Laas Geel, also known as Laas Gaal, is a group of ten caves located on the outskirts of the city Hargeisa in Somaliland.

These caves are adorned with cave paintings estimated to have been created somewhere between 9,000 years and 3,000 years BCE. They are some of the oldest known cave paintings in the Horn of Africa.

The rock art

The rock paintings at Laas Geel are in an excellent state of preservation, partly because of being sheltered by granite overhangs, and they are considered to be some of the most vivid examples of rock art in Africa. The style of the paintings is the same Ethiopian-Arabian style that we can see at the caves of Dhambalin and Karinhegane (also in Somaliland).

The Laas Geel paintings depict animals – both wild animals such as giraffes, and what is believed to be early proof of animal domestication in the region, e.g. decorated cows and bulls wearing ceremonial robes. Humans are depicted accompanying some of the animals, and most researchers agree that these humans are herders, and that herders made these paintings.

There is also at least one image of a dog.

International recognition

Even though the rock paintings have been there for thousands of years, and were known by the local inhabitants, Laas Geel didn’t became widely known in the international archaeological community until 2002, when the site was investigated by a French team of archaeologists.

In November and December 2002, the French team carried out an archaeological survey in Somaliland, specifically focusing on caves and rock shelters, and this is how they encountered Laas Geel. The aim of the expedition was to find out more about the historical period when production economy appeared in this region, i.e. circa 5,000 to 2,000 years BCE.

In November 2003, archaeologists visited Laas Geel again to carry out a more detailed investigation of the rock art and its prehistoric context.