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Life-sized sculptures of dromedaries found in Saudi Arabia


At a remarkable site in northwest Saudi Arabia, a CNRS archaeologist and colleagues from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) have discovered camelid sculptures unlike any others in the region. They are thought to date back to the first centuries BC or AD. The find sheds new light on the evolution of rock art in the Arabian Peninsula and is the subject of an article published in Antiquity.

Life-sized sculptures of dromedaries found in Saudi Arabia
High relief of standing dromedary on sandstone spur at center of image [Credit: © CNRS/MADAJ, R. Schwerdtner]
Located in the province of Al Jawf in northwest Saudi Arabia, Camel Site, as it is known, was explored in 2016 and 2017 by a Franco-Saudi research team. The sculptures, some incomplete, were executed on three rocky spurs there.

Life-sized sculptures of dromedaries found in Saudi Arabia
Sculpture (probably not completed) of two dromedaries in single file on Spur C at Camel Site
[Credit: © CNRS/MADAJ, R. Schwerdtner]
Though natural erosion has partly destroyed some of the works, as well as any traces of tools, the researchers were able to identify a dozen or so reliefs of varying depths representing camelids and equids.

Life-sized sculptures of dromedaries found in Saudi Arabia
Bas-relief of dromedary head [Credit: © Antiquity - CNRS/MADAJ, photo C. Poliakoff, drawing G. Charloux]
The life-sized sculpted animals are depicted without harnessing in a natural setting. One scene in particular is unprecedented: it features a dromedary meeting a donkey, an animal rarely represented in rock art.

Life-sized sculptures of dromedaries found in Saudi Arabia
Rock relief depicting recumbent dromedary raising head towards an equid, possibly a donkey or mule
[Credit: © Antiquity - CNRS/MADAJ, G. Charloux]
Some of the works are thus thematically very distinct from the representations often found in this region. Technically, they also differ from those discovered at other Saudi sites -- frequently simple engravings of dromedaries without relief -- or the sculpted facades of Al Ḩijr (Madâ'in Şâliḩ).

Life-sized sculptures of dromedaries found in Saudi Arabia
Spur with rock reliefs of dromedaries (left and center) [Credit: © CNRS/MADAJ, G. Charloux]
In addition, certain Camel Site sculptures on upper rock faces demonstrate indisputable technical skills. Camel Site can now be considered a major showcase of Saudi rock art in a region especially propitious for archaeological discovery.

Life-sized sculptures of dromedaries found in Saudi Arabia
Relief of two dromedaries: calf following adult (legs alone visible) [Credit: © CNRS/MADAJ, G. Charloux]
Though the site is hard to date, comparison with a relief at Petra (Jordan) leads the researchers to believe the sculptures were completed in the first centuries BC or AD. Its desert setting and proximity to caravan routes suggest Camel Site -- ill suited for permanent settlement -- was a stopover where travelers could rest or a site of worship.

Source: CNRS [February 13, 2018]

TANN

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