture. They have distinctive long tails with a bobble on the end and because of this, are usually associated with a lion. (I think it looks more like a baboon - look at the hind legs.) The front legs are often shown curiously turned backwards - like the beast on the right hand side - and they have no discernable head. There is much speculation as to what this beast is. At Wadi Sora, the famous "swimmers" are actually swimming towards a headless beast into which they are entering. This theme of human figures entering the beast where its head should be is repeated elsewhere on the panel at Foggini-Mestekawi. As the Wadi Sora "swimmers" are now thought to be swimming in a spiritual rather than a temporal realm, it can be surmised that the beast itself was mythical, perhaps a god, perhaps a composite of animals the painters of the pictures would have known.

Handprints The other notable thing about this site is the negative hand prints - there are probably thousands of them, all small, like those of a young teenager, say. These would have been produced by holding the pigment in the mouth, then blowing percussively to produce a spray around the hand, which has been placed on the rock face. Similar panels are found in Australia, produced by Aboriginal peoples, where each child in a community has its handprint put on a particular wall, almost as a rite of passage to declare them as members of the community. One could imagine a similar idea at work here. See

http://www.aboriginalartonline.com/methods/methods.php

Cheering the victor Scattered about within the seeming chaos of the panel, are a number of small group scenes which are painted with delicacy and care. This is perhaps the most famous of them at Foggini-Mestekawi. A central figure with, perhaps, an axe in his hand, is standing near a prone figure and is being acclaimed by a small watching crowd with their backs to us. The artist has used a natural fault in the rock to produce what could be interpreted as a mirror images of the crowd, as would be seen if they were standing on the edge of a lake, say, though the numbers and distribution of the 'reflected images' put a question mark on this interpretation. Was this the record of a duel to settle an argument? Was it a representation of one of their myths? Was it just a comic strip fictional doodling? Who can tell.

Antelope engravings Above the paintings, just above the lip of the cave mouth, are these wonderful low-relief carvings of six antelope in line, glowing in the yellow sandstone. There are a number of other carvings up there above the cave mouth, including rain clouds and something like a frog. It is interesting to speculate how they got up there to do those carvings. They could have hung down by a rope secured above the cave, or had ladders or some form of scaffolding. Either way, this was not just an idle doodle to pass away a long afternoon. It was planned with some care. See how a natural fault in the rock has been used again to form a landscape horizon backdrop against which the antelope are travelling.

There are a number of other shelters and small caves in the area with a few small paintings in them. These were obviously the homes of just one family who lived and worked there. Foggini-Mestekawi is different in that is it would seem to be a communal site which was an important cultural focal point for the society that created and used it. Judging from the differences in styles, (for example, the differences across the many representations of the "headless beast"), it is evident that a number of different artists contributed to this vast panel. It is interesting to speculate how an "artist" was granted access to this communal wall to create his individual painting.

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