04 July 2021

Jabal Umm Sinman Rock Petroglyhs – Jubbbah

In the southern part of Great Nafud Desert lies Jubbah, which was the centre of an advanced culture during the very beginnings of Arab civilization. Overlooking the freshwater lake that then existed was the hill range of Umm Sinman, providing shelter and water to both people and animals. Here the ancestors of present Arabs left the marks of their presence, their religions, social, cultural, intellectual and philosophical perspectives of their beliefs about life and death on the hills. The former freshwater lake of Jubbah was one of several such water bodies owing their existence to a series of sandstone inselbergs, occurring mostly in a north-south alignment. Lakes have in the geological past formed on the lee sides, the east, of some of these rock stacks dominating the landscape. The largest of these mountains is Jabal Umm Sinman, rising to a height of 1264 metres above sea level., or almost 450 metres above the surrounding desert. The palaeolake on its lee side was up to 20 km long and 5 km wide at its peak. During the region’s desertification, beginning in mid-Holocene times, the oasis of Jubbah provided the only substantial source of water within the desert, facilitating its continuing human occupation up to the present time and the gradual adaptation of the population to the significant environmental changes. These changes are distinctly expressed in the numerous petroglyph panels and rock inscriptions, the greatest concentrations of which occur in the lower rock exposures of the eastern flanks of Jabal Umm Sinman, a UNESCO world heritage site. Jabal Umm Sinman at Jubbah, situated in the Great Nafud Desert, has many exceptionally abundant and well-preserved petroglyphs on rocky outcrops in what is now a sandy desert, that display distinctively different rock art traditions over the last 10,000 years and reflect major economic and cultural changes, and the adjustments to climate change in a region. The oldest rock art tradition evident are early Neolithic petroglyphs including animals such as the ibex, which was revered by early Neolithic people who depicted the horns in exaggerated form. As cattle and horses were domesticated, they were brought to the region and images of them were added to the art. With increased desiccation and the drying up of lakes 3000 years ago, camels became essential to the economy of the ancestors of the Bedouin and are illustrated in abundance alongside Thamudic and Arabic script. Depictions of weapons of war suggest that this was a contested landscape. The petroglyphs were created by using a range of techniques with simple stone hammers, against a background of gradual environmental deterioration. This site is amongst the biggest and richest rock art complexes in the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East generally and can be compared with the world-famous rock art sites of Australia, France, India, Namibia, South Africa and the Saharan Desert. The largest and most prominent rock art panel at Jubbah contains three phases of rock art and inscriptions, representing Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Iron Age, recognized by differences in patina, type of animals and stylisation. The large size human figures with naturalistic body features and ambiguous faces are Neolithic, 10,000 years BP, as are the anthropomorphic representation of a human with long body and thin arms and ambiguous face, holding what appears to be a boomerang, while Thamudic inscriptions are 3000 years BP. At a different location but still on Jabal Umm Sinman can be found an amazing petroglyph of a horse pulling a cart showing domestication of horses occurred at least in the Bronze Age 3500 years BP as this is the date of the petroglyph. Close by is a Neolithic petroglyph of the deity of rain, lightning and thunderstorms showing rain falling on a couple of people and dated 10,000 year BP. The area is fenced for protection and you can only get access through the visitor centre at Jubbah, which is open daily from 08:00 – 15:00 hrs except Friday and Sunday when it is closed.