Courtesy of CIRSA, University of Rome

Magnificent rock paintings, some dating back tens of thousands of years, first attracted archaeologists to the southwest Libyan desert—a region called “Phasania” in ancient Greek and Roman sources and “Fezzan” today. The painting above dates to the Garamantian period, when this desert people was farming the arid Sahara by building thousands of miles of irrigation canals and maintaining a lively trade from the heart of Africa to the Mediterranean. This flowering of Garamantian culture, however, did not extend to painting—in composition, as well as in technique, the Garamantes’ ancient forebears were the more proficient artists.