Digitally Preserving Heritage at Risk: Somaliland Rock Art- Laas Geel, Dhagah Kureh and Dhagah Nabi Gelay

The complex cave and rock shelters of Laas Geel, Dhagah Kureh, and Dhagah Nabi Galay lie just 30-45 minutes outside of Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, a self-declared republic and autonomous region of Somalia. Exhibiting outstanding Neolithic rock art, the sites’ cave paints are considered to be some of the best-preserved rock paintings in all of Africa, and are essential to the Horn of Africa’s historical and heritage legacy.

Translating to “The Camels’ Well” in Somali, Laas Geel is located halfway between the cities of Hargeisa and Berbera in Somaliland, a self-declared republic and autonomous region of Somalia. The Laas Geel shelters are made of naturally occurring rock formations. Although Laas Geel consists of about twenty shelters of varying size, the largest are about ten meters long with a depth of about 5 m. These shelters feature polychrome painted panels that are considered to be the oldest known rock art in the Horn of Africa. Paintings have also been noted in smaller shelters around the Laas Geel area. The site is excellently preserved thanks to the location of the paintings being covered by the granite overhangs. One of the sites associated with Laas Geel, Dhagah Nabi Galay is unique in that it features what is considered to be the first examples of writing in East Africa. There has been minimal research conducted on this site, but it offers a wonderful opportunity to study the Neolithic Horn of Africa anterior to the introduction of Islam. Dhagah Kureh translates to “the stone with the head” in the Somali language. The site is located in a beautiful and naturally green landscape with fertile farming lands nearby, and the rock shelters are made of stony outcrops with rocks resting on each other above an approximately 4km-long granite range. The greatest number of rock art panels depicting large cows in Somaliland is found in Shelter 1 of Dhagah Kureh, making this site unique amongst the rock art sites of Somaliland. These sites are endangered from a number of factors, both natural and human caused. In order to preserve the heritage of the Horn of Africa and safely share it with the world, Dr Sada Mire of Horn Heritage Origination partnered with CyArk and ICCROM to perform digital documentation of the sites and provide technical training to local professionals. This was made possible through a generous contribution from the by UNESCO Switzerland.

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