Libya: Archaeological Plunder, Robbery and Vandalism (follow-up)

This short report about the desecration of Libya’s archaeological heritage is prepared by to provide an introduction to the subject of archaeological plunder, heists and vandalism in Libya from the 17th century to the present. To help improve this incomplete report and compile a preliminary list of antiquities hoarded  out of the country, invites all Libyans to assist with whatever information relating to this badly neglected and yet the most important aspect of Libya’s rare archaeological heritage.

The destruction of archaeological heritage in ancient times was often motivated by the clash of civilisations, justifiably bringing to ruin so many ancient archaeological marvels under the pretext of cultural rivalry. Today’s tolerance and awareness of the true value of human history can only regret the misfortunes illuminating the pages of history.

The ancient and modern wars on   the Berber, Egyptian and Sumerian civilisations, without a doubt, had dispersed most of their archaeological heritage, as much as they had reduced many of  their remaining parts to  “cumulus rubble”. This may  explain why so many of the statues and idols you see today in Libya’s and Egypt’s museums had their noses broken, their ears knocked off, defaced, limbless, headless, cracked, bruised and all the other signs of violent conflict their masters came to endure from the mortals they so hard protected to come about as offspring.

Needless to say,  political  or any other desecration of archaeological sites today is outlawed and classified under the acts of terrorism, as in the case of the  recent destruction of Buddhist statues and sacred temples; and therefore one dares not, any more, call for the destruction of such heritage in the open. But behind closed doors greed still plays the role it had always played in human history, as was the fate of so many looted tombs from around the world.

The archaeological sites  of the Berber Garamantian civilisation in Fezzan were robbed long before archaeologists got to them to unravel some of their desert mysteries. Yet, our ancestors were well aware of the nature of the beast they hoped to evade as some of the Garamantian pyramids escaped looting because the sacred treasures were deceptively buried outside the tombs. The Ancient Egyptians, too, knew about tomb raiders and mummy traders from the future, as they went to great lengths to hide their tombs in the valley of the kings and beneath the desert’s sand. Many of these sites are now being discovered by satellites in the sky, and it is only a matter of time before they too will come in contact with air! The most difficult to locate however are those hidden deep amongst & beneath the endless ridges of the mountain chains, which may well succeed in achieving their hoped-for destiny –  never to breathe the air of the living again.

We have no good reason today to assume the practice of looting the sacred heritage of the ancestors ever ceased to exist, if it has not become an art of autocratic crime.  Wars create political vacuums of grey areas that easily lend themselves to exploitation by white-collar dealers and the gurus of the black market.

Take for example the disastrous looting of Libya’s and Egypt’s treasures during the World Wars –  way beyond imagination; the looting of the Berber Sahara by many European explorers and colonial tomb raiders; the ransacking of the  Sumerian and Babylonian heritage during the  Iraq war; and, of course, one of the largest thefts of archaeological material in history that took place in Benghazi, in Libya, during the early months of the February 2011 war.

17th, 18th & 19th Century Plunder of Libyan Antiquities:

The following section contains records and names of persons and organisations reportedly involved in the procurement and shipping of Libyan antiquities, and therefore shall not be held responsible for any of the information found in the report. The following section is based on a report by Professor Khaled Muhammed Alhadar (followed up by Tareq Assanousi and Saleh Atawati), a member of the teaching board at Gar Yunes University, in Benghazi, Libya. The report was  presented at  Assaray Alhamra Museum in Tripoli (23/12/2009), and was said to detail 14 years of research into the subject. To read the summary of the report in Arabic please follow this url:ملخص-محاضرة-أ-خالد-محمد-الهدار-عن-الاثا/

According to this report,   stolen and procured Libyan archaeological treasures are found in 50 museums from around the world including in Egypt, Lebanon, Malta, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Britain, Scotland, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Canada and America. The professor presented a document showing a pact made by the governor of Tripoli and the French government in 1692, which allowed the French to transport marble columns from Leptis Magna to France, to be used for building royal castles. Similarly, Yousef Pasha sent 40 columns from Leptis Magna to Windsor Castle as a mere gesture of generosity. Forty columns were also sent to Malta. A few years later, another pact was granted to Turkey to furnish its empty museum in Istanbul with Libyan antiquities including  13 rock engravings that were hacked-off the wall of the Ghirza temples – the pre-Roman Berber settlement in the pre-desert. Consular staff too were reportedly implicated in the  business, as they funded explorers and grave-diggers to hunt for rare items. The British consulate was said to have transported 140 archaeological artifacts from Benghazi and Tokra alone, and 30 chests (or boxes) laden with archaeological treasures from Tripoli were sent to the British Museum in London. The English consul “George Dennis” and vice-consul  “Wood” were mentioned in the report. But the biggest archaeological heist of the time was the theft of 380 archaeological pieces in 1847, sent by Deputy  Consul “De Borvil”, to the French Library, before they ended up in  the Louvre Museum. The artifacts included 32 Leptis columns, pottery pieces, statues, engravings (including one of the Berber Princess Bernice), and even wall frescoes that were hacked off with saws, just like modern travellers recently did cut cave  paintings off the rocks of the Sahara (as reported by Henri Lhote and others). While the English  reportedly preferred to finance excavation assignments, Dutch consular staff  however were digging the graves with their own hands, as in the case of Dutch Consul “Van Burghel” who dug some graves in Cyrene in 1830, and helped himself to  some decorated burial pottery,  now displayed in Leiden Museum, in Amsterdam. [That was the summary of the report. More extracts are listed in the first list below.]

The fascination with North African marble goes back to Roman times, when the Romans transported massive amounts of marble columns and slabs from Carthage – then the most advanced city around the entire Mediterranean sea – the city the Romans grew to be jealous of, with many of its gigantic buildings built entirely of marble and polished floors. After the Romans’ destruction of the (then archaeological) rival North African capital, the marble rubble supplied Europe with the best quality marble there was. The reconstructed Mausoleum of Bes in Sabratha’s archaeological site is now taking the place of the original dismantled by the Byzantines who used its blocks to build a wall in the 6th century; while their modern descendents, the Italians of the early 20th century, openly continued the exportation of marble columns and pieces from Sabratha and Leptis Magna, in total disregard for the sovereignty of the country they came to harvest, and even were said to have used archaeological stones to build civil roads to facilitate the transportation of both troops and goods.

Mr. Kamal Shtewi, the manager of Assaraya Alhamra Museum in  Tripoli, told the BBC in 2006 that most of the items looted recently from museums and excavation sites were looted by “organised gangs“, and  that among the items taken were those uncovered during seismic surveys in the desert by “oil companies“. He confirmed 90 items were stolen since 1988, but he says the true figure could be much higher since among the sites attacked were  unauthorised excavations and poorly guarded sites and museums. A good example of these unprotected sites include  the newly discovered site in Abukemmash, west of Zuwarah, near the Tunisian border, where reportedly Moroccan and other foreign subcontractors laboured their way through the contents of the tombs, temples and rooms that never saw the light before.

Among the most devastating acts of archaeological plunder, however, is the widespread practice of looting the Sahara by some modern tourists and adventure travellers; just like many of the early pioneers and explorers did. It is not so much the monetary value of the artifacts looted, including prehistoric flint tools, stone axes, arrows, fossils, stone querns and mortars, coins, shells and beads among other ‘items’. It is the anthropological data that is lost forever, since scientists need to study the exact locations and the exact positions in which they were found. For example, some sections of prehistoric  paintings and engravings were hacked off with saws, while some paintings had their ‘patinas’ lifted off the surface by means of using glued canvas:– the criminals cover a canvas with sticky substance and press it against the target painting, still covered with millennial pigments and dust, before they pull the canvas away, complete with a reversed copy, entirely made of original patina, and smuggled out of Libya.

Some of these visitors were recently convicted in Algeria for smuggling prehistoric artifacts from the Algerian desert; while the Libyan government imposed the company of guides and  “Tourism Police” to safeguard the treasures of the Libyan desert  for the very same reason, many law-abiding tourists failed to realise, and instead criticised the Libyan government for making tourism very difficult and understandably “awkward” to enjoy. It might be of interest to know that the government’s decision was in fact based on a request from the Libyan Archaeology Department when it urged the General People’s Congress (GPC) to introduce strict laws to halt the widespread of archaeological theft then plighting Libya before their eyes.

Of course, it would be unfair and incomplete not to mention the fact that Libyans too were widely reported inside Libya by Libyans to be implicated in the collection of archaeological artifacts from the Sahara and from the various unguarded archaeological sites strewn across Libya’s vast landscape. We urge all caring Libyans to return all items to the Archaeology Department and help preserve Libya’s rare heritage.

List of Looted & Shipped Archaeological Items Mentioned in Khaled’s  Report:

  • 1 statue of a lady from Benghazi; destiny: France, in 1695;  considered the first statute to reach Europe from Libya.
  • 1 statue of Athena and Cupid; destiny: Istanbul, Turkey.
  • 13 rock engravings from Ghirza Temples; destiny Istanbul, Turkey.
  • 1 statue from Cyrene; destiny Istanbul, Turkey.
  • 1 Corinthian Cup from Demeter’s temple in Tokra; destiny: Ontario, Canada.
  • 1 cremation jar; destiny: Vienna, Austria.
  • 1 grave stone from Leptis Magna; destiny Istanbul, Turkey.
  • x number of artifacts from Ptolemais; destiny: Museum of the Oriental Institute, Chicago, USA.
  • 1 glass bottle from Cyrene; destiny: Boston Museum, USA.
  • 1 statue of Minerva Nike; destiny: State Museum of Pennsylvania, USA.
  • 1 rare statue of Venus, depicting the goddess of love squeezing her hair plats; destiny: museum of the University of Pennsylvania, USA.
  • x number of ancient coins from Cyrene; destiny: Boston Museum, USA.
  • 600 pieces dating to prehistory; destiny: Vatican Museum, Italy (during WWII).
  • 140 unclassified pieces from Benghazi; destiny: Britain, 1856, sent by English Consulate to the British Museum.
  • 30 statues and/or statuettes (Krakota ?) from Benghazi; destiny: Britain, 1856, sent by Consulate to the British Museum.
  • 40 pots from Benghazi and Tokra, destiny: Britain, sent by Consulate to the British Museum.
  • 30 chests full of archaeological artifacts excavated by the English Consul “Warrington” inside the house he lived in at the time in Tripoli; destiny: British Museum, London, UK.
  • 5 chests full of archaeological artifacts collected in Cyrene; destiny: Scotland, sent by “Warrington”: items include decorated pottery, statue, and engravings.
  • 118 statues and/or statuettes from Benghazi and Tokra, destiny: Britain, sent by Consulate to the British Museum.
  • 40 statuettes form Benghazi and Tokra, destiny: Britain, sent by Consulate to the British Museum.
  • 40 columns from Leptis Magna; destiny: Windsor Castle, England.
  • 380 pieces from Benghazi; destiny: France; sent by Deputy  Consul “De Borvil”, 1847, to the French Library, then to the Louvre Museum. These items include:
    • 1 statue of the Berber Princess Bernice offering sacrifices to the gods.
    • x paintings from the Valley Belghdeer cemetery in Cyrene (cut off the wall with a saw).
    • x statues and/or statuettes of Emperor Gaius.
    • pottery decorated with carts.
  • Inscription decree of Byzantine Emperor Anastasios, inscribed in the Ptolemais sand-stone blocks; destiny: Louvre Museum, Paris.
  • 3 columns from Leptis Magna; destiny: France, sent by French consul in 1774.
  • 29 columns from Leptis Magna; destiny: France, sent by French consul in 1866.
  • 148 engravings (probably the largest number of engravings to be shipped in one go); destiny: British Museum, collected from Cyrene by British Royal Navy  “Smith”  (funded by Warrington).
  • 10 inscriptions, destiny: British Museum, collected from Cyrene by British Royal Navy  “Smith”.
  • 1 statue of Bacchus, destiny: British Museum (BM Reg. no 617- 25, 2), from Cyrene, by British Royal Navy  “Smith”.
  • 1 statue of Apollo carrying  guitar-like instrument, destiny: British Museum, from Cyrene, by British Royal Navy  “Smith”.
  • 3 statues and/or statuettes of Aphrodite, destiny: British Museum, from Cyrene, by British Royal Navy  “Smith”.
  • x statues and/or statuettes of Roman emperors, destiny: British Museum, from Cyrene, by British Royal Navy  “Smith”.
  • x statues and/or statuettes of citizens, destiny: British Museum, from Cyrene, by British Royal Navy  “Smith”.
  • 1 bronze head of Berber or African complexions, dating to the 4th century BC,  destiny: British Museum, taken from Cyrene by British Royal Navy  “Smith”.
  • x number of terracotta pieces and coins, destiny: Copenhagen Museum, Denmark.
  • x number of terracotta pieces and coins, destiny: Madrid, Spain.
  • x number of funerary statues from Cyrene; destiny: Crete.
  • x number of funerary statues from Cyrene; destiny: Greece.
  • x number of funerary statues from Cyrene; destiny: Malta.
  • collection of artifacts from the “Richard Norton”  collection, 1911; destiny: Swansea Museum, UK.
  • 25 cups (Albanthiniya cups, used as trophies for winners in the Albanthiniya Games); destiny: Manchester Museum (England), Louvre (Paris), Berlin (Germany), New York and Detroit, (USA), Brussels (Belgium) and Alexandria (Egypt). Libya still has 5 cups left in the country, giving a total of 30 cups. The cups are 60 centimetre high.
  • x number of decorated burial pottery pieces from Cyrene; destiny: Leiden Museum, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, excavated by Dutch Consul, “Van Burghel”, in 1830.

x = “unknown number”.

List of 20th & 21st Century Looted Antiquities:

The following list of stolen items is based on various  reports of the heists and thefts that had taken place in Libya in the 20th and the 21st centuries, including some items from the Benghazi Treasure. It was reported that the Italian archaeologist Serenella Ensoli, a specialist in Libyan antiquities, is compiling a list of the items making up the Treasure of Benghazi; apparently aided with a list returned with the treasure from Italy after the treasure was first stolen by the Italians in 1942. The 15 stone head-sculptures listed below were published by the Archaeological Institute of America in their site: Other sources include  Libyan media, archaeological journals,  Reuters, and the BBC.

  • 7700 items (some say 8000): the reported content of Benghazi Treasure, including the following 6 items:
    • 4484 bronze coins: Benghazi Treasure; February War, 2011, Cyrenaica.
    • 2433 silver coins: Benghazi Treasure; February War, 2011, Cyrenaica.
    • 364 gold coins: Benghazi Treasure; February War, 2011, Cyrenaica.
    • 306 pieces of ancient jewellery (including necklaces, bracelets, anklets, rings, earrings, gold armbands and precious stones): Benghazi Treasure; February War, 2011, Cyrenaica.
    • 43 other antiquities (including statuettes and figurines of bronze, glass and ivory, embossed heads, and a plaque depicting a battle): Benghazi Treasure; February War, 2011, Cyrenaica.
    • 1 statuette of Love-god Cupid: Benghazi Treasure; February War, 2011, Cyrenaica.
  • 15 stone sculptures stolen from Cyrene, including:
    • Enthroned female statuette; Mid-Late 6th c BC.
    • Head of a female statuette; Late Classical.
    • Head from a statue of a female Child; Hadrianic – Early Antonine.
    • Head of a female statuette; Late Classical.
    • Head from a statuette of Alexander the Great; Mid – Late Hellenistic.
    • Head of a male statue; Early Second Century AD.
    • Head of a female statue; Late Trajanic – Early Hadrianic.
    • Head of a female statuette; Early Hellenistic.
    • Head of a female statue; Late second century AD.
    • Head of a male statue; Late First – Early Second Century AD.
    • Head of a female statuette; Late Hellenistic – Early Roman.
    • Head of a female statuette; Hellenistic.
    • Head of a female statuette; Late Hellenistic – Early Roman.
  • 1 statue of Venus of Cyrene, taken by  Italian troops from Cyrene during the world wars. Returned to Libya in 2008.
  • 1  mosaic piece,  stolen from Cyrene; February War, 2011, Cyrenaica.
  • 3 or 4  Roman amphorae, stolen from Apollonia  Museum; February War, 2011, Cyrenaica.
  • 1  cloak, stolen from Assaraya Alhamra Museum; February War, 2011, Tripoli
  • 1 rifle, used during the war against the Italians, stolen from Assaraya Alhamra Museum, Tripoli; February War, 2011, Tripoli.
  • 1 Roman terracotta lamp, personifying the god of wine,  taken by  two British soldiers in 1950s, Benghazi. This item has now been returned.
  • 1  bronze prow of a Greek ship, taken by  two British soldiers during  diving excursion off the coast of Benghazi, 1950s. This item has now been returned.
  • 1 statue of Venus of Leptis Magna; returned to Libya in 1999.
  • 90 pieces (including pottery vessels and statues), stolen from museums and unauthorised excavation sites since 1988 (source: Kamal Shtewi,  manager of Assaraya Alhamra Museum in 2006).
  • 1 sack full of archaeological artifacts,  Roman  “with very strong Berber influence”; February War, Tripoli, intercepted 23/8/2011; returned  on 26/11/2011 including:
    • 17 stone heads, said to have been detached from full statues
    • 2  terracotta fragments
    • 1 tile (painted  with an image  of what looked like a dog)
    • 1 female figurine (thought to represent fertility)

1942: Theft of The Benghazi Treasure:

Not many really knew anything about the Benghazi Treasure until it became headlines in October 2011, after it was stolen for the second time. It was then and now known only to a very few! The Benghazi Treasure was shipped to Italy in 1942 or 1943, during the Italian and allied wars ‘on’ Libya, before it was retuned seventeen years later, even though there is no way anyone can confirm the same contents were actually returned. The treasure was apparently returned with a list of the items returned but had no photos. (See below for the second theft of the same treasure in 2011.)

1999: Theft of 15 Stone Heads From Cyrene:

image of some of the statues stoles from cyrene
Image from
Some of the 15 sculptures stolen from Cyrene. Please click on the image to see enlarged images at

According to (30th of January 2001), “at least 15 stone heads have been stolen from the storerooms of the former University of Pennsylvania Expedition to Cyrene.”  The sculptures were apparently excavated by the University Museum from the temples of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone between 1969 and 1981; and were stolen either in late 1999 or early in 2000. said in its website that the sculptures were described in an article published by Libya Antiqua 9 (1997) and 13-14 (1976-77), American Journal of Archaeology 79 (1975) and 80 (1976), and Expedition 18 (1976), pp. 22-23. Two sculptures were returned shortly after the website went live. The website, set up by Donald White and Susan Kane, has now disappeared from the online world.

February 2011: Archaeological Plunder & Robberies During The War in Libya:

As soon as the war came to an end, the headlines were quick to announce one of the biggest heists of archaeological material in history, namely the Benghazi Treasure. Museums were also vandalised and robbed during the February 2011 war, including Assaraya Alhamra, Cyrene and Apollonia.  Initial assessments at Leptis Magna and Cyrene, however, found little damage, while Libya’s new minister of antiquities, Fadel Ali Mohammed, did confirm some “minimal damage” in Sabratha. Ptolemais also sustained some minor damage. Quite a number of banks too were apparently  hit during the war, some of which are showing heavy damage, breach of security and massive holes –  but there are no reports of any robberies!

There was another incident of archaeological theft that took place in Tripoli on the 23rd of August 2011, and this incident is named (only) in this report by the name: “The Berber Treasure” (see below for more on this).

So far these are the known incidents of archaeological and museum damage, vandalism and robberies that took place during and after the February 2011 war. There is no complete survey of desert sites as yet.

  1. The Benghazi Treasure, National Commercial Bank,  Omar al-Mukhtar Street- Benghazi.
  2. “The Berber Treasure”, Airport Road –  Tripoli.
  3. Assaraya Alhamra Museum: vandalism & theft – Tripoli.
  4. Cyrene Museum: theft – Cyrene
  5. Ptolemais: minor damage – Ptolemais.
  6. Apollonia Museum: theft – Apollonia.
  7. Sabratha archaeological site: minimal damage to the site – Sabratha.
  8. Leptis Magna new museum: wall cracks appeared, probably due to nearby blasts – Leptis Magna.
  9. Assultan, Sert: one of the Philaeni Brothers bronze statue riddled with bullet holes – Assultan.
  10. Christian War Graves Cemetery: vandalised – Benghazi.
  11. Muslim shrines: graves removed from some mosques, and a number of tombs were vandalised – Libya.
  12. Gazelle Fountain: attacked with a missile – Tripoli.
  13. There was an ‘attempt’ to destroy the statue of the Berber Roman Emperor Septimius Severus in Leptis Magna in 2012.


2011: One of The Largest Heists of Archaeological Material in History: Benghazi Treasure:

31 October 2011:

At the outset of the war in Libya most Libyans  said Libya’s archaeological heritage will be safe from preying eyes and that Libya will not be like Iraq. But while Libyans still healing their “deepest wounds”, as the war was coming to an end, one of the largest thefts of archaeological material in history was unfolding before their eyes.

Robbers armed either with jackhammers or other digging tools stormed the bank and dug a hole as they bored their way through the reinforced concrete ceiling of an underground storage chamber  inside the protected bank (see video, below). Vaults of rare gold and silver coins, vintage jewellery, ancient marble statuettes, including that of Love-god Cupid, were emptied of their contents.

At least 7700 pieces were reportedly robbed and quickly disappeared out of the country; some of which later turned up in the nearby busy Egyptian black market. Experts say it is impossible to estimate the value of the hoard, since there is no full list of the items stolen nor any price tag can be placed on such irreplaceable items; but London’s Sunday Times said a single ancient Greek coin from Carthage was sold last month at an auction in Paris for the record price of  $431,000.

On the following day of  the news, the Art Newspaper (Issue 229, November 2011) wrote in its website: “Interpol confirms Libyan treasure was looted.” The report says  the Benghazi Treasure was stolen from the bank on the 25th of May 2011 and that Interpol had alerted police.

Apparently two padlocked WII military chests and a safe were stored in the vaults of the National Commercial Bank, in Omar al-Mukhtar Street, in the centre of Benghazi; safekeeping 306 pieces of ancient jewellery (including necklaces, bracelets, anklets, rings, earrings, gold armbands and precious stones), 2433 silver coins, 364 gold coins, 4484 bronze coins, and 43 other antiquities including statuettes and figurines of bronze, glass and ivory, medallions, embossed heads, and a plaque depicting a battle among many other “Things”, have all gone.

For some reason, nearly three months after the uprising started in Benghazi, and while reportedly the city was awash with NTC fighters and Special Forces, an unauthorised decision was made somewhere in that city, or elsewhere, to move the treasure to another bank nearby Dujal Hotel in Benghazi.

Well, only one chest arrived; the fate of the other containers is presumably known only to the drivers and their masters. Experts in the field suspect the thieves had moved all the unwanted items to the chest that happened to arrive at its new destination, while all the gold, silver, ancient jewellery and other valuable material were driven to their intended destination –> out of free Libya.

The Benghazi Treasure has never been displayed in Libya. Its contents come from the various archaeological sites and temples of Cyrenaica. It seems that all the finest finds and valuable items ended up in the treasure the Libyans never saw; and therefore is a loss beyond scope.

As if armed conflicts go hand in hand with archaeological robberies and human rights abuses, the Benghazi Treasure was shipped to Italy in 1942/1943, during the Italian and allied wars in, or on, Libya – which the Cyrenaicans then heavily resisted. The priceless chests eventually ended up in Val Brenta, in the Dolomites, in May 1944.

Seventeen years later the same treasure was said to have been returned to Libya, although there is no way any one can verify the exact same contents were actually returned –not that that matters so much now after the treasure had disappeared, once again, during conflict.

There was no dedicated attempt from neither the King’s palace nor Gaddafi’s government to fully document and safeguard the treasure, and so there it remained in the bank awaiting its obfuscated destiny and intrusive opportunists. The disaster is that most of the finest finds found and discoveries made during the last 50 years or so were also added to the same (cursed) Treasure of Benghazi and therefore its final contents are well beyond imagination – nearly 100 years of collection vanished suddenly.

Whether the robbers were in a hurry or the operation was an  inside job is hard to say; although Hafed Walada, a Libyan archaeologist from King’s College, in London, suspects the latter. Quoted by the Telegraph he says that the treasure is known only to a very few people and that the robbers had even ignored cash that was in the vaults; while The London Evening Post wrote: “The Benghazi raid had occurred soon after an arson attack on the bank. At first this was believed to have been part of the uprising . . . but it may have been linked to the well organised robbery.”

NTC’s Fadel Ali Mohammed was the chairman of the archaeology department in Benghazi at the time and did report the operation to the attorney-general on the 2nd of June 2011, as well as he sought assistance from Italy’s FM Franco Frattini. However, Hafed Walda was quoted by the London Evening Post to have said that Fadel Ali Mohammed  . . . first raised the alarm with the United Nations heritage watchdog UNESCO in July“. ***

While The Telegraph saysLibya’s National Transitional Council is believed to have kept it quiet for fear of tarnishing their image at a time when they were engaged in a desperate battle for survival against the regime of Col Muammar Gaddafi.” **** [mediachecker->or it could have been something else..had a quick scan and couldn’t find him online – need Miss Marple]

Details of the robbery emerged later at a conference held by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which took place in Paris in late October 2011 – nearly 5 months after the well-executed heist had taken place –  enough time to transport the hoard to the moon and back 25 times.

“It’s a disaster”,  said Yussuf Ben Nasr, director of antiquities for the city of Benghazi, Reuters wrote. * British Libyan antiquities expert Paul Bennet says it was the biggest theft he has seen. Italian Serenella Ensoli described the Libyan Job  as a very serious loss  on a global scale. While UNESCO’s Irina Bukova declared the operation ““one of the largest thefts of archaeological material in history.” **


“The Berber Treasure” *:

23 August 2011:

stone heads of Berber figurines (Photo: AP: Associated Press / Abdel Magid al-Fergany) Some of the stone heads display in the return ceremony.

According to a report published by Reuters, a sack full of stolen archaeological artifacts was found in a vehicle which was part of a government convoy travelling on the airport road, apparently fleeing the capital Tripoli after the city first fell to the fighters in late August. The unit was stopped by the forces guarding the airport, and a heavy battle ensued. All the items found in the sack were said to date back to the Roman period but “with very strong local influence”. This means that the items belong to the Berber period and represent Berber culture, since Libyans often find it hard to speak about the (sensitive) Berber issue, and hence the culture is always referred to by the name  “Libyan culture”, and the Berbers by the name “ancient Libyans” or “Libyan people”. For example, here is what Saleh Algabe, director of the Antiquities Department in the new Libyan government, reported by Reuters to have said about this particular treasure: “It (the collection) is important because it is very rare,”  . . . “ These pieces confirm the contribution of the Libyan people to early human civilization.

The items, which included a female figurine, 17 stone heads (said to have been detached from statues), 2nd-century terracotta fragments, and a painted tile with an image of a dog, were displayed in a public ceremony at Assaraya Alhamra Museum when  NTC security officials handed them over to the Antiquities Department in Tripoli, on the 26th of November 2011. The items apparently were intercepted on the 23rd of August 2011 – nearly 3 months earlier!  When the officials were asked about this delay, Mustafa Terjuman replied that the head of the NTC unit responsible for the arrest of the soldiers who took  the artifacts was injured in the fighting soon afterwards, for which he needed treatment abroad, and that he only alerted the government about the haul after his return.

* This unnamed incident is named in this report:  “The Berber Treasure“. The name is based on the type of the content of the haul, and does not exist outside this report.


2011: Assaraya Alhamra Museum:  Vandalism & Theft:

Shortly after the capture of the capital Tripoli by the fighters, internet sites and blogs circulated the claims that massive looting was underway in Libya,  Leptis Magna was bombed, and that prehistoric art sites were vandalised during the recent events in Libya. The claims originally came from the Russian Nikolai Sologubovsky, apparently a deputy head of a Russian committee of solidarity with the people of Libya and Syria, who told Russian television that the National Museum in Tripoli has been looted and antiquities were being shipped out by sea to Europe. The vandalism of rock art sites was confirmed, but this was taking place even long before the war, as covered by here.

At first, many sources rejected the vandalism as unsubstantiated claims, while UN’s Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, warned international art dealers to keep an eye on archaeological and/or ancient artifacts that may have been smuggled out of Libya [mc:one would be certain that was the case] The wrote: “Claims of Mass Libyan Looting Rejected by Archaeologists: The antiquities in the major sites are unscathed,” says Hafed Walda, an archaeologist at King’s College London, who has been in frequent contact with his Libyan colleagues during the recent arrival of rebels in the capital city last week. “But a few sites in the interior sustained minor damage and are in need of assessments” (  ).

Then on the 11th of September 2011, the Guardian confirms the news that Assaraya Alhamra Museum was indeed vandalised and items were stolen. In an article titled: “In Tripoli’s museum of antiquity only Gaddafi is lost in revolution“, the wrote:

At 11.30pm on 20 August 2011, as rebels launched their first attack on the Libyan capital, 20 armed men entered the museum . . . the rebels spotted the colonel’s vintage cars and, as elsewhere, wreaked their revenge. The windows of the sky blue Beetle were smashed; thousands of shards of glass now lie on the floor  . . . The headlamps are also damaged but the period gearstick, glovebox, running boards, speedometer and steering wheel remain intact. Staff at the museum . . . had no choice but to let the rebels enter. Mustafa Turjman, head of research at the national department of archaeology, said: “It was a revolution – you can’t resist . . . But the vandalism was swiftly quelled by a plea . . . Although there is graffiti in places and one broken window, just a cloak and a rifle, used in the Libyan resistance against Italian occupation, were stolen.”  Read the full report at:

However, there were several attempts during the fasting month of Ramadan to attack the museum and loot its contents, but the courage of the guard Ibrahim Hamad Saleh El-Zintani, and other Libyans who helped him, had succeeded in protecting the site by placing heavy rocks and scaffolding behind the gates. And just in case the looters did manage to break in, the guard and the staff at the museum built and painted a false wall in one museum wing, to divert looters away from certain sections of the building – the Garamantes of today!

(4, 5 & 6)

2011: Cyrene & Apollonia Museums Robbed:

According to several media reports, a mosaic piece was stolen from Cyrene, and three Roman amphorae were taken from the Museum of Apollonia in Susa, Eastern Libya; although one source says four amphorae were taken. Blueshield said the thief was caught, but so far the loot had not been retrieved. The archaeological site of Ptolemais has also sustained “minor damage”.


2011: Leptis Magna Archaeological Site & Museum: Minor Damage:

The claims circulated across the internet regarding   bombing  Leptis Magna were later shown to be not true.  However, it emerged later that the bombing  nearby did cause some reverberating damage, since the laws of physics dictate that the vibration of blasts travel through the ground. Some of the bombs used in the war were said to weight 14.5 tonnes a piece. Blueshield 2011 Libya Report confirmed that the new museum in Leptis Magna had indeed sustained several cracks in the wall, possibly from shocks of aerial bombardment in the vicinity of the city. A link to Blueshield’s Libya report is found below.


2011: Sabratha Archaeological Site Slightly Damaged:

The uprising in Sabratha was quashed very quickly by the Libyan government. In one battle, lasting nearly three days. News soon came out that the archaeological site was hit. However the damage confirmed by Libyans appears to have been caused by the fighting on the ground. Only a proper investigation would reveal the exact causes of each incident. According to the Guardian newspaper, Libya’s new minister of antiquities, Fadel Ali Mohammed, visited Sabratha in early September and reported that there was “minimal damage”.  Blueshield, however, did confirm that the offices at the archaeological site were apparently looted, but both museums remained untouched. Offices in museums and archaeological sites often contain some archaeological artifacts just arrived or about to be processed and conserved.  A covered underground tunnel was slightly damaged, with the roof caved in, and the perimeter fence was broken down in many places. Other reports coming from Libya also confirmed that the ancient theater inside the archaeological site had marks of three bullet holes.

damage to the fence around Sabratha archaeological site
The fence around Sabratha archaeological site damaged at several location around the perimeter. Image from Blueshield’s Libya 2011 Report.

According to the 2011 report by Blueshield:

In Sabratha, one of the most important sites in Libya, there had been posts from Army Brigade 219 that occupied the place from early July until the 17th of August. They established several firing positions and observation posts. Some damage from small arms fire on the amphitheatre can be found which is minor. There is also some minor damage from anti aircraft fire. The biggest damage happened to the perimeter fence which was broken down in many places to get a better killing ground for the Army Brigade.”

Download a copy of the Blueshield’s Libya 2011 Report:
pdf sign


Assultan: the Philaeni Brothers bronze statues:

bronze statue sultan
The brothers before the war. Read the heroic story of the Phimaeni Brothers at:

One of the Philaeni brothers showing bullet holes sustained during the war. It is not clear when exactly the damage occurred, but a heavy fight between government soldiers and  fighters took place on the 24th of September 2011 ( To see a photo of the statue with the bullet holes, see: .

June 2012:

Three Italian fishing boats were seized by Libyan authorities inside Libya’s territorial waters. Upon searching the boats the authorities discovered a number of archaeological artifacts and internationally prohibited type of fishing nets. It is not known how many other boats escaped the attention of the authorities in the past year or so, but it is almost certain that there are a number of international organisations that would not hesitate to take advantage of the current situation in Libya.

Libyan Governments’  Failure To Protect Libya’s Heritage:

Libya’s attempts during the last government to retrieve some of the stolen artifacts expectedly produced  no  noticeable results, apart from a few returned items, some of which mentioned below. The report of the Supervision Authority in Libya blamed the Archaeology Department for failing to implement strict security systems, and also criticised the ministries of Justice and Public Security for not implementing a proper program to find the perpetrators involved in the robberies.

But Mr. Juma Anag, former head of the Archaeology Department, informed the BBC that his department was, “Deprived of the necessary funds to improve” their archaic, inefficient, understaffed, and under-funded systems; and that paying guards $2 a day could easily lead to distracting them from their, “duties by small amounts of money.” (

Libya TV: Libya’s Archaeological Heritage: Past & Present.

Sana Almansori speaks to Dr. Mustafa Alh’awwath and Dr. Omran Khalifa regarding archaeology in Libya.

Dr. Mustafa points out the previous government’s neglect and lack of any interest in protecting Libya’s archaeological heritage, citing the need to rewrite the law regarding archaeology and to re-create the archaeology department, which he recommends be chaired by Professor Khaled Muhammed Alhadar. At the start he mentioned prehistoric, Phoenician, Greek, Roman and other archaeological remains, but, like before, there was no mention of the Berbers’ archaeological heritage; leading the Berbers to call for re-writing Libya’s history.

What Should The New Government of Libya Do?

The ruling authorities of today’s Libya need to have in place a dedicated body to tackle the issue and  reconsider the program to  safeguard the existing heritage and recover the stolen treasures.

  • They need to secure the Sahara’s vast heritage.
  • They need to  secure sunken and off-shore sites still beneath the sea; Tiboda for a start.
  • They need to install surveillance cameras in all sections of all museums & archaeological sites in Libya.
  • They need to protect this program from corruption and foreign greed.
  • They need to start immediately fencing all archaeological sites still unprotected and grazed by sheep.
  • They need to establish a professional department to immediately begin documenting a complete photographic and descriptive catalogue of all remaining archaeological & museum items still in Libya.
  • Most important of all, they need to seriously follow-up all these programs and guarantee the implementation and the progress of all recommendations by all necessary means.
  • This requires the will to allocate substantial funds and put some of the money to good use.
  • This requires self-esteem, expertise and the intent to educate Libyans  to work in the field.
  • This must be done today and by Libyans; not by anyone else.
  • This must include, by name, the Berbers and their role in creating Libya’s prehistoric civilisations.
  • The completed archive then should be published and made available to museums, libraries and archaeological sites, as well as can be used to update educational curriculums to educate Libyans and the whole world about their true history and rich prehistory;  protected as “World Heritage”.
  • This is very urgent  and of paramount importance, since the Libyans recently were faced with great difficulties  while attempting to secure the return of some of the items stolen from  Sabratha’s museum for lack of simple paper work; these items were later seized at the Egyptian border in 2003 and ended up in Alexandria Museum because the Libyans could not provide any documentation of any sort to prove to the Egyptians that the items originated in Libya.
  • Libyans need to rise up to the high tides of time with clear mind and focused intent to truly preserve Libya’s  heritage and build the courage to abandon “ksad”.

sheep grazing through rubbish in an archaeological site

Returned Archaeological Artifacts:

The ultimate task facing the new government is to establish  a special committee dedicated to claiming back at least part of the archaeological heritage smuggled out of the country during the past few centuries. Libya has the money and the contacts to do this, but it seems as always it lacks the focus to effect any serious change. Many countries did succeed in reclaiming some of their stolen heritage via political dialogue and private efforts; since disappointingly UNESCO’s Convention of 1970  on the recovery of cultural property calls for the return of artifacts procured only after 1970. [mediachceker->hmm, one wonders who was on that panel, eh?]

Here is what Article 7 of the Convention says:

(ii) at the request of the State Party of origin, to take appropriate steps to recover and return any such cultural property imported after the entry into force of this Convention in both States concerned, provided, however, that the requesting State shall pay just compensation to an innocent purchaser or to a person who has valid title to that property. Requests for recovery and return shall be made through diplomatic offices. The requesting Party shall furnish, at its expense, the documentation and other evidence necessary to establish its claim for recovery and return. The Parties shall impose no customs duties or other charges upon cultural property returned pursuant to this Article. All expenses incident to the return and delivery of the cultural property shall be borne by the requesting Party.”

pdf sign Read the full UNESCO’s “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970”. File size: 10.2 MB.


Venus of Cyrene:

Returned in 2008.

Venus of Cyrene

August 30, 2008, named by Libya as “The Libyan-Italian Friendship Day“, is the day Italy agreed to pay Libya $5 billion as compensation for its occupation of the country from 1911 to 1943, in a memorandum signed by the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Gaddafi. Italy will also fund $500 million worth of electronic monitoring devices to help Libya crack down on illegal migrants turning up on Italian shores. However, Berlusconi had also agreed to hand over to Libya the statue of Venus of Cyrene, an ancient statue taken by Italian troops from the ruins of Cyrene during the world wars, that no longer looks like Venus.


Ancient Relics Taken By British Soldiers Returned To Libya:

relics returned to Libya

Photo from

2500-year-old items taken by two British soldiers in the 1950s were returned to Libya by the soldiers’ families. Among the items were a Roman terracotta lamp, representing the god of wine, and a bronze prow of a Greek ship which was found by the two British soldiers during a diving excursion off the coast of Benghazi in Eastern Libya.


Venus of Leptis Magna:

Returned to Libya in 1999.


Cyrene Sculptures:

Two of the 15 stone head-sculptures stolen from Cyrene in 1999 or early 2000 were returned.


Khoms Statue:

Switzerland has  returned to the Libyan Embassy an artifact said to have been part of a small statue of a female  torso, originally stolen from an archaeological excavation near Khoms in 1999; before it was bought in the following year  by a Swiss collector. The collector handed over the item to the authorities after realising it was reported stolen from Libya.

Entrance to the ancient city of Germa

Germa (Garama)

The Ancient Capital of The Garamantes (Protected Archaeological Site).

The Garamantian Kingdom:

The following notes are prepared by to serve as a general introduction to the world of the ancient Garamantes, including a small bibliography of some of the most important works in the field. Germa, pronounced locally as /Jerma/, is located approximately 160 kilometres South-West of Sabha, Fezzan, Southern Libya. The  deserted  remains were once the capital city of the ancient Berber Garamantian Kingdom of Fazzan, widely considered as Libya’s first indigenous empire. The Garamantes were placed by Pliny twelve days journey from the Augilae and ten days by Herodotus in the interior of Libya. The Garamantes had control over a wide area, spanning the entire region from Tibesti to Acacus including the enigmatic Messaks and Wadi Metkhandoush. They occupied the most habitable region of the Sahara: Wadi al-Hayat (Wadi Al-Agial), Wadi Ashati (Sciati), and the oases from Murzuk to Zuila. They initially run their kingdom from the nearby capital Zinchecra (on the hills of Messak Settafet – a rich site of rock engraving of a very advanced nature), then from Germa or Garama  in the first century AD, so named after their eponymous ancestor Garamas.

the city of Old Germa

The Ancient City of Germa

The Garamantes were fierce, powerful and warlike Berber people, who skillfully employed the horse and the chariot, as attested by the various cave paintings and drawings left behind by the ancient inhabitants of Phazania. Herodotus informs us that the Garamantes were a very numerous tribe of people, who spread soil over salt to sow their seeds in, and hunt in four-horse chariots. Archaeological discoveries indicate that the Garamantian cities were thriving urban centres, with markets and public entertainment forums. The city of Germa appears to have a number of  towers and a square market, used as a transit point for caravans and for the horses the Garamantes then exported to Rome. Recent satellite research revealed more than one hundred  “fortified farms and villages with castle-like structures and several towns”  still buried beneath the desert’s sand, and therefore the true picture will take decades if not centuries to complete. The capital became so powerful and quickly gained complete control over the lucrative caravan trade routes of the central Sahara, and even carried out successful raids on Berber-Carthaginian Carthage, Berber-Roman Leptis Magna, and on the authority of Herodotus on the  troglodyte Ethiopians whom they  hunted on four-horse chariots.

a plan of the ancient city of Germa From Charles Daniels’ The Garamantes Of Southern Libya, 1970.

the city of Old Germa

The History of The Garamantian Kingdom:

Historical data such as that left by Herodotus, Strabo and Pliny does not tell us much, and apart from some geographical information and place names we hardly know anything of value about the Garamantes. The kingdom was shrouded with mystery in the past as it is a mystery today. In terms of modern data, Charles Daniels relates that:  “Some years ago Diole wrote: “The name of the Garamantes . . . does little more, really, than designate our ignorance.” Even the website of the new NTC failed to mention the Berber connection in their somewhat mashed-up history of Libya.

Herodotus says they lived about ten days journey from the Augilae, while Pliny lists the various tribes and place names between the Libyan coast and the Garamantian territories, including Phazania (Fezzan) and the tribe Phazannii, then the cities of Alele, Cillaba, Cydamae (Ghadames), the Black Mountain, a desert (the Serir ben Afen/Ramlat el-Chebira), and finally the towns of Garama, Thelgae and Debris, near which there is a spring with boiling hot water from midday to midnight and freezing cold water from midnight to the following midday. In the 1990s, Daniels’  work was resumed by the Fazzan Project, with the approval of the Libyan  government, bringing together  a number of researchers collecting and analysing data from the Garamantian region, including David Mattingly, the editor of one of the most important books published about the subject:  “The Archaeology of Fazzan” (by D. J. Mattingly, Charles M. Daniels, J. N. Dore, D. Edwards, and J. Hawthorne). The two volumes  report the results of  the two Anglo-Libyan projects in Fazzan: Charles Daniels led the first expeditions between l958 and l977, and David Mattingly directed the subsequent Fazzan Project from l997 to 2001.

acheulian stone implements from FazzanAcheulean Oval and Pear-Shaped Hand-Axes & Stone Tools; Germa Museum, Fezzan.

The Garamantian civilisation was said to be around 2900 years old. The civilisation was made known to the outside world when it came in contact with the ancient Libyan kingdoms of the north (like those of the Nasamons) and then with the Roman empire in the west around the first and second centuries AD, when the capital city was a bustling trade centre, connecting the coastal ports of Libya with the interior of sub-Saharan Africa. However, archaeological excavations and research strongly indicate a longer continuity in the region. McBurney had documented more than half a century ago the continuous existence of Libyans in Libya for the last 100,000 years. To assume that the Garamantes sprung from no where in the 9th century BC does not make sense, since they must have  had ancestors just like we do. Also the idea of civilisations “appearing advanced all of a sudden“, as many had presumed the Ancient Egyptian civilisation, is now widely rejected. Many archaeologists today believe that the Garamantes and their ancestors were responsible for the rock art of Tadrart Acacus, the Messaks and the surrounding areas, most of which spans a continuous period of history going back, at least 12,000 years. In addition to the archaeological sites and the looted tombs, there are hundreds of thousands of prehistoric cave drawings and rock engravings found across the region, including those of chariots, which are yet to shed their mystery.

Archaeological artifacts and stone tools discovered in various sites from Fazzan were definitely dated to the late Acheulean and the Aterian cultures (circa 100,000 – 30,000 BC). As described and illustrated in Germa Museum, local Libyan archaeological studies of prehistoric burial chambers suggest that the Fazzanian graves date from the Late Stone Age (around 50,000 years ago).  Acheulean (Acheulian) culture belongs to the Lower Paleolithic era across Africa, particularly the central parts of Africa which now we know as the Sahara. It is characterised by the distinctive pear-shaped hand-axes, just as illustrated in the above poster from Germa Museum in southern Libya. Archaeologists generally agree that the Acheulean culture started in Africa and then spread to West Asia and Europe when waves of homo erectus left Africa to colonise Europe and Asia more than one million years ago.

Around the year 19 BC the Garamantes were brought under Roman control when the Proconsul of Africa  Lucius Cornelius Balbus reached Fazzan. The Balbus expedition left Sabratha for Ghadames, then across the Red Hamada to Adiri (Idri) and finally across the Ubari sand dunes to the capital Germa. But although the Garamantes were quick to regroup from the surprise attack and eventually succeeded in expelling the Roman forces to beyond their borders, and even later on attacked Leptis Magna itself around the year 70 AD, they somehow never fully recovered; as from there on their empire began to decline and slowly disappear whence it came – into the dark corridors of time. Robert Graves, who relates the Garamantes were of Cushite-Berber stock, argues that they were subdued by the matrilineal Lemta Berbers before they eventually fused with the aboriginals of the south bank of the Upper Niger, where they adopted their language and survive today only in a single village under the name of Koromantse. While others have connected them with the present town of Djerma in Algeria, and Djerma or Zerma of the western Niger. The Garamantes are widely considered as the direct ancestors of the eastern Tuaregs of the Sahara and Niger.

Old Germa The Ancient City of Germa.

Origin & Etymology of Garama:

It is far from sure to ascertain the etymology of the name Garama or Garamantes, but we do have a few suggestions to explore. The Greeks preserved a considerable amount of Libyan history in their borrowed mythology, which Roberts Graves (in his Greek Myths) rightly compares to corrupted political cartoons; and therefore one can wade through its chapters in search of forgotten clues. The Greeks knew of the Garamantes’ ancestor Garamas as ‘the first of men’, which is a reference to the antiquity of this legendary people. According to the Greek Olympian creation myth the Earth’s first children of semi-human form were the hundred-handed giants Briareus, Gyges and Cottus, but according to Robert Graves the Libyans claim that Garamas was born before the Hundred-handed Ones. Robert Graves further relates that the name Garamantes is derived from the words gara, man, and te, meaning ‘Gara’s state people’;where Gara is the Goddess Ker or Q’re who went on to become the Italian divinatory goddess Carmenta (‘Car the Wise’). He also points out that the Garamantian settlement of Amon was joined with the Northern Greek settlement of Dodona in a religious league which, according to Sir Flinders Petrie, may have originated as early as the third millennium BC. The Garamantes connection with Amon is further indicated by the Nasamones, whose ancestor Nasamon himself descended from the legendary Garamas, the ancestor of the Garamantes, who appeared in mythology as the Son of the Sun, and who offered Mother Earth a sacrifice of the sweet acorn.

This obscure history was the source of confusion. Dr. M. S. Ayoub (Fezzan, p.19), in quoting Apolionius of Rhodes, relates a Greek legend which refers to Garama as the grandson of the Cretan King Minos, who was born on the shores of Lake Tritonis in Libya, and concludes that the Garamantes had been living on the shores between present-day Zuwarah in Libya and Gabes in Tunisia (p. 45), an area that includes the legendary Lake Tritonis, where Libyan Poseidon allegedly ruled  Atlantis; in total agreement, Dr. Ayoub relates, with  lbn Khaldun who stated that Germanah (Germa) was first settled by the Laguanten tribe, who also inhabited the coastal regions of Tripolitania; before he went on to add that they fled the coastal region and immigrated to Fezzan as a result of the Phoenicians’ arrival. In support of his confused supposition Dr. Ayoub says: “On the mountain of Zenkekra in Germa, people are drawn with plumes on their heads which resembles drawings in Egyptian texts showing the maritime peoples.”  There is no doubt that the plume is a Libyan feature generally agreed on by most scholars and in fact the Egyptians themselves always  represented Libyan gods and goddesses with plumes, as in the case of Libyan Amen, Libyan Ament and Libyan Shu, long before the arrival of the sea-people. Moreover there are a number of  scholars who argue to the contrary – in that the Cretans themselves were a Libyan colony. It has been already stated that a Libyan settlement was expelled from their homes in the  Egyptian Delta during the forced unification of Egypt, by Menas, and subsequently left for Crete between 4000 and 3000 BC, long way before the Minoan or Cretan civilisation was created. The same view was maintained by Robert Graves; by Elinor W. Gadon (The Once & Future Goddess); by Sir Arthur Evans (1901), the discoverer of the Cretan civilisation itself; and by Professor Flinders Petrie who pointed out that the similarity between certain Cretan characters and the prehistoric Libyan and Egyptian early forms of writing was not the work of coincidence.

The Garamantes Garments & Features:

Ancient Libyan attire as covered by Bates was scarce by nature. Heat and terrain require scant clothing, and apart from the tunic and the long robe, used as marks of rank and dignity, European writers referred to them as ‘lightly clad‘ and ‘naked Garamantes‘,  in the same way they referred to their northern brothers as ‘nude Nasamones‘.

garaments features From  Eastern Libyans, Oric Bates.

Types of negroid Libyans are shown in Figs 3 and 4 [Above]. The degree of negrism is not high, but it is clearly marked by the platyrhinism and thick lips; the example shown might well be compared with the “Garamantic Type” of Duveyrier.” The Eastern Libyan, p. 43.

Garaments garments

Garamantian Chariots:

Herodotus in his Histories (IV. 170) states that the four-horse chariot was also known in Cyrenaica, in Eastern Libya, where the Greeks learned the art of chariot-racing from the Libyans.

garamantian chariots A selection of drawings illustrating the various prehistoric chariot designs found in the Sahara.

The Garamantian Irrigation System:

Perhaps one of the best achievement of the Garamantians, namely their agricultural genius, was said to have brought their downfall. The hundreds of underground channels, known as foggara, which were used to direct water from underground reserves to their farms, were said to have ultimately drained underground reserves. But, according to other sources, the disappearance of the Garamantes around the fifth century coincides more with the invasions than with the drying up of underground reserves. The foggara tunnels were said to extend thousands of kilometres, with vertical shafts for maintenance at regular intervals. The underground tunnels are therefore comparable to theGreat Man-Made River — one of the largest engineering projects in the world, through which deep water is extracted and tunneled across the whole of Libya to irrigate land as well as provide drinking water.

Garamantian Religion & Pyramids

The Garamantes appear to have had an advanced system of religion and mythology, in which sacrificial stones and pyramid-like burial chambers played an important role. Most of the Garamantian architecture is now in ruins, except the royal pyramid tombs of Ahramat al-Hattia, which, like the pyramids of Egypt, were designed to stay (see video below). However, most of these tombs and cemeteries were robbed or destroyed and so we may never know the full story of their religious and mythical beliefs and practices.

Garamentes ancient Berber  inscriptions from Fezzan tombs in Libya

The above inscriptions, written in the Berber script Tifinagh, were collected from sites in the vicinity of Germa. According to Charles Daniels, they comprise the first collection of Garamantian inscriptions ever to be attempted. They were found inscribed, or cut or painted on dark grey amphorae, in the tombs of Garamentian cemeteries, such as those of Saniat ben Howedi. The tombs were badly destroyed, but a number of vessels survived in the graves. Despite having been discovered long time ago, no one has yet managed to decipher them. The data collected by the Italian-Libyan Archaeological Mission in the Acacus, which has located more than one hundred Tifinagh and Tifinagh-related sites in Fezzan, is   the first archive of Tifinagh rock inscriptions from the Acacus region. Many of Germa’s archaeological finds can also be found in Germa Museum, famous for the time-graph, showing the different periods of cave art in the area. A copy of the Tifinagh archive was also given to the head of Germa Museum  [The British Library: EAP265: The tifinagh rock inscriptions in the Tadrart Acacus mountains (SW Libya): an unknown endangered heritage].

Garamantian Burial Tombs & Pyramids:

Garamantian Burial Pyramids

Like the fate of most archaeological sites from around the world many of the Garamantian tombs were robbed. The twist is that the ancient Garamantes buried their sacred treasures outside the tombs (altogether), and so it seems certain that they knew very well the nature of tomb raiders from the future, because of which the Ancient Egyptians went to great lengths to hide their tombs in the valley of the kings. The Garamantes buried their dead in graves of simple cairns in which the bodies were crouched. Some of the royal cemeteries found in the area, like the Royal Cemetery of Germa (Caputo’s Necropoli Monumentale & Orientale [Scavi, p. 292 & 357]), consisted of several hundred tombs including stepped tombs. In total it was said there are at least 120,000 tombs in the valley. There are also a number of cemeteries, as those of Charaig and el-Hatia, which consist of true pyramids. The four-sided pyramids are made of coarse mud-bricks and built over a grave shaft.

germa museum, fezzan, libya, graves from the late stone age
Garamentian graves from the Late Stone Age

The Garamantian  tombs were divided into four groups: circular tombs or prehistoric tombs, in which the bodies were covered with leather in a vertical hole, then filled with sand, and covered with a flat stone (as those shown above, from Germa Museum) to form a truly prehistoric burial chamber, going back to the stone age (Late Stone Age). The second type is the “square, two step-style tombs”, which are plastered and painted with white chalk, and in which the burial chambers are between one and four meters deep, containing pottery, glass, lamps, gold and bracelets of Amazon and Cornelian stones. The third type is the pyramidal tombs, between two and four meters high, constructed of mud-bricks, in which the burial chamber beneath the pyramid is about three meters deep, and most of which were looted and desecrated. The fourth type is the mausoleum type, also used by the Berber Numidians of the north.

Garamantian Stone Altars:

Garamantian Hand-Altar The Garamantean Hand Altars

offering tables and hand altars from Germa

Garamantian Offering Tablets & Hand-Shaped Altars, Germa Museum, Fezzan.

These offering tablets were widely found in Fezzan and belong to the Garamentian civilisation. They were used for sacrificial purposes during worship, probably in honour of the  Goddess. Some of the altars and tablets are clearly hand-shaped, recalling the famous Berber Hand, generally found across North Africa.

Gobero: Ancient Cemetery  Brings “Green Sahara” to Life.

*      *      *


  1. Lost Cities of the Libyan Sahara:  according to University of Leicester Press Office, UK, satellite imagery revealed a lost Garamantian civilisation of the Libyan south-western Sahara, comprising “more than 100 fortified farms and villages with castle-like structures and several towns, most dating between AD 1-500.” The castle-like buildings were said to have been built with mud brick and some of their surviving walls are up to four metres high. The British team from the University of Leicester that discovered the “lost cities” say the culture of the people who built the lost cities  is  far more advanced than previously suggested. The full article which contains some satellite images of the lost cities can be accessed at:
  2. Rare Aerial Look at  Fezzan: where ancient societies thrived and collapsed as the rains came and went.
  3. Gobero: the Largest & Oldest Stone Age cemetery in the Sahara desert was discovered in northern Niger in 2000 AD. The uncovered 200 burials are said to belong to two “vastly different cultures that span five thousand years”:   the Kiffian culture (7700 to 6200 BC) and the Tenerian culture (5200 to 2500 BC). More at:
  4. Professor David Mattingly.
  5. The Archaeology of Fazzan, by D. J. Mattingly, C. M. Daniels, J. N. Dore, D. Edwards, J. Hawthorne, and Edited by D. J. Mattingly: Volume 1: Synthesis, 2003, Edited by D. J. Mattingly; Volume 2: Site Gazetteer, Pottery and other Survey Finds, 2007, Edited by David J. Mattingly.
  6. Tacitus, Annals, III ; IV. [Garamantes].
  7. Tacitus, Histories, IV. [Garamantes].
  8. Ptolemaeus, C., Geographia. Ed. Muller, Paris, 1883-1901.
  9. Lucan, Pharsalia IV – XI.
  10. Strabo, Geography.
  11. Herodotus, The History of Herodotus, Tr. and annot. G. and H. Rawlinson and J. G. Wilkinson, New York, 1859.
  12. Ibn Khaldun (Kheldoun 1332-1406), Abu Zayd ‘Abd er-Rah’man Ibn Muhammed Ibn Kheldoun Al-Xedrami Al-Maghribi, [cited as Ibn Kheldoun], Kitab el-‘Ibar wa diwan al-mubtada wa al-khaber (Universal History), 1868 edn. 7 vols (Bulak). A.H. 1284.
  13. Leo Africanus (H’asan Ibn Moh’ammad el-Wezaz el-Fasi), Africae descriptio, Leyden, 1632.
  14. Sergi, G., The Mediterranean Race: A Study Of The Origin Of European Peoples, London, 1901.
  15. Oric Bates, The Eastern Libyans, Macmillan and Co., Limited, London, 1914.
  16. Evans, A. J., Scripta Minoa, Oxford, 1909.
  17. Caputo, Scavi.
  18. Gsell, S., Histoire ancienne de l’Afrique du Nord, 8 vols., Paris,  1913-1929.
  19. Duveyrier, H., Leso Tuareg du Nord, Paris, 1864.
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Libya gold : Parts of Treasure of Benghazi found in Egypt

Berber Nesmenser, Zuwarah, Libya,  23 November 2011.

TRIPOLI (BullionStreet): Recovery of a small portion of Libya’s looted gold in Egypt created new hopes for the interim National Transitional Council, which has decided to intensify search for country’s missing gold.

Although no official confirmation has been made about the discovery of more than 7,000 priceless coins and other precious artefacts from an unknown destination in Egypt, it is widely believed that it was a part of the famous Treasure of Benghazi.

National Transitional Council says it believes these coins were stolen from a bank in Benghazi during the Libyan uprising.

It included more than 10,000 pieces, with coins dating back to Greek, Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic times, but also other treasures such as small statues and jewellery. Most had been discovered during the Italian occupation of Libya and were taken out of the country.

They were then returned to Libya in 1961 after the country’s independence. The collection has been kept in the vault of the Commercial Bank of Benghazi ever since, waiting for the opening of a museum that was never built.

The coins were never photographed or documented and seemed to have been forgotten, analysts said. Several hundred coins may have been recovered in Egypt, but that was still to be confirmed, they added

Meanwhile, Libya central bank confirmed that Gaddafi regime had sold 29 tonnes, around 20% of the country’s gold reserves in his final days in power.

Central bank said it believes the gold was sold to local merchants sometime between April and May, as Gaddafi’s regime felt the pinch of international sanctions that had frozen billions in assets.

The gold was liquidated to pay salaries and to have liquidity, in Tripoli in particular, it added.

However the bank didn’t clarified reports that said some of the gold may have made its way out of the country to neighbouring Tunisia and beyond, flouting international sanctions.


Initial blog: ‘Treasure of Benghazi’…housing the collection  were broken.

[…]The theft has gone unreported until now. Fadel Ali Mohammed, the new Libyan  minister for antiquities, first raised the alarm with UNESCO, the United  Nations heritage watchdog, in July (they most likely already know about it). There has been speculation that Libya’s Transitional National Council, then  based in Benghazi, was not keen to publicize the robbery for fear of negative  publicity.[…]


Fayel didn’t report it for about 5 months…a massive of gold was stolen. The Rothchilds are well known for their massive gold collection (by all accounts America’ gold), Oppheimer = diamonds, Rockefeller = oil.

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