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Desert Dawn: Unveiling 7,000-year-old secrets of Saudi Arabia’s hidden rock art gallery

While exploring the longest lava tube Umm Jirsan, at the collapsed entrance the team discovered 16 rock art panels, which were pecked into the rock with a tool, probably around 5,000 to 7,000 years ago along with skeletal remains of domesticated sheep and goats among the artefacts.

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Desert Dawn: Unveiling 7,000-year-old secrets of Saudi Arabia’s hidden rock art gallery

Story by, Jamila Yunusa SULEIMAN

Saudi Arabia is one of the most popular countries in the world as the birthplace of islamic religion and the home of the most holiest places to islamic worshippers and it’s dominance in the petroleum industry.

This time around, Saudi Arabia has come under the limelight not for religious or commercial activity, but for the discovery of 5,000 to 7,000 years rock art with the depiction of sheep which is rare in rock art in areas close to Saudi Arabia as research has shown.

The artefact was found by archeologists at the entrance of a remote desert lava tube located in the volcanic field of Harrat Khaybar, around 125km north of Madina after research has shown evidences of at least 7,000 years of human occupation near a lava tube named Umm Jirsan.

Saudi Arabia is also well known for it’s harsh desert climate which makes it difficult for organic remains to survive making early human activities difficult to find. As a result, archeologist embarked on investigating caves and lava tubes to seek preservations.

According to Mathew Stewart of Griffith University in Australia, the lead author of the research paper on the discovery, published in the journal Plos One, “We found the first documented evidence that people occupied these lava tubes,”

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Research has however shown that people did not adapt Umm Jirsan lava tube as a permanent habitat but rather a resting place while travelling between oases with their livestock.

Evidences have shown that, these pastoralists may also have hunted gazelle and ibex, and probably used the lava tube as a water reservoir.

While exploring the longest lava tube Umm Jirsan, at the collapsed entrance the team discovered 16 rock art panels, which were pecked into the rock with a tool, probably around 5,000 to 7,000 years ago along with skeletal remains of domesticated sheep and goats among the artefacts.

“Dating of the material tells us that use of the lava tube started by at least the Neolithic and persisted for millennia,” Stewart says.

Mr Stewart, further stated that, “These findings add to the broader work in the region, which is documenting a rich and dynamic archaeological landscape of the area during the Holocene.”

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However, these are the only known examples of rock art in the area for now. These discovered rock arts is rare in northern Arabian rock art as it shows sheep and goats, possibly ibex, and human stick figures with tools on their belts.

The panels bear at least six herding scene which is also rare in the region. One of the panels shows dogs herding goats and sheep while some figures overlap others, indicating different phases of production.

“The depiction of sheep is rare in the rock art in other nearby areas of Arabia, as shown by our earlier research.”

“This suggests that these livestock may have been particularly important to the people inhabiting the area of the Harrat Khaybar. That there are depositions of herding scenes tells us that pastoralists visited the cave, perhaps utilising it as a place of refuge and a source of water.”

“This opens up an exciting new avenue of research in Arabia, one focusing on underground settings where the preservation of organic materials like bone is much better than at more surficial sites,” Stewart says.

Proofreading by, Sakinat Ibrahim Musa, Editor at Neptune Prime 

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