11 April 2021

Bir Hima Archeological Site (Himā Cultural Precinct)

Petroglyphs are images and symbols engraved into the surface layers of rock faces and boulders. They are found worldwide and provide unique and valuable information on humans and their environment, reaching from the pre-Neolithic period up to today. In Arabia, as in many other regions, petroglyphs were usually engraved into dark rock varnish coatings on sandstone surfaces, which – at least initially – provides a strong contrast to the exposed lighter rock and creates images with strong artistic impact. Several hundred Palaeolithic and Neolithic sites are situated in Saudi Arabia. These include Bir Hima north of Najran, which is an Early Lower Palaeolithic or Oldowan site with added discoveries of chopper or pebble tools used for carving. One of the largest rock art complexes in the world, the Himā Cultural Precinct is located at the western boundary of the Rub’ al Khālī (the Empty Quarter), about 80 km north of the southern city of Najran. Although many outlying rock art sites stretch over a distance of about 130 km, the main concentration, the actual cultural precinct, extends over 55 km north to south, with the small settlement of Himā at its southern end. It includes the eastern mountains of the Jabal Qara massif and Jabal al-Kawbab, extending north as far as the road east from Yadamah. The exploration of the Himā Cultural Precinct is not complete but several hundred sites have been located and registered. The property is the subject of a current nomination for World Heritage listing. Its cultural manifestations include, besides the extensive rock art corpus, thousands of rock inscriptions, found in various scripts, such as the al-musmad alphabet of 29 letters, Aramaic-Nabatean, South Arabian scripts including Thamudic and even in Greek, as well as Islamic. There are also countless stone structures, especially tombs and cairns.