HARGEISA, — Follow an unmarked dirt road to a dry riverbed in the scrubby, northwestern Somali plains and in the shadows, beneath the sandstone outcroppings, are remarkably well-preserved paintings. They date back between five and 11,000 years and cover the rock walls in streaks of white and black and barbeque sauce red. White stripes highlight a warrior's clothing, the point of his spear and the curve of an ancient cow’s udder. This is Somaliland's Laas Geel. Anywhere else in the world such cave paintings would undoubtedly be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but here — in the unstable Horn of Africa — it’s in danger of being swallowed up by decades of war, political unrest, drought, poverty and neglect in a region that most of the Western world has left for dead.
Although Mire is originally from Mogadishu, the young archeologist now heads up the Department of Antiquities for the unrecognized republic of Somaliland, a breakaway region in northern Somalia. While visitors to Somaliland are still required to travel with guards armed with AK-47s, the breakaway republic’s de facto government has been able to maintain a relative peace for nearly 17 years, creating a platform from which the preservation of Somali cultural heritage may begin — if it’s not too late.
When Somalia descended into civil war in 1991, the problem worsened as warlords began “systematically looting” archeological sites to fund the war, Mire said. In some places, historic buildings, like the Mogadishu Cathedral, were destroyed by mortars and bombs. In other places, buildings have been deconstructed, stone by stone, by locals to build corrals for their goats or houses for themselves.
In Laas Geel, local herders, unaware of the historic significance of the rock paintings, used to take shelter in the rock outcroppings, lighting campfires that destroyed some of the ancient images.
And then, echoing Mire’s wildest dreams, he mused, “Maybe soon we’ll even have a museum.”
By Haley Sweetland Edwards (globel post)