Thursday, 23 February 2012

Graffiti Rock - Saudi Arabian Rock Art

Graffiti Rock is about and hour and a half from Riyadh, just off the road to Jeddah.   According to the information I found, it has samples of Saudi Arabian rock carvings from olden days.  Finding ancient rock art sounded like something to interesting to do so Mr Finland, who likes to join us on our escapades, hired a car and off we set in search of Saudi history.

It felt as though we were embarking on our own Indiana Jones adventure.  Visions of Egyptian style tablets six feet tall carved into rock with messages from the old world kept playing in my mind.  Our map to Graffiti Rock, directions printed onto a crinkled piece of paper, only added to the sense of mystery;

To reach graffiti rock take Makkah Road out of the city.  At the check point set your odometer to zero. At 90km (approx) you'll pass through the town of Jelah.  At 105 km there is an exit to Musayqirah. Take this exit and turn right to find the road ends in about 500 meters.  Follow the trodden track on your left for about 4 kms to the Graffiti rock.
Co-ordinates: N24 18' 58.23", E45° 38' 25.84"

The directions served us well - till we got  to the 'follow the trodden track' bit.  You see, on this particular occasion we didn't take a 4WD into the Saudi desert.  We took this car...

And the track, though firm initially, soon gave way to sand which had quite obviously not been trodden for quite some time.  We could see what we presumed to be Graffiti Rock in the distance.

After much discussion, contemplating driving our car through soft sand, looking at the sand in question,  even driving the car down to the sandy edge to assess the possibility of success, looking again at The Rock, testing our phones to see if there was a signal so we could call someone in case we got stuck, (there wasn't), the boys decided  to throw stones and, well, give up. 

Those two will never make it on an Indiana Jones movie!

One of us, fortunately, was not so easily beaten.  I'd come to find pre-historic Arabian drawings and wasn't ready to go home.  My camera zoomed in on what I was certain was Graffiti Rock.  It zoomed in on the surrounds.  Even though the zoom function on my point and shoot camera isn't that stunning, I could make out shapes.  Shapes that looked liked buildings close to our target.  I reasoned, if these shapes are buildings, there must be a road.

The boys were ready to head for coffee, but agreed to indulge me one last time in my efforts to find something to do in Riyadh (or just out of it) so we got back on the highway and continued along for no more than 3 km.  And there, sure enough, was a partially asphalted, partially graded track heading straight for Graffiti Rock.

I was excited and lept from the car to take pictures.

So, what are we looking for? said the boys
Hieroglyphics, I said.
Right, they said. 

They roamed around the rock looking for drawings, gas bagging all the way - honestly Indi would've got rid of these two early in his treasure hunt I'm sure!

Hieroglyphs, I have since discovered, is a system of writing using figures akin to pictures.  That's what I thought we'd find.   Petroglyphs, otherwise know as rock art,  are pictorial carvings etched into rock.
That's what we found.

It looks like, many years ago, there could have been a lot of art work here, but the knoll has cracked and chunks of rock have  fallen to the ground burying many of the signs of mankind's presence.  The largest block of art was round the other side from where we parked the car.  Climbing was required to get close for pictures. 

There were animal shapes in abundance, some still clear on the rock, others faded from exposure to the elements.  The rock surface was black - have no idea why - and the scratched out images are contrasted against the lighter background.   We tried to identify the types of animals depicted.
That looks like a boar, perhaps?

Ostrich family

Did these images show a true reflection of life in the past on the Arabian Peninsula?  Were there really so many critters roaming this land and, if so, how did they sustain themselves and where were they now?  So many questions to be pondered as we climbed around Graffiti Rock.

See the people with what looks to be a bow and arrow?

Hubster wondered, out loud, what the story was behind the drawings.  The temptation was too strong, so while pointing and gesturing at the rock I told him:
    There were some young fullas who were left behind to care for all the animals while the rest of the village went to visit whanau over the valley.   While out fooling around, herds of animals came racing through the area, knocking one of the boys over and scaring the living daylights out of the other.  What could have caused the animals to be so frightened?  A never before seen enemy was out destroying everything and had scared the animals causing a stampede.
Really, says Glenn.  Who told you that?
The smile wouldn't stop twitching at my lips....Ummm, I made it up.

After teasing him for believing I knew anything about the pictures, it was time to climb to the top of the rock and see what else we could find.  The view was empty for miles.

Sitting atop the isolated bit of rock we did wonder what the place used to look like full of animals and vegetation. What happened to change the environment so drastically. And why this little piece of rock survived. 

It was time to go.  The boys had had enough.  They were somewhat underwhelmed by what was here.  Some people are hard to please.  They would have come to a deserved end in an Indi move I'm sure. 

Their experience today might have been different if we knew the history of these carvings - their age, who drew them, why, if there was a story attached what was it.  Lots of questions to which I now have to go in search of answers.

Personally, I think it's intriguing knowing that human kind has been around in Saudi Arabia for quite some time and that, even way back then, a medium was sought, through rock art  to record events on Graffiti Rock.

Ka Kite,

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