04 August 2020

Petroglyphs (Rock Art) – Near Hanidh

Whilst in the Hanidh area of Saudi Arabia, approximately 100 kms off the Dammam/Riyadh highway we saw some petroglyphs. Saudi Arabia is among the four richest rock art regions of the world with more than 1500 rock art sites and it is thought they were drawn by Bedouin or desert dwellers. Hundreds and thousands of petroglyphs, painted rock art, and ancient Arabian inscriptions sites are located all over the country, representing various cultural phases. The rock art of Saudi Arabia represents an era from early Neolithic (c.14,000 BP) to early Islamic period (c.1,500 years BP). A scientific project begun in 2001 under the direction of the Deputy Ministry of Antiquities and Museums and is continuing under the auspices of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage. It has led to the discovery of large rock art site complexes numbering tens of thousands of motifs, and to the successful nomination of major rock art properties to the UNESCO World Heritage List. More specifically, the work of this project has also resulted in a preliminary chronological sequence of Arabian Peninsula rock art. One can see the naturalistic, schematic, abstract, mythical, and mystical images representing ancient ideology, thoughts about the metaphysical world, religious entity, economy, environment, human activities, and variety of animal types, according to particular climatic and environmental conditions. Due to excellent work by the Saudi Arabian authorities by the late 1990s, Saudi Arabia had one of the best rock art protection programs in the world so many of the locations are well protected from possible damage such as the site at Hanidh. It had become apparent that the traditional approaches, specifically the determination of meanings and unsubstantiated rock art sequences were incompatible with scientific practice. Because of the archaeological importance of facilitating the creation of a chronological framework it was suggested that the 2001 mission would focus on the specific aspect of rock art dating. The project commenced with a minimum amount of credible empirical information about its subject as most published data about Saudi rock art lacked basic evidence, such as details of site morphology, geomorphic surface conditions, types of accretionary deposits, assumed rates of exfoliation or patination, petrographic descriptions, weathering rates or indeed any forensic information relating to the rock art. Such knowledge has since been acquired for more than one hundred sites from the northwest to the far south of the Kingdom. The scientific investigations into Saudi Arabian rock art have yielded a rough chronological framework through the acquisition of forensic evidence from many of the sites. The interpretation of these rock art remains in a nascent state but it is currently being developed ethnographically, assisted by epigraphic studies of accompanying texts of several pre-Islamic alphabets. One of the Kingdoms preeminent experts on Saudi Arabian Rock Art is Dr Majeed Khan, who has authored many papers and books on the subject. I contacted Dr Khan about the rock art I saw and received the following response “The rock art in the photographs all belong to same cultural period, possibly iron age c.1500 years before present. Both horse rider and camel rider are associated with Wasm or tribal symbols”. With the establishment of large-scale communities, developments of tribes and clans, and the beginning of large-scale domestication of camels, the use of animal brands occurred, locally called Wusum. In Arabia they were used for several purposes such as marking territorial boundaries and as symbols of tribes.