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Rock art landscapes beside the Jubbah palaeolake, Saudi Arabia


Abstract and Figures

The authors have undertaken a systematic survey of rock art along the Jubbah palaeolake in northern Saudi Arabia and interpret the results using GIS. They conclude that the overwhelming majority of prehistoric rock art sites overlook contemporary early Holocene palaeolakes, and that the distribution of later Thamudic rock art offers insights into human mobility patterns at Jubbah in the first millennium BC.
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Rock art landscapes beside the Jubbah
palaeolake, Saudi Arabia
Richard P. Jennings
, Ceri Shipton
, Abdulaziz Al-Omari
Abdullah M. Alsharekh
emy Crassard
, Huw Groucutt
& Michael D. Petraglia
The authors have undertaken a systematic
survey of rock art along the Jubbah palaeolake
in northern Saudi Arabia and interpret the
results using GIS. They conclude that the
overwhelming majority of prehistoric rock art
sites overlook contemporary early Holocene
palaeolakes, and that the distribution of
later Thamudic rock art offers insights into
human mobility patterns at Jubbah in the
first millennium BC.
Keywords: Arabia, Holocene, tenth millennium BP, Thamudic, rock art, palaeolakes,
landscape, GIS
In a recent synthesis on rock art interpretation, Chippindale and Nash (2004) emphasised
that images and depictions must be interpreted within their landscape setting in order to
appreciate why a particular setting was chosen. Such an approach, they surmise, is applicable
at different scales—that of the rock surface on which a particular panel is painted or engraved,
and the scale of the wider environment, which itself may change while the rock art endures.
Previous research on the rock art of Arabia has largely focused on the imagery itself, with
School of Archaeology, Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, Oxford
School of Social Science, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia
Taif Antiquities Office, Taif, Makka, Saudi Arabia
Department of Archaeology, College of Tourism & Archaeology, King Saud University, PO Box 2454, 11451
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
CNRS, UMR5133, Maison de l’Orient et de la M
ee, 5/7 rue Raulin, 39365 Lyon cedex 07, France
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ANTIQUITY 87 (2013): 666–683
Richard P. Jennings et al.
Figure 1. Jubbah palaeolake is located at the southerly e xtent of the Nefud desert. Major ancient caravan routes and trading
towns (reproduced from MacDonald 2010) illustrate that the southern Arabia to Mesopotamia route passed the closest to
Jubbah, and that Ha’il was its closest trading node.
systematic surveys being rare.
Here we present the first combined systematic survey and
quantitative study of rock art distributions undertaken in the Arabian peninsula.
The current study is part of a comprehensive programme of Late Pleistocene and Holocene
archaeological research at Jubbah oasis, where palaeolake deposits have been identified
(Petraglia et al. 2011, 2012). Our approach involved the systematic archaeological survey of
four jebels (hills): Jebel Qattar, Jebel Gattar A, Jebel Gattar B and Jebel Katefeh. These are
located south-west and east of a major rock art complex called Jebel Umm Sanman, which was
surveyed in 1976 and 1977 (see Parr et al. 1978; Figures 1 & 2). The current survey covered
and documented numerous animal and human depictions and inscriptions—for
background see Parr et al. (1978), Khan (1993) and Aldowsari (2009). These fall into
different chronological divisions which we refer to below as late prehistoric (Neolithic,
Chalcolithic and Bronze Age), Thamudic and recent.
Anati 1968a & b, 1972, 1974; Livingstone & Khan 1985; Khan 1993, 1998, 2000, 2007; Nayeem 2000;
Aldowsari 2009; Al Talhi 2012 (Saudi Arabia); Garcia et al. 1991; Garcia & Rachad 1997; Crassard 2006;
Braemer et al. 2007; Inizan & Rachad 2007 (Yemen); Clark 1975; Preston 1976; Insall 1999 (Oman);
Ziolkowski 2007; Lancaster & Lancaster 2011 (United Arab Emirates); and Nayeem 1998; Hassiba et al.
2012 (Qatar).
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Rock art landscapes beside the Jubbah palaeolake, Saudi Arabia
Figure 2. The four jebels of the study area: (A) Jebel Katefeh, which has 42 rock art sites; (B) Jebel Qattar, with 37 rock
art sites; (C) Jebel Gattar A and B with 28 sites. (D) represents Jebel Umm Sanman, the large rock art locality at Jubbah
surveyed by Parr et al. (1978).
The first aim of our research was to explore the spatial relationships between late
prehistoric rock art sites and known palaeolakes in the area. Parr et al. (1978) hypothesised
that late prehistoric rock art coincided with periods of high rainfall at Jebel Umm
Sanman, where grazing bovids (i.e. wild or domesticated cattle), equids, ibex and caprids
dominate the engravings. Radiocarbon dating of the main palaeolake at Jubbah, reported
by Garrard et al. (1981), yielded a date of 6685
50 BP (Q-3118), but this age should
be treated with caution given the era in which it was obtained. We recently determined
that palaeolake deposits beside Jebel Qattar had formed in the early Holocene (Crassard
et al. in press). This fits well with other palaeoenvironmental evidence in the region for
the early Holocene being more humid than its present day arid environment: a perennial
lake existed 240km west of Jubbah at Tayma oasis between 10 000–9000 cal BP (Engels
et al. 2012); an early Holocene humid phase (9250–7250 cal BP) is reported in cores
taken from the Red Sea (Arz et al. 2003); and speleothem records at Soreq Cave in
the southern Levant show an overall trend of increased precipitation from the onset of
the Holocene to 7500 BP, with peaks at 8500 BP and 7500 BP (Bar-Matthews et al.
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Richard P. Jennings et al.
The second aim of our research was to interpret the distribution of the Thamudic
inscriptions and animal imagery around the jebels. Thamudic rock art is found primarily
in desert environments of northern and central Arabia and to a lesser extent in southern
Arabia, the Transjordan Plateau, the Negev Desert and Egypt (Al-Theeb 1999, Anati 1999;
MacDonald 2010). The writing belongs to a branch of scripts known as South Semitic,
which were written in Arabia from about the middle of the first millennium BC to the
arrival of Islam (Beeston 1981; Shah 2008). They are usually divided into Groups A–E but
these divisions are widely accepted as needing revision (see Al-Theeb 1999; MacDonald
2010). The scripts are poorly dated. A text bearing the name of the mid sixth century BC
Babylonian king Nabonidus is the earliest known, while the latest is an inscription dated
to AD 267 (MacDonald 2010). MacDonald (2010) believes Thamudic B, C and D scripts
were written by nomadic peoples who had learned how to write from merchant traders at
oasis towns such as Dedan, Tayma or Dumah (Dumat al Jundal). Such merchants crossed
central Arabia en route from southern Arabia to the Near East during the first millennium
BC (Figure 1). Camels were the main pack animal of the caravan routes. The dromedary
camel arrived in south-eastern Arabia about 5000–6000 years ago (Uerpmann & Uerpmann
2002). It is absent in late prehistoric art but is often depicted with Thamudic inscriptions
(Parr et al. 1978; Khan 2007). Thamudic imagery at Jubbah also includes ibex and other
species of goat, felids, ostrich, human figures, horse riders and palm trees (Parr et al. 1978).
Survey area and methods
Three of the sandstone jebels surveyed lie 16km east of Jebel Umm Sanman. Jebel Qattar
(elevation: 800m base, 892m top) is c. 600m long × 400m wide, with a north-south
orientation. Many boulders lie on the base of the jebel, and ancient lake deposits are visible
immediately to the north and east. Jebel Gattar A (elevation: 830m base, 930m top) is of a
similar size to Jebel Qattar but with an east-west orientation and with dune sand running
up the middle on both sides and breaching its centre. Jebel Gattar B (elevation: 840m base,
870m top) is one third of the size of its neighbours. The main palaeolake of Jubbah is less
than a 30-minute walk away over the dunes to the west and is visible from the upper western
slopes of these jebels. The fourth, Jebel Katefeh (elevation: 830m base, 1020m top), offers
a useful point of contrast as it is 26km west-southwest of the other three and is 14.5km
south-west of Jebel Umm Sanman. It is 1km long × 500m wide, oriented north-south, and
overlooks its own palaeolake to the east.
The rock art was surveyed using handheld GPS and a total station. The lower reaches
of the four jebels were systematically surveyed on foot while the middle and upper reaches
were surveyed where it could be done safely. Each site was recorded and photographed and
the data entered into a spatial database. Attribute data included coordinates, condition,
visibility, method and style of application, density and type of content depicted, writing
style and orientation, and association with other forms of cultural evidence. Google Earth
photography and Aster 30m digital terrain models were used to make the maps, and analysis
was undertaken in ESRI ArcGIS 9.3 software.
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Rock art landscapes beside the Jubbah palaeolake, Saudi Arabia
Table 1. Breakdown of the frequency of rock art styles at the four jebels in the study
area, showing that Jebel Qattar and Jebel Katefeh, the two jebels with associated
palaeolakes, contain the highest proportion of late prehistoric art.
Styles represented
Area surveyed Number of rock art sites Late prehistoric Thamudic Recent
Jebel Katefeh 42 25 22 3
Jebel Qattar 37 16 19 11
Jebel Gattar A 21 4 14 6
Jebel Gattar B 7 0 5 3
Total 107 45 60 23
Table 2. Location of rock art within the study area. Thamudic rock art is located exclusively on the
jebel base, often on boulders, whereas late p rehistoric art occurred both on the base and higher up
the jebels, particularly in rockshelters.
Late Late
Physical location prehistoric prehistoric % Thamudic Thamudic %
Jebel base and/or boulder on jebel base 30 66.7 45 75.0
Rockshelter at jebel base 1 2.2 8 13.3
Combination of 1 and 2 1 2.2 1 1.6
Total at j ebel base 32 71.1 54 90.0
Jebel slope and/or boulder on jebel slope 9 20.0 6 10.0
Rockshelter elevated on jebel 4 8.9 0 0.0
Total up jebel 13 28.9 6 10.0
Total 45 60
Survey outcome
A total of 107 rock art sites were recorded (recent: 23, Thamudic: 60, late prehistoric: 45)
(Table 1). A few sites contained multiple phases. Late prehistoric and Thamudic feature in
similar numbers at Jebel Katefeh and Jebel Qattar with Thamudic styles dominant at Jebel
Gattar A and B. Eight sites contain richly decorated panels, 16 are of medium density, and
73 are of low density. The survey also documented 19 lithic scatters, 13 sites with one or
more cairns, and the remnants of seven walled structures.
The rock art is predominantly found along the base of the jebels, although variation
was detected between phases (Table 2). A chi-square test revealed that fewer occurrences of
Thamudic rock art than expected are located up the jebels in comparison to late prehistoric
sites (n = 90, 3 d.f. = 16.23, p> 0.037). Instead, Thamudic sites are on boulders scattered
on the base of jebels or on bedrock. 13 late prehistoric sites are higher up the jebels, notably
JQ-34, 42, 43, 44 and 45 on Jebel Qattar.
Recent petroglyphs
A total of 23 recent rock art sites were recorded. These comprise unpatinated engravings
of Arabic script that were most often carved with a metal object. The script is commonly
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Richard P. Jennings et al.
a persons name with a date in the 1400s of the Hijri calendar, meaning the words were
inscribed within the last 30 years. A few of the undated Arabic inscriptions were pecked with
another stone rather than carved using metal, providing a link with Thamudic inscriptions
and suggesting greater antiquity. There are depictions of mounted camels and occasionally
fight or battle scenes with ‘stick-figure’ people using lances to fight on horses. There are also
scenes that resemble Thamudic styles of people hunting ostriches with rifles, and an image
of a motor vehicle.
Thamudic petroglyphs
Thamudic rock art is comprised exclusively of pecked engravings with low levels of
patination. It is dominated by Thamudic inscriptions and depictions of camels (Figures
3 & 4). There are 42 sites with inscriptions. Most are written vertically, while some rarer
longer ones are written horizontally. Site JQ-6 on Jebel Qattar has an exceptional series of
short horizontal inscriptions on a boulder on the base of the jebel (Figure 5). It is written
in Thamudic B, in contrast to five other sites with vertical inscriptions on the same jebel
(JQ-3, 6, 23, 31 & 40) which are written in Thamudic C or D. These sites contain lines
written in pairs of 4–6 Thamudic characters (Figure 6). Other examples contain only 1–4
characters. Some may be wusum signs—tribal signs left throughout the ages (Khan 2000).
Thamudic-style camels were found at 36 sites (Table 3). The majority (25 out of 36)
are associated with Thamudic inscriptions, especially on Jebel Gattar A and B, where all
but one camel have an associated inscription. Sometimes an image of a camel and a short
vertical inscription are contained within a circle (Figure 6). Other images in Thamudic style
are depictions of ostriches, dogs, date palms and ibex. The date palms may be indicative
that date cultivation was practised.
There is no clear association between Thamudic writing and material remains, although
two scatters of quartz lithics with Thamudic scripts beside them at the base of Jebel Qattar
and Jebel Gattar A and B (JQ-40 and JG-19) may be candidates. The lithics in question are
small cores and flakes that demonstrate seemingly expedient bipolar reduction of whitish
pebble quartz, but which lack technologically diagnostic features that would make links
with Thamudic engravings conclusive. The remnants of four structures were also found
in the vicinity of Thamudic writing. These are: a small hearth or possible water collection
structure at JQ-22; a dug-out shelter 4m in diameter at JQ-31; a linear structure 7m long of
unknown use at JQ-38; and a linear windbreak structure 5m long and 0.5m wide at JG-B1.
Late prehistoric petroglyphs
Late prehistoric petroglyphs feature at three of the four jebels (Figures 7 & 8). The engravings
are larger and denser compared to Thamudic rock art: seven of eight panels with a high
density rank belonged to this phase. The engravings are pecked, heavily patinated and are
overlain by unpatinated Thamudic script and camels at a few locations, as was noted earlier
by Parr et al. (1978) and Khan (1993) at Jebel Umm Sanman. Two of the more elaborate sites
at Jebel Qattar (JQ-31 and JQ-34) are rockshelters that overlook an extensive, multi-period,
late prehistoric surface site (JQ-101). A short climb is required to view the art at JQ-34,
which is prominently placed high in the landscape (Figure 9–11).
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Rock art landscapes beside the Jubbah palaeolake, Saudi Arabia
Figure 3. Thamudic rock art sites at Jebel Qattar and Jebel Gattar A and B. Camels and Thamudic writing/graffiti formed
the main component of this art style. The map shows the prevalence of camel depictions on the west side of Jebel Qattar and
Jebel Gattar A, and on the east side of Jebel Gattar B. The majority of the camel depictions also contain Thamudic scripts.
The longest inscriptions occur on the east side of Jebel Qattar, with the most significant being the Thamudic B inscription at
site JQ-06. Given its orientation, we propose that the Thamudic art may have been flanking a caravan route passing from
Jubbah oasis to Ha’il.
The style of the engravings, limited skills of the engravers and difficult rock surfaces mean
it is not always a straightforward process to identify the animals depicted to species level.
This is apparent with some of the cattle and goat depictions, and in particular whether they
are wild or domesticated forms. Overall, the range of species observed broadly matches the
observations of Parr et al. (1978) at Jebel Umm Sanman. However, while they reported
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Richard P. Jennings et al.
Figure 4. Thamudic rock art sites at Jebel Katefeh. This map conveys how the majority of Thamudic rock art is on the eastern
side of the jebel, mainly on boulders along the jebel base. The position on this side of the jebel may reflect the movement of
people—nomadic groups or merchant traders—between Jubbah and localities beyond the Nefud Desert to the south, perhaps
Tayma oasis.
cattle as the dominant animal depicted, the majority of animals recorded in this study area
are Nubian ibex (Capra nubiana), which feature at 29 sites. The species is identified by its
huge swept-back horns and beard (Figure 11). It is commonly shown with a stripey coat,
although piebald and fully engraved plain bodies are also known. The ibex images range
from around 0.15m to over 1m in length.
Cattle are the next most common animals, with examples from 25 sites. These are among
the most elaborate engravings in the survey. They display large flaring horns and have a
large body size in comparison to ibex—the largest is 1.5m long × 1.5m tall. The cattle are
usually shown with their heads tilted to the side, so that both their horns and ears are visible
(Figure 9). This is referred to as the ‘Jubbah style by Parr et al. (1978). It is not clear if wild
or domesticated species are represented, or both. If wild, they are likely to be the extinct
wild aurochs (Bos primigenius) or the giant long-horned buffalo (Pelorovis antiquus). The
presence of some piebald coats (Figure 12) may indicate that they are a domesticated species,
as this is a known trait among domesticated animals (McCorriston & Martin 2009).
Images of other animals with beards and parallel horns that curve in opposite directions
at the top appear to be wild rather than domesticated goats (Capr a aegagrus) (sites JKF-39,
40, 41, 43, 47 and 51). Sites JQ-14, JKF-25 and JKF-34 contain images of an ungulate with
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Rock art landscapes beside the Jubbah palaeolake, Saudi Arabia
Figure 5. The only example of a Thamudic B inscription at Jebel Qattar (site JQ-06). It is written horizontally rather than
vertically and is made up of different characters than those of the more common Thamudic C and D scripts.
Figure 6. Thamudic C/D script and camels are often depicted on the same rock art panel, such as on this boulder at Jebel
Gattar B (site JG-B4).
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Table 3. The number of times that inscriptions and camel depictions, the main
components of Thamudic art, occur together on the same panels. This occurs most often
at Jebel Gattar A.
Main representations
Area surveyed Thamudic sites Scripts Camels Script and camels at same site
Jebel Katefeh 22 14 13 7
Jebel Qattar 19 14 9 5
Jebel Gattar A 14 11 11 10
Jebel Gattar B 5 3 3 3
Total 60 4 2 36 25
a large head, probably a wild ass (Equus africanus). The asses have two short forward-facing
appendages on the head which are probably the ears, while two images were found with
manes on the back of the neck. JKF-25 also contains a depiction of a horse. One of the asses
and one of the aurochs appear to be pregnant. Some of the ibex are juveniles, based on their
relative size. Canids were also noted at JKF-22.
Late prehistoric human figures were found at 13 sites. They tend to be tall and elongated
(some were 1m high but only 0.1m wide). Some very elaborate elongated human figures
were found in rockshelter JQ-43. They are male (they have erect penises) and appear to
be wearing grass skirts and some kind of head-dress. Two appear to be wielding hooked
implements, while one has a bow and arrow. Other examples of human figures are seen at
JQ-34 (Figure 9), JQ-31 and JKF-49. Several smaller, less elongated human figures were
found in JQ-34 and JQ-43. They are also armed with bows and arrows. Similar examples
were recorded at Jebel Umm Sanman by Parr et al. (1978) and Khan (1993).
Late prehistoric pictographs
In the largest rockshelter (JQ-34; Figure 10), which has a small cave at the back, there is
a fourth type of rock art painted in red ochre. This is the most sheltered of all the rock
art localities, so painted art may originally have been more widespread but only survived
here. The art includes three bovids, one of which was possibly an aurochs, hence it may
be late prehistoric. However, there is also a series of abstract designs that do not occur in
the engravings. The designs consist of square-filled dots, approximately 100mm in size.
These occur five times on one panel. In one case, an ibex has been painted around the
square, but it is unclear which was painted first. The ochre occurs in two different shades:
a brownish-red in which the bovids are painted and a purplish-red in which the squares
and dots are painted. In another instance, the brownish-red ochre is clearly overlying the
purplish-red ochre. Behind this panel are six sequences of parallel lines in red ochre. These
parallel lines also do not occur in the engraved art.
Cupules, symbols and grinding slicks
Cupules were found at six sites but their phasing is unclear. A cluster was found with
grinding slicks at rockshelters JQ-31 and JQ-43. These cupules are approximately 0.25m
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Rock art landscapes beside the Jubbah palaeolake, Saudi Arabia
Figure 7. Late prehistoric rock art sites and palaeolakes at jebels Qattar, Gattar A and Gattar B. The distribution shows
clear associations between rock art positioning and the visibility of a palaeolake for 18 of the 20 sites. 16 are in the line of
sight of a palaeolake on the eastern side of Jebel Qattar. Two sites (JQ-42 & JQ-43) overlook the main Jubbah palaeolake
from the mid and upper western slopes of Jebel Qattar, which is across a sand dune. This leaves JQ-13 and JG-10 as the only
sites with no direct visible link. The rock art thus probably relates to a humid phase when a lake and habitats supporting
cattle, ibex and other bovid species were in existence and were being watched by late-prehistoric human groups.
in diameter. A large, red-stained cupule around 0.35m in diameter is visible on a boulder
between JQ-101 and the JQ-31 rockshelter (JQ-32). Two possible cupules are associated
with Thamudic and Arabic writing at JQ-38. Cupules also feature at JKF-22 and JKF-28
on Jebel Katefeh. These are associated with both late prehistoric and Thamudic art. Abstract
symbols were recorded at 11 sites. Symbols accompany late prehistoric panels at JKF-34,
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Richard P. Jennings et al.
Figure 8. Late-prehistoric rock art at Jebel Katefeh and the possible extent of its associated palaeolake. The image shows how
the rock art sites overwhelmingly face the palaeolake. This infers that the lake was present at the time the rock art was created.
The high proportion of grazing animals depicted suggests that the area around the lake was once grassland.
39 and 43 while two late prehistoric vulvic symbols are engraved at JQ-43. Other symbols
are two Thamudic geometric shapes (JQ-5 and JG-B1), two of recent age (two crosses
associated with Arabic script at JQ-37 and JGA-20) and two of uncertain age (JQ-8 and
Spatial analyses
Rock art and palaeolakes
The results show that 37 out of 45 (82.2 per cent) late prehistoric rock art sites overlook
palaeolakes (Figures 2, 7 & 8). This is convincing evidence that lakes were present at the
time the rock art was depicted. If the palaeolakes were dry when the art was drawn, one
would expect the art to be randomly distributed around the jebels, but this is not the case.
Recent dating of the Jebel Qattar palaeolake deposits suggests that the lake was present in
the early Holocene, when the climate was more humid than in subsequent phases of the
Holocene (Crassard et al. in press). The palaeolake at Jebel Qattar is visible from 12 out of
16 late prehistoric rock art sites on the jebel, and from three sites on neighbouring Jebel
Gattar A. Two sites on the opposite side of Jebel Qattar overlook the main palaeolake at
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Rock art landscapes beside the Jubbah palaeolake, Saudi Arabia
Figure 9. Recording a richly decorated late prehistoric boulder at rockshelter JQ-34. This is the most densely decorated panel
in the study area. Elongated human figures, characteristic of late-prehistoric rock art at Jubbah, are visible, as are depictions
of goats (ibex or wild) and bovids (wild or domesticated cattle), including a large example on the right with horns flared and
head turned to one side. Note the piebald decoration of some of the cattle.
Jubbah, which is 1km to the west of the jebel (Figure 7). The pattern is striking at Jebel
Katefeh, where 22 out of 25 sites overlook a palaeolake to the east; only three sites are not
on the lake-facing slopes of this jebel (Figure 8).
The relationship between the animals depicted in the rock art and the presence of
palaeolakes is unlikely to be a coincidence. A humid climate would have allowed grassland
habitats to develop in the vicinity of the palaeolakes, probably on a seasonal basis. Such
habitats would have supported the cattle and ibex that feature in the rock art. Further
information comes from other aspects of the archaeological survey. JQ-101, a multi-period
archaeological site, was identified beside the Jebel Qattar palaeolake. Its lithic assemblage
included Pre-Pottery Neolithic A El-Khiam points, early Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Helwan
points and Chalcolithic points. The limited evidence for other phases of the lithic reduction
sequence and the absence of structures or storage pits suggest that the site was occupied
seasonally. The El-Khiam and Helwan points correspond very well with the early Holocene
age for the palaeolake at Jebel Qattar (Crassard et al. in press). It seems highly likely, therefore,
that at least some of the late prehistoric art was made by early Holocene populations on
seasonal visits to Jubbah.
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Richard P. Jennings et al.
Figure 10. View from the base of Jebel Qattar up to late prehistoric rockshelter JQ-34. Two large boulders in front of the
shelter contain the rock art seen in Figures 9 and 11. The archaeologist in the middle of the photograph offers a sense of scale.
The rockshelter contained further petroglyphs and painted red ochre pictographs.
Figure 11. A pair of Nubian ibex with stripey coats and swept-back horns on a large boulder outside JQ-34 rockshelter. The
rockshelter overlooks palaeolake deposits, which are partially visible in the background.
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Rock art landscapes beside the Jubbah palaeolake, Saudi Arabia
Figure 12. Cattle (Bos genus) with piebald coat and flaring horns at JQ-31, the collapsed rockshelter at Jebel Qattar. The
piebald patterning may be an indication that the animal is domesticated. Many domesticated species have piebald coats, seen
as an indicator for the selection of tameness (McCorriston & Martin 2009).
Elsewhere, the cairns in the study area await classification and investigation. Cairns are
ubiquitous across Arabia and typically date to the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age (Parr et al.
1978). A total of 28 cairns were recorded at 13 sites. The highest number is at Jebel Katefeh
(18 cairns at six sites) followed by Jebel Qattar (seven cairns at five sites) and Jebel Gattar
A (three cairns at one site). Eight are large (>5m in diameter, e.g. JKF-20) and the rest
medium-sized (2m × 2m to 5m × 5m). Only one cairn is linked to a rock art site (JQ-31),
where a cairn is located in front of a collapsed rockshelter. No cairns were inscribed with
late prehistoric rock art and no patterns were apparent in the distribution of cairns and rock
art at Jebel Qattar. At Jebel Katefeh, cairns cluster at the south-eastern base of the jebel, over
an area measuring 500m × 150m (Figure 8).
Thamudic caravan routes
The expedient nature of Thamudic rock art and its focus at the jebel bases suggest that it was
made by transhumant people. The lack of material remains, the limited themes presented in
the rock art, and the profusion of camel images, which are occasionally mounted, all suggest
that the people who created this rock art were nomadic. This supports MacDonald’s (2010)
hypothesis that many nomadic societies in ancient Arabia were literate and were profligate
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Richard P. Jennings et al.
at marking graffiti on rocks in the desert. Nomadic literacy, he suggests, came about from
nomadic peoples coming into contact with merchant traders.
The distribution of Thamudic rock art around the bases of Jebel Qattar and Jebel Gattar
A and B exhibits a clear difference from late prehistoric rock art, in that the focus on
palaeolakes was lost. Instead, the art is more evenly dispersed around the jebels but with an
emphasis on their western sides, mainly on boulders on the base. One explanation for why
Thamudic art is not focused on the palaeolakes is the possibility that these had dried up by
the first millennium BC. The location of Thamudic art on the western sides of the jebels
may be due to these areas receiving sufficiently high seasonal humidity to support grazing
land (consider Lancaster & Lancaster, 1999: 108–109). However, no palaeoenvironmental
evidence exists to support this premise, and the absence of Bos depictions in the Thamudic
rock art would suggest that cattle were not grazed here at this time.
A plausible hypothesis for the location of Thamudic art at Jebel Qattar and Jebel Gattar A
and B is that it may reflect the route in which nomadic peoples, merchant traders and other
travellers moved through the landscape as they traversed between Jubbah and neighbouring
settlements to the south of the Nefud, such as the town of Ha’il. This town is 90km south-
east of Jubbah and was an important node on the southern Arabia to southern Mesopotamia
trade route in the first millennium BC (MacDonald 2010). There are no recorded ancient
caravan routes between Ha’il and Jubbah to support this hypothesis, but given that the
jebels are highly visible in the landscape and are situated near the narrowest crossing point
of the desert, it is not inconceivable that merchant traders, caravanserai or nomadic peoples
passed through and encountered or made the rock art (Figure 3). The predominance of
Thamudic rock art on the east side of Jebel Katefeh could also be an indicator of a caravan
route (Figure 4). This route would have linked Jubbah to the major southern Arabia to
northern Mesopotamia/Levant trade route (Figure 1). The likely destination was Tayma, a
trading town where numerous Thamudic inscriptions have been recovered (Eichmann et al.
2006; MacDonald 2010).
The information presented above concerning rock art at four jebels in Jubbah shows the
merits of interpreting rock art from a landscape perspective. Our results indicate that 82 per
cent of late prehistoric rock art overlooks palaeolakes. This suggests that occupation took
place during wet phases of the early Holocene. The elaborate nature of the late prehistoric art,
along with its restricted horizontal distribution in the landscape, and its extensive vertical
distribution at prime locations, suggest relatively long-term occupation. The absence of
settlement structures indicates that this occupation stopped short of permanent settlement.
However, the discovery of stone points and the common depiction of wild animals such
as ibex, as well as humans with bows and arrows, suggest that the localities were used as
seasonal hunting grounds. Spatial analysis of Thamudic rock art identified possible trade
routes through the Jubbah landscape, based on the prevalence of camel depictions and
inscriptions at the eastern base of Jebel Katefeh and on the western bases of Jebel Qattar and
Jebel Gattar A. Variations in cultural adaptations and landscape-use behaviours therefore
Antiquity Publications Ltd.
Rock art landscapes beside the Jubbah palaeolake, Saudi Arabia
appear to be linked to changes in environments. Future research at Jubbah will further assess
the relationships between rock art distribution, ecological settings and landscape behaviours.
We thank HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman, President of the General Commission for Tourism and Antiquities,
and Professor Ali I. Al-Ghabban, Vice President for Antiquities and Museums, for permission to carry out
this study. We also thank Dr Hussain Abu Al Hassan, Habeeb Turki, Abdalrahman Al-Thobiti, Abdalrahman
Almansour, Jamal S. Omar and the people of Jubbah for their support and assistance with the field investigations.
We acknowledge the financial support of the National Geographic Society, the Leakey Foundation, the European
Research Council (grant no. 295719) and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities. Thanks also go
to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.
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Received: 11 July 2012; Accepted: 22 August 2012; Revised: 26 October 2012
Antiquity Publications Ltd.
... The Neolithic rock art of northern Arabia is iconic and thousands of engravings depicting hunting scenes and cattle herds have been documented in recent years [12,58]. However, despite this abundance, evidence for the use of pigment in Neolithic art has so far been absent, with the exception of a single painted rock that formed part of a mustatil [11], and a small group of paintings at Jebel Qattar [59]. Conversely, the use of pigment in rock art is well attested for the Iron Age and historic periods [60]. ...
... One function of the pigment was its use in rock paintings. A small group of painted cattle at Jebel Qattar, approximately 28 km to the northeast, on the eastern end of the Jubbah palaeolake basin can be attributed to the Neolithic period based on their content and stylistic criteria [59], with our results further supporting this assessment. ...
Full-text available
Archaeological sites with surface hearths are a ubiquitous feature across the arid zones of the Arabian interior. At Jebel Oraf, in the Jubbah basin of the Nefud Desert of northern Arabia, numerous grinding stone fragments were found in association with hearths, though the original purpose of these stones was unclear owing to the poor preservation of faunal and botanic remains. Here we describe results from use-wear analysis on five grinding tools at Jebel Oraf, demonstrating that such artefacts were used during the Neolithic for plant processing, bone processing, and pigment production. Grinding stones were often broken up after initial use and fragments were subsequently re-used for alternative purposes, before finally being placed on hearths or discarded. More specifically, plants were ground or prepared and possibly cooked in the hearths, and bones were processed as well. The analyses also highlight the importance of pigment processing at Neolithic sites and provide a link to painted rock art. The frequent use of pigment in the archaeological record suggests that pigment was widely used, and that Neolithic painted art may have been more common than the surviving images suggest.
... Recent research conducted on the Holocene funerary-avenue distribution in northwest Saudi Arabia highlighted 2,360 avenue segments, most of them presented in clusters of pendants and tumuli in the Khaybar and al Ha'it regions . Moreover, several prehistoric localities documented in the region of Ha'il and the southern margin of the Nefud desert close to al Ha'it showed promising Paleolithic, Neolithic, and Bronze Age sites, some of them contained monumental stone structures, such as pendants, kites, and mustatils (Almushawh 2018;Breeze et al. 2015;Jennings et al. 2013;Miller et al. 1989). The major late prehistoric sites in this part of Arabia with multiple monumental stone structures are mainly found in the areas of the Jubbah basin, Al Maraat basin, Jebel Oraf basin, and the Faid area (Groucutt and Carleton 2021;Guagnin et al. 2020;Jennings et al. 2016;Nassr and Elhassan 2020). ...
... The region of al Ha'it with its remains of settlements and figurative depictions obviously offers more archaeological features than just the monumental stone structures. The finds resemble the cultural contexts identified in the wider region of Ha'il, specifically those of the sites of Shuwaymis and Jubbah (Jennings et al. 2013;Groucutt et al. 2020). ...
Increased archaeological fieldwork in Saudi Arabia is contributing toward a more precise general idea about ancient Arabia. Moreover, the history of Arabian archaeology demonstrates that major discoveries and advances have been achieved as a result of systematic field enterprises. However, several regions in Saudi Arabia remain unstudied. One such major area is Ha’il in the north. Our intensive desktop-archaeological survey using remote sensing revealed the region’s archaeological richness. Several monumental structures were observed in the al Ha’it oasis. Based on those findings, we conducted an archaeological survey and excavations, resulting in the discovery of eight new archaeological sites. Three major types of funerary stone structures identified in this area include pendants, tumuli, and tower tombs. In addition, we encountered mustatils and kites of the Neolithic and Bronze Age. This article presents the investigations carried out in these new sites and places them within the context of Arabian archaeology.
... Changes in subsistence and technological advances are visible in the form of hunting scenes, the emergence of domesticated livestock, weaponry and writing, and chart the progression of prehistoric human populations from the Epi-Palaeolithic/Pre-Neolithic to the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages and into the more recent historic periods (see for examle Aksoy, 2017;Guagnin et al., 2017a;Khan, 2007;Newton and Zarins, 2000). Two sites that have received particular attention are Jubbah and Shuwaymis, where thousands of engravings document Neolithic fauna and lifestyles (Guagnin et al., 2015;Guagnin et al., 2016;Jennings et al., 2013;Jennings et al., 2014;Macholdt et al., 2018). ...
... The increase in activity in the late Neolithic thus appears to relate to a period of increased ritual expression of which the rich body of Neolithic rock art in this region may also have formed a part (Guagnin et al., 2017a;Andreae et al., 2020). Although occupation subsequently appears to have become more sporadic across northern Saudi Arabia, symbolic landscapes continued to form an important part of prehistoric life, whether in the form of megalithic structures, platforms, cairns or rock art sites (Gebel, 2016;Jennings et al., 2013;Munoz et al., 2020). In this broad context, we believe that the exceptional Camel Site, which was very probably a gathering place with important symbolic function , brings new insight on the complex societal and ceremonial picture of the prehistoric period in northern Arabia. ...
The life-sized, naturalistic reliefs at the Camel Site in northern Arabia have been severely damaged by erosion. This, coupled with substantial destruction of the surrounding archaeological landscape, has made a chronological assessment of the site difficult. To overcome these problems, we combined results from a wide range of methods, including analysis of surviving tool marks, assessment of weathering and erosion patterns, portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, and luminescence dating of fallen fragments. In addition, test excavations identified a homogenous lithic assemblage and faunal remains that were sampled for radiocarbon dating. Our results show that the reliefs were carved with stone tools and that the creation of the reliefs, as well as the main period of activity at the site, date to the Neolithic. Neolithic arrowheads and radiocarbon dates attest occupation between 5200 and 5600 BCE. This is consistent with measurements of the areal density of manganese and iron in the rock varnish. The site was likely in use over a longer period and reliefs were re-worked when erosion began to obscure detailed features. By 1000 BCE, erosion was advanced enough to cause first panels to fall, in a process that continues until today. The Camel Site is likely home to the oldest surviving large-scale (naturalistic) animal reliefs in the world.
... In the case of Ha'il region, although several prehistoric research studies have been conducted in the southern margin of the Nefud desert (Almushawh 2018; Jennings et al. 2013;Miller et al. 1989) and a number of Palaeolithic sites have been documented, there are still many unexplored areas. Some Palaeolithic sites have been recorded in the Jubbah basin, Al Maraat basin and Faid area Jennings et al. 2016;Nassr & Elhassan 2020). ...
Full-text available
Ha’il region in northwest Saudi Arabia is characterized by the presence of oases, flat plains, Paleo-lakes, and lava fields, which are some of the main landscape characteristics in which Palaeolithic sites have been found in the region. It is located on one of the routes of early hominin dispersal across Arabia. The ongoing archaeological research made by the Paleodeserts and Disperse projects have recorded several Acheulean and Middle Palaeolithic sites in such localities as Jubbah basin in the Nefud desert (Groucutt et al. 2021; Petraglia et al. 2015; 2019), yet large parts of the region are still unexplored. The ground archaeological survey conducted by the authors at Al-Huwaidy village, 70 km southwest of Ha’il town, has led to the discovery of a unique Palaeolithic site on the margin of a palaeo-oasis, close to a volcanic mountain. The archaeological site consists of an agglomeration spread of lithics covering an area of basaltic field and outcrops. Numerous handaxes have been documented on the surface and the profiles of current water canal shafts. The site setting and the quantity and quality of lithics from Large Cutting Tools (LCT), including typical handaxes, foliate handaxes, Acheulean cores and flakes, indicate that the site represents a new and interesting extension of Palaeolithic archaeology in the northwest of Arabia similar to Palaeolithic characteristics in the Jubbah basin. Thus, this discovery has a direct relevance in assessing the distribution of Palaeolithic sites in the Ha’il region, showing that they not only occur in the northern area (Nefud desert), but also in the different landscape (basaltic lava field) in the southern part of the region.
... A further implication of the initial statement of this section is that manifestations of rock art arose over a very long period under climatic and environmental conditions that often are no longer in balance with those of today (e.g., [2,5,33,34]). This has been primarily explored in arid lands of the Old World, where rock art representations dating to the latest Pleistocene and the Early and Middle Holocene preserve evidence of a fauna assemblage not compatible with the present-day biome of the Saharan and Arabian deserts (e.g., [1,31,[35][36][37][38][39]), thus suggesting the occurrence of major, regional climatic shifts. Such significant climatic and environmental changes involved all of the components of the landscape. ...
Full-text available
Rock art is a widespread cultural heritage, representing an immovable element of the material culture created on natural rocky supports. Paintings and petroglyphs can be found within caves and rock shelters or in open-air contexts and for that reason they are not isolated from the processes acting at the Earth surface. Consequently, rock art represents a sort of ecosystem because it is part of the complex and multidirectional interplay between the host rock, pigments, environmental parameters, and microbial communities. Such complexity results in several processes affecting rock art; some of them contribute to its destruction, others to its preservation. To understand the effects of such processes an interdisciplinary scientific approach is needed. In this contribution, we discuss the many processes acting at the rock interface—where rock art is present—and the multifaceted possibilities of scientific investigations—non-invasive or invasive—offered by the STEM disciplines. Finally, we suggest a sustainable approach to investigating rock art allowing to understand its production as well as its preservation and eventually suggest strategies to mitigate the risks threatening its stability.
... These different techniques appear in different constellations throughout the known ensembles of prehistoric rock art sites across Arabia (e.g. Angás et al. 2021;Guagnin et al. 2015;Jennings et al. 2013;Khan 2013;Zerboni et al. 2021;Ziolkowski 2007). The large carved 3D engravings from the Camel Site, however, have, so far, no known equivalent throughout the Neolithic of the Arabian Peninsula, making a comparison of both carving techniques and the characteristics of stone tools used difficult. ...
Full-text available
The Camel Site is in the north of Saudi Arabia in the province of al-Jawf. It is characterised by three decaying sandstone hillocks with life-sized 3D engravings (or reliefs) of camels and equids likely carved during later prehistory. A survey in the central area of the site identified clusters of flakes and other flintknapping remains in the lower areas between the sandstone spurs and larger silcrete tools directly underneath the animal depictions. Some of these tools presented abraded edges, possibly from prolonged contact with the soft and abrasive sandstone that constitutes the rock spurs where the animals were carved. Experiments were performed to test this hypothesis and have a reference collection for further traceological analysis. The chaine opératoire of the experimental engraving tools, from raw material procurement, tool manufacture and use, reuse and discard, was conducted with locally available materials comparable to the archaeological specimens. Specific experimental variables, including how the force was applied, in what direction the movement took place and the orientation of the stone tool during the experiment, were also recorded. Macro- and microscopic analyses of the experimental collection and a sample of archaeological artefacts seem to show that the ancient tools found on the surface were probably used to make the camelid and equid reliefs at the site.
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The research of prehistoric archaeology in the region of Ha’il northwest of Saudi Arabia is highly advanced in the last decades. And many prehistoric sites presented unique characteristics of monumental and assemblages heritage. Although there are interesting localities of prehistoric sites and large numbers of artefacts collected from the surface and excavations, there is a lack of research to exploit that heritage in sustainable tourism. On the other hand, archaeological tourism is regarded as one of the major pillars of achieving the goals of Saudi Arabia Kingdom’s vision 2030 . Based on the above statements, this paper aims to shed light on prehistoric heritage attractions in Ha’il and suggests a vision to encourage local and international tourism. The study concluded that the region of Ha’il is rich in prehistoric heritage, and there are opportunities to employ this heritage in the archaeotourism field through the development of joint tourism plans between the authorities and the community. These plans use to be accompanied by the operations of discovering and protecting heritage and promoting them globally and locally, as well as preparing qualified tourist guides and leading tourism activities.
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Camel is a heat resistant animal reared in desert and hot areas for meat, milk production and for draught purpose. In past camels has been used as major source for commercial transportation. Beside the other districts of Balochistan of Pakistan, Lasbela district has a reasonable population of camels consisting 2.4% of the total livestock population. The prominent camel breeds are Lasi and Makrani with an emerging new hybrid (Dati) of both the known breeds. Microsatellite markers have widely been used to characterize the genetic diversification among the camel breeds. Current study performed on 45 samples from the 3 breeds of the district. Genomic DNA was extracted, amplified by using specific primers for VOLP10 microsatellite marker. The sequencing results revealed >30 dimer GT repeats with a break of a dimer (TT) and in 5 samples the GT repeats were found continuously in heterozygous condition. Results of the current study suggest that microsatellite markers can have a better use for genetic characterization among different breeds.
This article considers the archaeology, based mainly on eggs, of the extinct ratite (flightless birds, infraclass Palaeognathae) Struthio camelus syriacus (henceforth referred to as ‘ostrich’). Ostrich eggs were used as canteens, vessels, or raw material to produce prestige objects or ornaments. Starting with eggs discovered in a Middle Bronze Age cemetery in Tel Aviv, the production technology, symbolism and meaning, as well as assumed motivations and other cultural marks are analysed. The finds are analysed in a broader context, including the relationship between man and ostrich. The article reviews occurrences where ostrich-related remains, such as workshops, complete and fragmented eggs, as well as a small number of bones that have been recovered in archaeological excavations and surveys, have been found.
The first references to rock art in Yemen, at the beginning of the 1970, can be found in explorers' or prospectors' reports. Since 1989 we have undertaken a study on all the sites around Saada, enlarged by a wide prospection. Scourings brought to light oven-like structures containing lithic tool material assoicated with faunal remains belonging to Buffalo and Aurochs. These fire-places have been dated by 14C (charcoals) at 6250 ± 90 BP. The presumption that the buffalo painters were the buffalo hunters themselves is strengthened. There is an abridged English version. -from English summary
The petroglyph site in Jabal Jassasiyah Qatar is located approximately 60 km northeast of the capital city of Doha and has over 900 different types of petroglyphs. The most commonly found petroglyphs are cupules, which are almost always arranged in geometric patterns. A number of petroglyphs of boats are also found, usually seen from above, with a few seen in profile. As there is little evidence of what age to assign to these petroglyphs, samples of the calcium oxalate containing layers covering the petroglyphs were sent for radiocarbon dating to determine the minimum age they were created. The minimum ages of nine samples taken for analysis were found to be very short, the oldest minimum age being only 235 years BP (before present). No evidence was found for the petroglyphs dating back a few millennia as was previously postulated. Due to the lack of chronological data for Qatar’s archaeological past, the study data cannot completely rule out the petroglyphs dating back to ancient times.
Long a pioneer in the study of rock art, Professor Anati here provides a report of his most recent work in the Negev. The region around Har Karkom has proved to be exceptionally rich in a wide variety of images that span the transitions from hunters and gatherers to early pastoralists and historically documented societies. Based on an encyclopedic knowledge of rock art, an innovative set of interpretations of the meanings and behaviors associated with the images are offered. Har Karkom, in particular, fascinates because of the abundance of cultic and ritual behaviors depicted in the art, well captured in the author's splendid photographs.
This paper discusses the rock art site of Almulihiah in north Saudi Arabia. The site consists of many carved rock panels of human and animal figures. The drawings depict camels (22%), ibex (10%) and ostrich (8%), although other animals such as goats, lizards and oryx are also present. An attempt is made to date the site by comparing it with other petroglyph sites in the country. The paper concludes with a discussion of the drawing styles present.
ABSTRACT The first bone finds of domestic ,camels appear among the faunal remains of the Iron Age II layers ofTell Abraq (Emirates of Sharjah and Umm ,al Qaiwain) at about 800 – 900 BC. The earlier camel remains from the Bronze Age layers of the ,same site and from Umm an Nar are from large animals, which are identified as wild dromedaries. At Umm anNar and other coastal sites the wild dromedary was an important game animal in the Early Bronze Age. The sequence of Tell Abraq indicates that this resource was over-exploited, leading to the disappearance of camel ,finds from the faunal re- mains of this site towards the end of the ,Bronze Age. Nevertheless, the wild dromedary still existed inthe,general area during the 2nd phase of the Iron Age. Its remains can be distinguished from those of the smaller domestic camels at the site of Muwaylah (Emirate of Sharjah). South-east Arabia does not seem to be ,the primary centre of camel domestication. Further research in other parts of Arabia is necessary in order ,to identify the area where the camel was first brought under human control.