Introduction to the giraffe
In the prehistoric rocky landscape of the Sahara, native people drew pictures of this amazing animal, and in the Egyptian Bronze Age it decorated the tombs of kings. It may even have been the god the Egyptians called 'Set' (Spinage 1968a). In ancient Greece and Rome it was called the 'camelopard', in East Africa today it is twiga , and in the English language we now call it 'giraffe'. The name 'giraffe' has its earliest known origins in the Arabic word zarafa ( zarafah ) (), perhaps from some African language. The name can be translated as 'fast walker' (Kingdon 1997), although some linguistic authorities believe it stems from a source meaning an 'assemblage of animals'. Clearly, the Greeks took this latter view. They contributed part of its scientific name, camelopardalis , which literally describes a camel's body wearing a leopard's coat. The Italian form giraffa arose in the 1590s and the modern English form developed around 1600 from the French girafe . The old and the new now combine to form the giraffe's scientific name, Giraffa camelopardalis , although interestingly, the form 'kameelperd' survives in Afrikaan.
In one form or another, giraffes have been around for a very long time. And so has Homo sapiens . The interaction between giraffes and humans starts way back in prehistory, and rock art (paintings and engravings) is found all over Africa from Morocco, Algeria and Libya in the north, through Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania in the east, to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique in the south (Le Quellec 1993, 2004; Muzzolini 1995). Wherever, in fact, there has been savannah. However, the most extensive and remarkable rock art is found in areas of the Sahara (Coulson & Campbell 2001). Today these are found in remote, inhospitable regions of the desert, so arid that any form of sustained human or animal existence is untenable today. They document prehistoric cultures that apparently thrived in these regions, hunting wild animals and herding domesticated cattle, that have subsequently vanished, leaving little trace of their presence or of the richness of their cultures.
The Sahara has not always been the desert it is today. Over the last 2 million years, it has fluctuated several times between even greater aridity and plentiful rain. Where there are now dry gullies, rivers once flowed. In what are now empty sandy plains, there were lakes surrounded by grasslands and trees, rather like the savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa today. The earliest rock art, much of which represents large wild animals such as giraffe, hippo, elephant, rhinoceros and the extinct long-horned buffalo ( Buffalus antiquus ), is believed to have been created by hunter-gatherers more than 7000 years ago and possibly as early as 10,000 BP (before present).
The Wadi al-Hayat is one of three wadis (dry rivers where the underground water is near enough to the surface to support vegetation and to be accessed through wells) in the modern region of the Fezzan, situated in south-west Libya. Since about 7000 years ago, possibly earlier, human groups living in the wadi, or perhaps using it periodically, were creating rock engravings of the animals found in their savannah environment. These animals seem to have been chosen deliberately, and presumably had great cultural value and meaning. Precisely what they symbolised to these Stone Age people, and the message that they conveyed, is of course not known for certain. However, they may have been created to give early hunters mastery over their prey. Of course, these early hunters may well have just enjoyed painting and engraving the animals they saw around them. What is noticeable in these prehistoric depictions of, for example, giraffes is the artists' familiarity with their subject. They knew these animals, their graceful bodies and how