High relief of standing dromedary on sandstone spur at center of image.

Rock art: Life-sized Sculptures of Dromedaries Found in Saudi Arabia

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At a remarkable site in northwest Saudi Arabia, a CNRS archaeologist and colleagues from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) have discovered camelid sculptures unlike any others in the region. They are thought to date back to the first centuries BC or AD. The find sheds new light on the evolution of rock art in the Arabian Peninsula and is the subject of an article published in Antiquity (February 2018).

Incomplete sculpture of two dromedaries in single file on Spur C at Camel Site, Al Jawf, Saudi Arabia CNRS / MADAJ / R. Schwerdtner

Incomplete sculpture of two dromedaries in single file on Spur C at Camel Site, Al Jawf, Saudi Arabia CNRS / MADAJ / R. Schwerdtner

Located in the province of Al Jawf in northwest Saudi Arabia, Camel Site, as it is known, was explored in 2016 and 2017 by a Franco-Saudi research team. The sculptures, some incomplete, were executed on three rocky spurs there.

Though natural erosion has partly destroyed some of the works, as well as any traces of tools used in their creation, the researchers were able to identify a dozen or so reliefs of varying depths representing camelids and equids. The life-sized sculpted animals are depicted without harnessing in a natural setting. One scene in particular is unprecedented: it features a dromedary meeting a donkey, an animal rarely represented in rock art.

Camels feeding in Saudi Arabia.

Camels feeding in Saudi Arabia. ( CC0)

Some of the works are thus thematically very distinct from the representations often found in this region. Technically, they also differ from those discovered at other Saudi sites -- frequently simple engravings of dromedaries without relief -- or the sculpted facades of Al Ḩijr (Madâ'in Şâliḩ). In addition, certain Camel Site sculptures on upper rock faces demonstrate indisputable technical skills. Camel Site can now be considered a major showcase of Saudi rock art in a region especially propitious for archaeological discovery.

The find adds to a study published last week of prehistoric artwork carved into rock also in the north west of Saudi Arabia at the UNESCO World Heritage Sites Jubbah and Shuwaymis. This art revealed that there were once a host of animals in the region that were previously unknown of including aurochs, wild camels, African wild ass and kudu, according to a New Scientist article .

These are far from the only examples of rock art in the region, with over 1500 other sites of rock art being identified.

Though the sculptures at Camel Site is hard to date, comparison with a relief at Petra (Jordan) leads the researchers to believe the sculptures were completed in the first centuries BC or AD. Its desert setting and proximity to caravan routes suggest Camel Site – ill-suited for permanent settlement -- was a stopover where travelers could rest or a site of worship.

Top image: High relief of standing dromedary on sandstone spur at center of image.

Credit: © CNRS/MADAJ, R. Schwerdtner

Notes:

[1] The archaeologist is a research engineer at the Orient et Méditerranée research unit (CNRS / Sorbonne University / University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne / EPHE / Collège de France). This project involves another researcher in France, from the TRACES research unit (CNRS / University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès / French Ministry of Culture and Communication).

[2] These discoveries were made within the scope of the Dumat al Jandal archaeological project, directed by researchers Guillaume Charloux (CNRS) and Romolo Loreto (University of Naples L'Orientale), and supported by the SCTH; the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Labex RESMED, part of the French Investissements d'Avenir program; and the French Center for Archaeology and Social Sciences (CEFAS).

The article Rock art: Life-sized sculptures of dromedaries found in Saudi Arabia’ was originally published on Science Daily.

Source: CNRS. "Rock art: Life-sized sculptures of dromedaries found in Saudi Arabia." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 February 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180213084405.htm

Reference:

Guillaume Charloux, Hussain al-Khalifah, Thamer al-Malki, Romain Mensan, Ronald Schwerdtner. The art of rock relief in ancient Arabia: new evidence from the Jawf Province . Antiquity, 2018; 92 (361): 165 DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2017.221

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