Artsy: In what contexts were these pieces found?
CB: The Sahara as we know it today is very different from the way it was in Neolithic times. Right now it’s all desert; in the past it was not. The southern belt was a green land, and it was part of a system of very large lakes and rivers. So a lot of people settled there in Paleolithic and Neolithic times, then disappeared, and maybe they came back, we don’t know.
In the sand, people have found what are called “Neolithic industries,” sites that were used by early inhabitants to dig [tools] out of rock. We don’t have the tools, but we have the evidence in the rock that people had dug chunks out. And in other sites, we have the tools, arrowheads, spearheads, weapons of all sorts, grinders, the grinding bowl and the grinding stone. And then, very interestingly, some people had found what appeared to be ceremonial objects: blades or axes that were too big, or too polished, or too beautiful to be used as weapons.
We put all of that together in the exhibition. In looking at these objects, I found a purity of conception, execution, and shape that basically is like the beginning of art. You can see that man had the need to use functional tools but at the same time to make them beautiful.