Saudi Arabia’s ancient rock sculptures are a reminder of a time when deserts were dominated by lakes and grasslands. The lush ecosystem was sustained by excessive rainfall during the Holocene epoch and became home to both our human ancestors as well as the wildlife whose likenesses were carved into the cliffsides.
This story begins in Arabia’s prehistory in 2018. Archeologists discovered large stone camel sculptures in Al-Jawf, a northwestern province. The archaeologists were unable to find any organic matter that they could study and sample, so they based their estimates upon similar reliefs from Petra. These ancient stone camels are believed to have been around 2,000 years of age.
Recent research suggests that something is quite different. A team of Middle Eastern and European researchers discovered that the camel sculptures are much older than previously believed by studying erosion patterns, tool marks, and bones from animals excavated at a nearby location.
The research was published in the Journal of Archeological Science. It suggests that the sculptures could range from 7,000 to 8,000 years old.
Earlier studies shared similar suspicions but did not have the necessary evidence to support them. Guillaume Charloux, a French archaeologist, first discovered the sculptures in Al-Jawf.
He suggested that they might be part of a more ancient tradition of Neolithic rock arts, which is characterized by realistic and life-size portrayals of camels. The only difference was that the sculptures from Al-Jawf had a slightly more 3-dimensional appearance.
The measurements not only revealed the age of the sculptures but also gave archaeologists information about the people who carved them as well as the social purpose they might have served.
Experts determined that each camel took between 10 to 15 days to build after analyzing the site. The sculptures are large enough to require scaffolding. These sculptures clearly served an important purpose due to their sheer size, from the amount of work required to complete it all down the way to the tools used.
The sculptures themselves are a testament to this idea. They seem to tell a unique story about the community that created them.
Although the sculptures were valuable to and kept by generations of settlers over time, it is not clear what their purpose was, whether it be religious or communal.
Although prehistoric settlements on the Arabian peninsula were sparse and sporadic and often only temporary, Al-Jawf’s stone camel sculptures suggest that there may have been more to them than we thought.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of The Sized delivered to your inbox daily.