The Aurochs of Qurta

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The 'Aurochs of Qurta' or the Qurta Inscriptions or petroglyphs are a set of stone-carvings of aurochs and stylized humans dating back to the Late Palaeolithic (circa 23,000-11,000 years ago). The rock art sites are situated near the modern village of Qurta, on the east bank of the Nile, about 40km south of the Upper-Egyptian town of Edfu. First seen by Canadian archaeologists in the early 1960s, they were subsequently completely forgotten and relocated by the Belgian mission in 2005.

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These rock-carvings, also known as the "Qurta Aurochs", Auroch Reliefs of Qurta, present the first evidence of Pleistocene rock-art in North-Africa.

The rock art at Qurta is essentially characterised by hammered and incised naturalistic-style images of aurochs and other wild animals. On the basis of their intrinsic characteristics (subject matter, technique and style), their patination and degree of weathering, as well as the archaeological and geomorphological context, these petroglyphs have been attributed to the Late Pleistocene, specifically to the Late Palaeolithic Period (roughly 23,000 to 11,000 years ago).

The site consists of at least 179 figures deeply carved into sandstone. Many depict animals in a more naturalistic style than was used in later petroglyphs at sites nearby.


circa 21,000 to 9,000 BCE

The deposits covering the rock art, in part composed of wind-blown sediments, were dated at the Laboratory of Mineralogy and Petrology (Luminescence Research Group) of Ghent University (Belgium) using a method called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. OSL dating can determine the time that has elapsed since the buried sediment grains were last exposed to sunlight. Using the constituent mineral grains of the sediment itself, it offers a direct means for establishing the time of sediment deposition and accumulation.

This resulted in a minimum age of about 15,000 calendar years, providing the first solid evidence for the Pleistocene age of the rock art at Qurta and making it the oldest graphic activity ever recorded in Egypt and the whole of North Africa. The Qurta rock art is therefore more or less contemporaneous with European art from the last Ice Age, as known from such world-famous sites as the Lascaux and Altamira caves.


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