A place where millennia are carved in the rock

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Jubbah, located 90 km north of the city of Ha’il is the most famous rock art site in Saudi Arabia. The carvings that can be found on the Jibal Umm Sinman cover a wide range of representations as well as a large period of time with some carving possibly being 10 000 years old. Indeed, human representations are found along with cattle, ibexes, oryxes, deers, gazelles, horses, but also lions and ostriches. Camels are probably the latest to populate both this area and the walls of the surrounding rocks.

But the rock art is not the only track let by human presence in Jubbah. In fact some prehistorical tools found in the area show that it was already inhabited by human beings for dozens of thousands of years during earlier periods of wetter climate.

The oldest carvings that can be found on the sandstone formations of Jibal Umm Sinman are a testimony of a time when permanent lakes were watered by regular rainfalls, even on the edge of the Nafoud Al-Kebir. Actually today's city of Jubbah is built on top of the sediments let by this paleolake over the millenia. It is assumed that such humid climate lasted till the 5th millennium BC but some areas were still beneficating from enough rain to host lakes for several centuries or even millennia after this climate shift. The large span of styles and patinas that present Jubbah's carving trend to demonstrate that this site was one of these last havens for wildlife and humans.

Water buffalo and human figure carved in Jubbah (photo: F. Egal)

Water buffalo and human figure carved in Jubbah (photo: F. Egal)

King handing out justice (photo: F. Egal)

King handing out justice (photo: F. Egal)

Jubbah is host of the two most emblematic carvings in Saudi Arabia. The first one is a character dominating another smaller one. Locals say that it is the representation of an ancient king handing out justice.

The second one is a chariot pulled by two horses which was for decades the only known example but similar ones were later found in Hail and Tabuk Provinces.

Chariot with two horses (photo: F. Egal)

Chariot with two horses (photo: F. Egal)

Even when the desertification of the Arabian Peninsula became as we know it today, i.e. probably 3000 years ago, human activity didn't stop in Jubbah as at the same time the frankincense trade by caravans originating from Southern Arabia gained in intensity. As Jubbah is located on an ancient caravan trade road linking Dumat Al-Jandal on the north of the Nafud Al-Kebir and Ha'il which is on its southern border.

As surprising as it sounds the people trading frankincense, spices, and other precious goods coming from southern Arabian Peninsula did cross regularly the 350 km of sand dunes between these two main trade cities. The numerous so-called Thamudic inscriptions (more than 5000) testify of this intense frequentation by travellers.  

Thamudic inscriptions probably dating from the caravan trade time (photo: Florent Egal)

Thamudic inscriptions probably dating from the caravan trade time (photo: Florent Egal)



A place where millennia are carved in the rock (author: Florent Egal)

About the Author

My name is Florent Egal, I am a French national living in Riyadh since January 2010. After six years of exploration of Saudi Arabia I have decided to show with this website that KSA has much more to offer than the stereotype landscape of empty extends of sand dunes. I hope that after reading through these pages people will feel the same willingness and amazement than I have to discover this fascinating country