In 1925, a monumental tomb was excavated in Abalessa in southern Algeria near Tamanrasset in the mountain region known as Hoggar by archaeologist Byron Khun de Prorok. The tomb contained the remains of a woman buried with fine jewelry but the discovery did not receive the kind of publicity that other ancient finds did. Archaeologists in the 1920s made various discoveries including that of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter.
Prorok, who was seen as the “original tomb raider” of his time, was largely disregarded by scientists at the time. But having an interest in ancient legends, the Polish-American amateur archaeologist, together with the French, launched an expedition into the Saharan desert where they discovered the monumental tomb of the woman. Local tradition says it is the tomb of Tin Hinan. “This circular structure, which was located on a hill overlooking a dried river bed, or wadi, was made of stone. It had a height of almost 4 meters (13 feet) and a diameter of almost 23 meters (75 feet),” Ancient Origins writes.
Tin Hinan, meaning “she of the tents”, is regarded as the ancient ancestress of the Tuareg people, who became the first leader to unite the Tuareg nation. Locals say Tin Hinan traveled with her maid-servant from the Tafilalt oasis located 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 Tuareg are the nomadic Saharan Amazigh people who live in southern Algeria and Libya, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso.
Before Prorok opened Tin Hinan’s tomb, there was a storm, but it passed. Prorok and his team then found that the tomb had a number of rooms, but had only one entrance. To date, it is believed that it was originally a Roman fort. Following the Roman raid into the Sahara in 19 B.C., locals may have used the fort before it later became a tomb, historians say.
Ancient Origins writes that: “In the southwestern corner of the tomb, de Prorok and his team came upon the first room. Within this room was a grave beneath nine irregular slabs of stone. When these were removed, de Prorok found the skeleton of a woman with her legs crossed, and head tilted slightly to one side. The deceased once laid on a wooden platform, and was covered by a red leather cloak, though this had long crumbled into dust. The right arm of the woman was adorned with seven heavy silver bracelets, while her left had seven gold ones.”
Research suggests that the woman was buried there sometime between the third and fifth centuries. Other jewelry, including beads of turquoise and cornelian found in the tomb, may have come from Carthage in the north, according to scientists.
Thanks to the treasure-filled tomb, it is believed that the woman buried there was powerful and high society material. Some however argue that there is no certainty that the tomb is really that of Tin Hinan or even that Tin Hinan existed. Others believe that the skeleton may be male. That notwithstanding, the Tuareg, who refer to Tin Hinan as the “Mother of Us All”, continue to honor her. They do so through the celebration of the Tin Hinan Festival. The festival does not only pay tribute to the queen but highlights the Tuareg culture while also honoring the role that women play in societies in Algeria.