The Ancient Rock Paintings of Laas Geel

The Ancient Rock Paintings of Laas Geel


Five thousand years a go, cattle herders
walked across these plains, looking for a place to cover them
from the beating sun. They’d have walked this route many times,
and they’d known each rock outcropping by heart. These would have been the landmarks of their world,
as useful to them as stars to a sailor. But for all the hundreds of times they’d walked
this path, this time was different. This time, they hadn’t come to find greener pastures, this
time they hadn’t come to give grass to their animals. This time, they’d come to change
the course of history. They’d come to make themselves artists. They’d come to paint Laas Geel. Greater Somalia is one of the least
studied places on the planet. War, poverty, and a lack of
international focus has meant that this region is severely underfunded
in archaeological studies. Those that do take place, often take place
on the back of a single woman. Her name is Dr. Sada Mire, and she has single-handedly
changed the face of Somali archaeology forever. Primarily on her own, walking out into a hostile, arid
landscape armed with nothing more than her education, Dr. Mire has found and catalogued
over 100 different rock paintings, burial sites, and points of historic interest. Her work is nothing short of miraculous. It is her research that led me
to this region. It’s her research that led me
to this specific story. She’s living proof that one human can
still fundamentally alter history. Or at the very least,
our understanding of it. But today’s story isn’t about Dr. Mire,
as much as I would love to tell you more about her. It isn’t even about a site that
she personally found. No, today’s story is on another individual
who changed the course of history. Someone whose name will never be known,
and in truth probably was never all that important. Someone who simply felt the need to alter
the landscape to better suit their imagination. A simple herder, long dead. The genius behind the paintings of Laas Geel. To be clear, we know virtually nothing
about the artists beyond what we can glean from the many rock paintings
we find around the region today. There are no written records,
no coincidentally similar folk legends, no time capsules buried in the dirt. There’s just these paintings, and the stories
that we can see within them. But in looking deeper into these walls,
some things are clear. From these inscriptions we can tell
that this region would have been much more lush when paint was put to rock. The amount of animals, and the sheer variety,
imply a greener landscape than what we have now. A virtual garden of Eden for a herder
such as this one. From these works of art, we know
that at least 5000 years ago, someone with an incredibly close connection to animals
felt it necessary to spend a great deal of time and effort collecting paints, finding a location where the natural
erosive effects of the sun and wind wouldn’t be a factor, and then setting about putting
their world into order. These were artists painting what they knew,
not imagining a world yet to come. Whoever stopped here and put brush to rock
was trying to stylistically capture their world, and in some way, to let others
see it as they did. Perhaps they did because they felt
a spiritual connection to the art. A religious offering on their rock that
in theory provided safety to their herds. Perhaps they did as a border, or a road sign
of sorts, letting other herders know to whom these pastures belonged. Or perhaps they did it simply because they wanted
to see their world reflected back at them. We don’t know, and in all likelihood
we never will. But I do know that on these walls we see a variety of
animals, as well as herders, hunters, and caravans carrying goods. We see a pastoral, mixed economy
involving trade with other regions. We see soldiers carrying shields and spears. We see cows, dogs, monkeys, camels, antelopes,
giraffes, and other animals common to the area. In these locations, we even see a lunar calendar,
providing those educated few with a better awareness of the earth’s cycles. We know from the decorations painted on herd animals
that there would have been ceremony in these artists’ world. The most elaborate paints are saved for a strip
on the necks of cows, perhaps depicting that they were painted themselves, or potentially
that they’d been draped in cloth. Maybe this was an early form of branding,
letting everyone know who owned which animals. After all, being a herder is a risky business
if you can’t prove whose animal is whose. But perhaps it was just for show, in the same way
that camel hair is shaved into elaborate patterns today. Yet, despite everything else that it potentially was,
and for all that it teaches us about this lost world. The thing that interests me most is simply
that it was done at all. These are works of art hanging in a gallery. These rocks are an ancient Louvre, and the herders
who painted this, would have felt the same way. I believe for all the archaeologists, radiologists
and tourists who’ve come to make sense of Laas Geel, the people most capable of understanding
what went on here would have to be artists themselves. Because as I see it, the desire and drive
behind the production of art never changes. The same core principles that make a YouTuber
want to produce a more elaborate video, with better editing and more beautiful scenery,
are the same principles that led these herders to find more vivid paints
and less exposed outcroppings. As I see it, for everything else that this is,
it’s just an art gallery. Whoever produced this wanted people
to recognize what they’d made. It was not meant to be hidden,
but to be seen. To survive through the eras. It was meant to be a reminder of the lives
those humans lived in their time, and the respect to the animals
that made it possible. Laas Geel is by no means unique. The artists who painted it weren’t unique. There are hundreds of similar works of art
that have survived in the region that surround it, each with their own similarities and differences. For the most part, Laas Geel has become famous
for its proximity to Hargeisa, likely the safest city for tourists
in all of Greater Somalia. It isn’t so much unique as it’s accessible. But it doesn’t have to be unique
to be an inspiration. It’s a historic work of art,
hanging in an ancient Louvre. It’s beautiful. The artists who painted these walls, wandering
through these plains with their herd in tow, almost certainly did so in the hopes that one day others would come and marvel at what they’d achieved. And if I could somehow speak to them, deep in the past,
I’d let them know just how incredible they were. How important each and every drop of paint. It’s not that they were the best,
or the first, or the most original. It’s simply that they chose to act. That they dared to create something
more beautiful than a blank canvas. Art is incredible, regardless
of why it was made. Regardless of the artist. Regardless of the intent. Art lets us see through time. It lets us understand ourselves,
not as we were, but as we could have been. When I look at these rock walls with the paint put
on them by unnamed people thousands of years ago, I’m reminded how little I matter. The point is not to be an artist. The point is to create art. This is Rare Earth.

100 thoughts on “The Ancient Rock Paintings of Laas Geel

  1. How little you matter?
    Dude- you're the one making these videos, not us.
    Maybe they will trigger something even greater, in time.
    Thank you.

  2. Cave paintings like Laas Geel often provide a valuable insight into the distant past as they give a clear picture of not how just a culture acted but what type of environment they lived in and how it worked. In this case, it shows that the Horn of Africa was a lot less arid about 5,000 years ago. At the same time much of the Saharan Desert did not exist, instead it was home to a vast river basin that would have supported a vast grassland that would have been home to animals we wouldn't usually associate with the Sahara such as rhinos.

  3. Thank you do much for sharing. Can you imagine the artist had to gather all kinds of natural material to make the pigments all by hand. Amazing. 💖

  4. Thanks you Rare Earth, i Recommended u to Visit This Place on ur Last video About Somaliland, You are The best of the best YouTubers out there, Only genius people understand ur videos and u Are one of em. thanks u again.

  5. Maybe the paintings started as paint makers showing off how good and lasting their paint was. In a way, art is when a craft or a skill becomes a way of showing off that skill.

  6. I love that the unnamed artists essentially immortalized their animals this way. If herding was their way of life, then they would have felt very strongly about their stock. Herd animals are more intelligent than they're given credit for and can have a lot of individual personality.

    Who knows if honoring their animals was their intent, but it's certainly an effect!

  7. This was a great video, however I feel it needed to detail the rock paintings better, via some sort of subtle video overlay that highlighted the shapes and colours of these paintings, to then give us a better understanding of what we were seeing.

  8. There's a bit in one of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books that mentions a means of execution. A device (plugged into a fresh hot chip of tea) shows to you the staggering scale of the universe and it blows your mind so thoroughly that you're as well as dead.

    This feels a little like that. A little like a mix of awe and being crushed at the idea of someone reaching out to us from centuries ago, someone who probably had no intention other than making something for the people around them, or maybe just themselves. And we can take so much information from it about the artist's surroundings, but nothing about the artist themselves.

    A message in a bottle from so long ago has to mean something special, but also could reasonably mean nothing more than "I feel like expressing my surroundings".

  9. That’s why my claim to fame and to be remembered by history I’ll paint a ton of modern fixtures and natural scenes from my life in some cave somewhere faaar from the prying eyes of those that may disturb it. Even if I fade into oblivion as an unknown entity along with the civilization we’re living in now, I’d still wanna show future generations what it was like in our time.

  10. (4:48) Does anybody know what the maths depicted in these paintings represents? I can't tell what kind of animal (a dog?) is spouting the equations or how the other animals are reacting, if at all. (Are they all bored listening to the one spout what to them might be nonsense? 😛 ) At any rate, I would really like to know the artist's intent. I wouldn't mind hanging on in my own home! 🙂 How much khat are they worth? 😉

  11. 👏👏👏BRAVO! BRAVO! 👏👏👏
    Absolutely one of your best Evan! 💖 These videos you do. These little peeks into history, archeology, sociology, political discourse and progress, plus your exceptional narrative make rise that "desire to wander" I've always had. I want to SEE what you see, interpret what's there and what you show us, always, always leaves me awestruck. Every. Single. Time! 💯% my favourite channel on this platform. My second favourite is a far, far second. These make me think, yearn for knowledge and sometimes, ache for those gone before. That you are bringing us the "inside story" to places rarely viewed, showing us~not the poverty and toil of the people ~ but their history, pride of place and love of their homeland, makes this a joy. Rather than make us feel like voyeurs (as did the video about slum tourism. I was both disgusted and deeply saddened by that video) you make us feel like we are doing exactly what we are doing. Looking from the outside in, being respectful and with no ideals thrown in. Pure and simple. Wonderful. Thank you Evan et al. You do really, really good work.
    Jenn 💖 in Canada 🍁 ☺

  12. 7:08 That conclusion alone is why i am giving this video a dislike. Other than that it is great.
    The point is dependent on many factors, and much of the time, the point of art is to be an artist. The actual art is often a happy side effect or useful tool for the pursuit.

  13. "But we can’t know if the caves were themselves particularly sacred spaces. It’s possible that Paleolithic rock art was concentrated entirely in caves, but it might also be true that caves, sheltered from the outside world, are simply where these images survived. It could be that the people of the Pleistocene made their entire world into a gallery, that animals charged across every rock-face, that wherever the tremendous herds of Ice Age beasts roamed, they were surrounded on all sides by echoes and images of themselves, in a world where image and object had not yet torn themselves apart." -Sam Kriss, 'What The Caves Are Trying To Tell Us'

  14. It's funny that you end up saying this reminds you how little you matter. To me it says the opposite – here you are thousands of years later looking at the work of these ancient artists, so who knows how far in the future your own work might still be seen. You see that they can matter; you matter no less than they do.

  15. somaliland people have the same delusion as the Jews do believing that Israel (which is really palestine) is their right to have that land and not the Palestines. somaliland people believe that part of land in somalia which they named belongs to them and only themselves. they don't see themselves as part of somalia. they forget that in order to fight against the British, kingdoms in the all the regions (basically Somali) had to unite as one (Somalia). why is somaliland people trying to separate themselves from people of the faith, culture, language, history, etc. they share more in common than any other ethnicity. I understand they trying to separate themselves from the conflict of somalia, but in the long run it brings more harm and no benefit to somaliland and Somali. if somaliland wants to be a self declared state then puntland, southern somalia, Ogaden, and other somali regions will follow suit in wanting to be self declared states too. somalia will be not more. each place will have their own names for their states. which in turn in Somalia losing its power in east africa making it a easy prey to other countries from near and far. somaliland needs to stop their ideology of ideologizing their own people and trying to make them seem their different or better than other somalias.

  16. somaliland people go back to faith of allah and teaching of Muhammad. stop trying to separate our fellow somali brothers and sisters. this ideal of somaliland people need to stop talking about going back to the times of British and Italians when they held the lands. it is not go to working because the world in this time age recognizes that countries are separated by borders and not regions or kingdoms like they were in the past. What do you think is going to happen if the borders are redrawn in the parts of Somalia.

  17. It's funny how Somalis from South Somalia always watch videos about our country Somaliland and insult us when they contribute nothing to the world but terrorism and hunger viva Somaliland

  18. Somaliland horn of africa , people somali pop: 5m religon : islam suni near countries, ethopia, djabouti, somalia.

  19. You just missed the Geography NOW! guys, they were just there too. Suddenly many Youtubers and istagrammers i follow are going to Somali land

  20. It was probably a 20-something artist whose parents told them they were wasting their life scribbling nonsense on rocks. "No one will ever care about what you're doing!"

    Thanks mom.

  21. and on top of the gathering, and making of colour
    she/he/they would also have to know that it needed
    to be applied in a place away from the sun and wind
    to survive into the future
    for us to find and wonder at

  22. Can you please make a video about the Kengir Uprising? It is an incredible story that really deserves more attention. Thank you kindly for your videos.

  23. The stylization of those animals is incredible. What a time in human history. I wish we still had this connection and life.

  24. we have very similar rock painting s here in Botswana done by the san/bushmen they still live the same way you should spend some time with them and youll find your answer

  25. Long time viewer and big fan. When your opening monologue ends with "they came to paint laas geel" I feel like you looking away was somewhat awkward. Like the camera could've panned to a portion of the sight, or you could've kept looking at the camera, or I don't care if you even did like how vannah white would show prizes on wheel of Fortune…. But it felt like weird. Idk

    Thanks. Soon maybe I'll be able to donate I'm currently on a strict diet of Costco chicken and vegetables until I can make more money.

  26. What's funny is that Somalis where not even in Woqoyi Galbeed tell 500bc. These dudes who drew those cave paintings were a completely different ethnic group.

  27. You should go to Zelia next. Their is a lot of ruined structures dating back to the Adal Sultanate, Ifat Sultanate, ruined Islamic towns, and a Musjid that was built after the haaj to the Horn of Africa in the 7th century ad.

  28. Has any archaeological excavation taken place around those sites? It would be interesting to see if they were common stopping points: read a comment saying that's the site's name ment a form of watering hole. Times may change but people never really do: we always like to decorate our abodes, places of worship, and ritual sites.

    And to be fair… we wouldn't really know if they truly sought protected locations to paint: the unprotected sites would never have survived.

    And as for pigments, red soil, charcoal, ash, limestone and such are fairly readily availible and have been used to adorn people (primitive forms of makeup) and could have been used on the rock as an extension of that art form: not to diminish the site or the effort involved.

  29. Since you went to Japan and south-east asia, why not go to China, Mongolia, Russia, Korea? Hell, weren't the Russians some of the biggest partners w/ NASA that helped your dad get to and from the ISS just a few years ago? Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for example, which allows many astronauts returning from the ISS a place to land. Why not go visit those places too some day?

  30. I'm reminded of Ursula K. Le Guin's closing remarks in her National Book Award speech regarding literature and art. "But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit, it's name is freedom."

  31. As an archaeologist and a human, "selecting the location that would preserver them." um, you're survivor bias is showing; you're ignoring all of the art that was drawn on the rocks that have been eroded away. (Still a lovely video of a location worth recording.)

  32. 🤔Curious as to why to assert around 2:50 that they deliberately sought out the sight for its preservative qualities; isn’t it just as likely they were one of many doing this, but happened to paint on a forgiving/stable surface?

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