14 March 2021

Qaryat al-Asba (Grafitti Rock 1) – Riyadh

Qaryat al-Asba (Grafitti Rock 1) is a sandstone rock standing just 200 meters from the main escarpment called Khasm Musayqirah. The site is located about 140 Km drive west from Riyadh City Center along the Makkah Road. The Musayqirah petroglyphs are on an inselberg (isolated hill) which makes it easy to locate in the large flat plains surrounding it. The southwestern part of this huge rock has a good collection of petroglyphs as well as its northeastern side where a smaller number can be found. This escarpment spreads along a north-south axis, near Riyadh and creates a natural dam that blocks the flow of water coming from the west and probably contributed to the formation of a lake when the climate of the Arabian Peninsula was more humid. The plain below the rock was a vast grassland during the Neolithic period that began when humankind first developed agriculture and settled in permanent enclaves. The rock of Musayqirah is one of few places where carvings of wild cattle, or aurochs can be found. Species such as the wild cattle that used to graze on the plain surrounding the ancient lake probably disappeared some 6 000 years ago, other animals like ostriches or gazelles were still found in the Arabian Peninsula at the beginning of the 20th century CE. Lions and ibexes were also present in Saudi Arabia until the Islamic era. It is interesting to notice that even among the earliest carvings found at Musayqirah humans are represented often interacting with animals, especially cattle. Writing is also found in Musayqirah with some Thamudic inscriptions on the southern wall, testifying to human presence at the time of the caravan trade through the Arabian Peninsula that reached its highest intensity during the second part of the 1st millennium BCE. Battle scenes that are also represented on the site are probably among the most recent ones as they involve domestication of horse and include metallic weapons. A large panel on the western side of Musayqirah is particularly famous because of the great amount of carvings and variety of representations it carries. There are found ostriches, ibexes, dogs, lions, camels, but also hunters, warriors, a human skeleton, horsemen, and even Thamudic inscriptions, to mention but a few. It is assumed that prehistoric people initially depicted animals that were part of their environment, life and economy. One of the very impressive images among the collection is a family of ostrich. Hyena-like animals, animals with long horns including ibexes, human figures and more could be found on the flat surface of these reddish black rocks. On the eastern side of the rock, near the top, is what appears to be a Neolithic scene. It depicts the extinct aurochs (wild cattle), as well as humans and “handprints” expanding the geographic range of Neolithic petroglyphs into Central Saudi Arabia, much farther east than previously known.