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Archeology of Algeria

Algeria is rich in prehistoric memorials of man, especially in megalithic remains, of which nearly every known kind has been found in the country. Numerous flints of palaeolithic type have been discovered, notably at Tlemcen and Kolea. Near Jelfa, in the Great Atlas, and at Mechra-Sfa ("ford of the flat stones"), a peninsula in the valley of the river Mina not far from Tiaret, are vast numbers of megalithic monuments. In the Kubr-er-Rumia--"grave of the Roman lady" ("Roman" being used by the Arabs to designate strangers of Christian origin)--the Medrasen, and the Jedars, Algeria possesses a remarkable series of sepulchral monuments. The Kubr-er-Rumia--best known by its French name, Tombeau de la Chretienne, tradition making it the burial-place of the beautiful and unfortunate daughter of Count Julian--is near Kolea, and is known to be the tomb of the Mauretanian king Juba II and of his wife Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, queen of Egypt. It is built on a hill 756 ft. above the sea. A circular stone building surmounted by a pyramid rests on a lower platform, 209 ft. square. Originally the monument was about 130 ft. in height, but it has been wantonly damaged. Its height is now 100 ft. 8 in.: the cylindrical portion 36 ft. 6 in., the pyramid 64 ft. 2 in. The base, 198 ft. in diameter, is ornamented with 60 engaged Ionic columns. The capitals of the columns have disappeared, but their design is preserved among the drawings of James Bruce, the African traveller. In the centre of the tomb are two vaulted chambers, reached by a spiral passage or gallery 6 1/2 ft. broad, about the same height and 489 ft. long. The sepulchral chambers are separated by a short passage, and are cut off from the gallery by stone doors made of a single slab which can be moved up and down by levers, like a portcullis. The larger of the two chambers is 142 ft. long by 11 ft. broad and 11 ft. high. The other chamber is somewhat smaller. The tomb was early violated, probably in search of treasure. In 1555 Salah Rais, pasha of Algiers, set men to work to pull it down, but the records say that the attempt was given up because big black wasps came from under the stones and stung them to death. At the end of the 18th century Baba Mahommed tried in vain to batter down the tomb with artillery. In 1866 it was explored by order of the emperor Napoleon III, the work being carried out by Adrian Berbrugger and Oscar Maccarthy.

The Medrasen is a monument similar to the Kubr-er-Rumia, but older. It was built about 150 B.C. as the burial-place of the Numidian kings, and is situated 35 miles southwest of Constantine. The form is that of a truncated cone, placed on a cylindrical base, 196 ft. in diameter. It is 60 ft. high. The columns encircling the cylindrical portion are stunted and much broader at the base than the top; the capitals are Doric. Many of the columns, 60 in number, have been much damaged. When the sepulchral chamber was opened in 1873 by Bauchetet, a French engineer officer, clear evidence was found that at some remote period the tomb had been rifled and an attempt made to destroy it by fire.

Algeria contains many Roman remains besides those mentioned and is also rich in monuments of Saracenic art. For a description of the chief antiquities see the separate town articles, including, besides those already cited, Lambessa, Tebessa, Tipasa and Timgad.

See also : Prehistory of Central North Africa