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2,000-year-old sculpture found in Saudi desert

Mystery will not be solved for long time, scientists say

Image Credit:
Caption: A camel sculpture - CIC
Gulf News

Riyadh: An ancient sculpted bedrock, depicting camelids (even-toed ungulate mammals) and equids (a mammal of the horse family), has been found in the northern Saudi province of Al Jawf.

Although the camel has been a common motif in the artworks of the region for millennia, the latest discovery is “unprecedented” in its scale, the Saudi Centre for International Communications said on Saturday.

The 2,000-year-old site was discovered by a Franco-Saudi research team in an isolated area, in a private property.

The study was conducted by researchers from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France and their counterparts at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), who explored the site in 2016 and 2017.

Guillaume Charloux, of the CNRS Orient & Méditerranée joint research unit, who surveyed the site during this period, said that “these findings, in a sector that remains virtually unexplored, are truly unique.”

The three rocky outcrops making up what is now known as “Camel Site”, located 8km north of Sakaka, exhibit low- and high-relief realistic representations of at least 11 dromedaries (an Arabian camel) and two donkeys or mules.

Dr Hussain Abu Al Hassan, Vice President for Antiquities and Museums at SCTH, said the site was another evidence the region attracted highly skilled sculptors.

The researchers also found that most of the rock carvings found in Al Jawf region were concentrated around ancient lakes and trade routes.

“Obviously the work of skilled carvers who respected proportions, the 12 naturalistic panels and reliefs depict animals without loads, in active postures and in a natural setting. Diverging from the two-dimensional and schematic official Arab tradition, they could be influenced by the craftsmanship of the then neighbouring Nabataean and Parthian populations,” CNRS said in a statement.

While the site is shrouded in mystery that will not be solved for a long time to come, one thing is certain: The carvers were talented artists — possibly locals as suggested by the originality of the themes chosen and techniques employed — who showed surprising mastery and sense of aesthetics.

“It took several people to complete these representations and several days for each one,” Charloux, a research engineer at CNRS in France, pointed out.

He said the unconventional nature of the site in “chronological, geographical, technical, thematic and stylistic” terms makes it quite exceptional, hence the researchers’ concern to protect it — an endeavour that has been swiftly undertaken by SCTH — and commitment to draw the international scientific community’s attention to it.

“We now hope that rock art specialists will take an interest in it,” Charloux said.

That will ultimately bring the Camel Site out of millennia of solitude.