The story of Tin Hinan, the legendary Tuareg queen whose tomb filled with treasures will never be forgotten

In 1925, a monumental tomb was excavated at Abalessa in southern Algeria near Tamanrasset in the mountainous region known as Hoggar by archaeologist Byron Khun de Prorok. The tomb contained the remains of a woman buried with beautiful jewelry, but the find did not receive the kind of publicity that other ancient finds have. Archaeologists in the 1920s made various discoveries including that of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter.

Prorok, who was considered the “original grave robber” of his time, was largely ignored by scientists at the time. But interested in ancient legends, the Polish-American amateur archaeologist, along with the French, launched an expedition into the Saharan desert where they discovered the monumental tomb of the woman. The local tradition says that it is the tomb of Tin Hinan. “This circular structure, which was located on a hill overlooking a dry river bed, or wadi, was made of stone. It was nearly 4 meters (13 feet) high and nearly 23 meters (75 feet) in diameter, ”writes Ancient Origins.

Tin Hinan, which means “she of the tents”, is considered the ancient ancestor of the Tuareg people, who became the first leader to unite the Tuareg nation. Locals say Tin Hinan traveled with her maid from the oasis of Tafilalt in the Atlas Mountains of what is now modern Morocco, settling in the mountainous region of Algeria. There she established her kingdom, becoming the first queen (Tamenokalt) of the Tuareg. The Tuaregs are the Saharan Amazigh nomads who live in southern Algeria and Libya, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.

Before Prorok opened Tin Hinan’s grave, there was a storm, but it passed. Prorok and his team then discovered that the tomb had a number of rooms, but only had one entrance. To this day, it is believed to be originally a Roman fort. Following the Roman raid in the Sahara in 19 BC. BC, locals may have used the fort before it later became a tomb, historians say.

Ancient Origins writes that, “In the southwest corner of the tomb, de Prorok and his team stumbled upon the first room. In this room was a tomb under nine irregular stone slabs. When these were removed, de Prorok found the skeleton of a woman with her legs crossed and her head tilted slightly to one side. The deceased was once sprawled out on a wooden platform and was covered in a red leather coat, although this had long since crumbled to dust. The woman’s right arm was adorned with seven heavy silver bracelets, while the left had seven gold bracelets.

Research suggests that the woman was buried there between the 3rd and 5th centuries. Other jewelry, including turquoise and carnelian beads found in the tomb, could have come from Carthage in the north, scientists say.

Thanks to the tomb filled with treasures, it is believed that the woman buried there was a powerful material and of high society. However, some argue that there is no certainty that the tomb is indeed that of Tin Hinan or even that Tin Hinan existed. Others believe that the skeleton can be a man. Despite this, the Tuaregs, who call Tin Hinan the “Mother of us all”, continue to honor her. They do this through the celebration of the Tin Hinan festival. The festival not only pays homage to the queen but highlights Tuareg culture while honoring the role women play in societies in Algeria.

About Wesley V. Finley

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