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A knowledge of the meaning behind these symbols plays an important part in understanding and appreciating painting and sculpture.
The same is true for African sculpture and other art forms: it is essential to discover whether a mask or a sculptured figure is made to entertain, frighten, promote fertility, or merely to be art for art's sake.
Thousands of years ago, when the paintings were made, the land was fruitful, covered with forests and crossed by rivers alive with fish.
The style of the pictures is naturalistic, animated, and entirely different both from the conventionalised Libyan-Berber style, and from the early naturalistic, group of the Atlas.
The best-known site of desert paintings in the north is the Tassili plateau, active from the age of Mesolithic art, which was explored and described by Henri Lhote in the 1950s.
The fine lines found in Bushman paintings were drawn with thin hollow rods sharpened and used like quills.
The work is carried out entirely in spaces, so that they are genuine paintings and not linear drawings.
On the same site, however, there are also a number of prehistoric engravings similar to the type in the Atlas region.
Next come a group of somewhat less naturalistic drawings, of slightly more recent date.
Finally, there are the comparatively late Libyan-Berber designs, described as in part rather crude animal outlines, in part designs that are of a purely geometric and schematic character.