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The ebook that drew the world’s consideration to Saudi Arabia’s prehistoric rock artwork

LONDON: In Might 1976, Majeed Khan, a younger graduate of the College of Sindh, Pakistan, traveled to Saudi Arabia to affix the Ministry of Tourism as an archaeological marketing consultant, advising on the event of museums and the conduct of archaeological investigations within the nation .

It was to show an impressed appointment.

Again then, with Saudi Arabia driving the wave of the primary nice oil increase and centered essentially on its quickly evolving future, archeology within the Kingdom was in its infancy.

However in Khan the nation had discovered a champion for certainly one of its best heritage treasures—historic rock artwork, hundreds of examples of that are strewn throughout the panorama and which attest to a historical past of human tradition that stretches again 10,000 years.

Khan, who lives in Riyadh, and on the age of 80 nonetheless works as a marketing consultant to the Ministry of Tradition’s Antiquities Division, has devoted his complete working life to a topic that continues to fascinate and shock him to this present day.

He obtained one other shock final month when he realized that his seminal ebook, “Prehistoric Rock Artwork of Northern Saudi Arabia,” printed by the Saudi Ministry of Schooling’s Division of Antiquities and Museums in 1993, was now thought-about a collector’s merchandise.

A primary-edition copy was provided on the market for £1,250 ($1,448) by a specialist London ebook supplier on the UAE’s Sharjah Worldwide Guide Honest, which ran from Nov. 2 to 13.

That, Khan felt, was some huge cash. However however, “it was the primary analysis ebook on rock artwork printed in any Arab nation,” he mentioned. On the time it got here out, “there was no rock artwork taught in any Saudi college and no actual rock artwork analysis in Saudi Arabia.”

Moreover, there was little or no recognition within the wider world of Saudi Arabia’s historic previous — a previous that’s now being enthusiastically embraced because the spine of main tourism tasks, comparable to AlUla and Diriyah, designed to usher in hundreds of thousands of tourists a 12 months to the Kingdom.

A primary-edition copy was provided on the market for £1,250 ($1,448) by a specialist London ebook supplier on the UAE’s Sharjah Worldwide Guide Honest, which ran from Nov. 2 to 13. (Provided)

For instance, within the supposedly complete 1998 Cambridge Illustrated Historical past of Prehistoric Artwork, printed in 1998, there was not a single point out of Saudi Arabia—an oversight that might be dramatically uncovered by Khan’s work.

To explain Khan as a pioneer in his area is to grasp the affect he has had on the understanding of the extent and significance of the traditional previous of the Kingdom.

Over the previous 4 many years he has printed dozens of analysis papers. The primary, which he co-authored, was on “The Decrease Miocene Fauna of Assarrar, Japanese Arabia,” printed in Atlal, the Journal of Saudi Arabian Archaeology, in 1981.

His first ebook, which got here out in 1993, shortly earlier than his groundbreaking work on the prehistoric rock artwork of Saudi Arabia, was “The Origin and Evolution of Historic Arabian Inscriptions,” additionally printed by the Ministry of Schooling.

Nevertheless it was to petroglyphs that he would dedicate the better a part of his energies, an educational dedication that in 2015 culminated within the rock artwork within the Hail area of Saudi Arabia being inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Web site.

Together with two colleagues from the then-named Saudi Fee for Tourism and Antiquities, Jamal Omar and vice-president Prof. Ali Al-Ghabban, it was Khan’s identify that appeared on the nomination textual content that noticed the dual websites close to Jubbah and Shuwaymis within the northern province of Hail acknowledged by UNESCO as being of “excellent common worth.”

To explain Majeed Khan as a pioneer in his area is to understate. (Provided)

As Khan advised Arab Information in January 2021, “it was for me essentially the most emotional second of my 40 years of analysis.”

Not that he’s resting on his laurels. Hail will not be the one area in Saudi Arabia the place rock artwork will be discovered, and “as of late I’m engaged on the rock-art website of Hima, Najran, to see it, too, positioned on the UNESCO World Heritage Listing.”

There are greater than 2,000 rock-art websites round Saudi Arabia. However the best focus of Neolithic petroglyphs, or rock carvings, and the oldest recognized examples, relationship again 10,000 years, is to be discovered within the north of the nation at two websites 300 kilometers aside within the Hail Province.

The traditional forebears of at present’s Saudis had no paper, pens, or written language with which to file their time on earth.

However with the rocks of their dramatic landscapes as their canvas, hundreds of years in the past the traditional peoples of the land that might change into Saudi Arabia discovered a solution to depart their mark on historical past, with an astonishing pictorial illustration of a now forgotten world, painstakingly pecked , chiseled and engraved out of the sandstone rocks of the area.

The primary of the 2 Hail websites is at Jabal Umm Sinman, a rocky outcrop to the west of the city of Jubbah, some 90 kilometers northwest of town of Hail and 680 kilometers from the capital, Riyadh.

The city’s origins date again to the daybreak of Arab civilization, when the hills of Umm Sinman ignored a freshwater lake, which might ultimately be misplaced beneath the sands of the encircling Nefud desert some 6,000 years in the past.

It was on these hills, within the phrases of the UNESCO nomination doc co-authored by Khan, that the ancestors of at present’s Saudi Arabians “left the marks of their presence, their religions, social, cultural, mental and philosophical views of their beliefs about life and dying, metaphysical and cosmological ideologies.”

The rock artwork of Jubbah, mentioned Khan, “represented all phases of human presence from the Neolithic, 10,000 years earlier than the current, till the current previous,” and mirrored a time when the local weather and panorama have been very completely different from at present.

Etched upon the rocks, usually at mysteriously inaccessible heights, are the trimmings of a misplaced world: A parade of dancers, long-forgotten gods and goddesses, mythological figures, half-human, half-beast, and animals together with sheep, ibex, camels , horses, wolves, ostriches and — reflecting a time when prey roamed considerable on the as soon as lush plains of Arabia — lions.

“The kind of animals (pictured) steered modifications in local weather and surroundings,” mentioned Khan. “Massive ox figures indicated a cool and humid local weather, whereas the absence of ox figures and the looks of camel petroglyphs represented scorching and dry circumstances.


• Sharjah Worldwide Guide Honest started in 1982 to comprehend the imaginative and prescient of Dr. Sultan Al-Qasimi, ruler of the eponymous UAE emirate.

• The pageant this 12 months ran from Nov. 2 -13.

“Each at Jubbah and Shuwaymis this variation in fauna and flora clearly represented gradual however drastic change in society and local weather within the prehistoric and pre-Islamic period.”

Importantly, he mentioned, similarities in themes and depictions in different elements of the world, together with Africa, India, Australia, Europe and America, confirmed that “Saudi Arabia was a part of world heritage and cultural traditions.”

Like different peoples all over the world, “historic Arab artists have been drawing the animals with which they have been dwelling and depicting their social actions, like dancing and spiritual rituals.”

The second of the dual Hail websites is at Jabal Al-Manjor and Raat, 220 kilometers southwest of Jubbah close to the village of Shuwaymis. Remarkably, its treasures have been found solely 20 years in the past, a exceptional story during which, naturally, Khan performed a number one function.

In 2002, Aramco World, the journal of the Saudi nationwide oil firm, reported that in March the earlier 12 months a bedouin grazing his camels had discovered unusual marks on a distant cluster of rocks. He occurred to say his discover of him to a instructor from the native city of Shuwaymis. He alerted the authorities they usually known as in Khan.

“Sure, the story is appropriate,” Khan mentioned. “I met each the bedouin and Mr. Saad Rawsan, the director of archeology within the Hail area, who took us to the websites for additional investigations and analysis.”

Collectively, he found, the dual websites advised the story of over 9,000 years of human historical past, from the earliest pictorial data of searching to the event of writing, faith and the domestication of animals together with cattle, horses and camels.

Because the UNESCO paperwork file, these websites justify their inscription on the World Heritage Listing as a result of they characteristic “massive numbers of petroglyphs of outstanding high quality attributed to between 6,000 and 9,000 years of human historical past, adopted within the final 3,000 years by very early improvement of writing. that displays the Bedouin tradition, ending in Qur’anic verses.”

Moreover, the Jubbah and Shuwaymis websites comprise “the world’s largest and most opulent surviving corpus of Neolithic petroglyphs.”

Neolithic rock artwork is discovered at many areas throughout Eurasia and North Africa, “however nowhere in such dense focus or with such constantly excessive visible high quality” as on this distant a part of northwestern Saudi Arabia.

Peter Harrington, the London specialist ebook supplier that introduced Khan’s ebook to Sharjah for the ebook honest, described it as “a pioneering monograph … the primary and sole version of this seminal work, which addresses a hitherto uncared for topic, challenges the obtained knowledge that influences in rock artwork within the area originated from Mesopotamia, the Levant, and the Nile Valley, helped to place the Kingdom’s historic previous on the map of recent information, and paved the best way to the itemizing in 2015 of the rock artwork of the Hail area as a UNESCO World Heritage website.”

“I’m extraordinarily shocked to see the price of my ebook,” Khan mentioned after Arab Information broke the information to him of the value being requested for the out-of-print quantity on the Sharjah Worldwide Guide Honest, though he had some information of his personal.

“The ministry is printing it once more.”

That, nonetheless, is unlikely to show a deterrent for collectors at all times eager to snap up uncommon first editions of books coping with the area’s historical past — and there are few histories as fascinating as that of the rock artwork of Saudi Arabia, and few books as important within the rising appreciation of the Kingdom’s previous as Khan’s 30-year-old quantity.


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