Laas Geel, also spelled Laas Gaal, are cave formations on the rural outskirts of Hargeisa. Most panels include a combination of monochromatic and polychromatic animal and human representations, with the most commonly used colors being red, black, white, and yellow ochre.
The most important shelter, on the southeast face of Laasgeel, has an inclined ceiling where the almost 100m2 surface is daubed with at least 350 individual paintings.
At Laas Geel are to be found some of Africa’s oldest and most beautiful prehistoric cave paintings. Daubed on the golden, umber rocks of an outcrop in the arid desert landscape 50km or so outside the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa.
Several other elaborately decorated shelters can be found on the same face of the outcrop, all within about ten minutes’ walk of the car park, where there is a toilet, a small site museum, and little else in the way of facilities.
The most numerous figures at Laasgeel, outnumbering humans, are humpless cattle, which as is typical of rock art on the Horn of Africa are always painted in profile, with only two legs visible, a pronounced udder, a plastron, or other decorations around the neck, and lyre-shaped horns shown as if seen from above.
Larger bovine figures tend to be more colorful and elaborately decorated, but some panels also include smaller monochrome cows, usually in black or red.
Laasgeel estimated to be at least 5,000 years old, and quite possibly twice as ancient, the superb rock art at Laasgeel ranks among the oldest and best-preserved of its type anywhere in Africa.
It comprises about a dozen individual painted shelters scattered on a granitic outcrop that rises from the confluence of two wadis, a spot where the high water is reflected in the name Laasgeel meaning “Waterhole”.
The paintings have been preserved in situ by their sheltered location and by the dry Somali climate, and they remain striking both for their vibrant colors and their rich complexity.
Their presence also provides incontrovertible evidence that the pastoralist lifestyle was well established in the region thousands of years before it reached Western Europe.
Also very common are human or other anthropomorphic figures, which more often tend to be monochrome, and are sometimes shown carrying weapons and accompanied by hunting dogs.
The anthropomorphic figures tend to be rather stylized, with a small round head sometimes adorned by a crown or headdress, a wide thorax draped in a loose vertically-striped robe, and spindly lower limbs (rather like stick-men, as drawn by children).
Aside from dogs and cows, other animals represented include antelope, goats, and giraffes.