THE ROCK ART OF SAUDI ARABIA

Representations of Footprints and Handprints

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Rock Art Saudi Arabia Middle East
Human Footprint
One of the earliest signs of human presence in Arabia is a nearly life-size representation of a human footprint (right) carved deep into the horizontal surface of a sandstone boulder at Shuwaymis in northern Saudi Arabia. The oldest such print ever found on the Arabian Peninsula, it dates from c. 10,000 to 8,000 BP. Representations of handprints with open palms and extended fingers have been found on one of the vertical surfaces of a hill in the northwestern Tabuk region (below). The date remains unknown. The hyena and dog were added later.
 
A few petroglyphs are accompanied by inscriptions - 'fight_scene' two women apparently in the midst of a fight, plus a third woman watching them with arms raised, as though she were a kind of referee reminding them to obey the rules of combat. Each of the two inscriptions gives the name of a person: it is possible to decipher B-j a dh, or Bajadh, on top and B- Pbh, or Balabh, below. These could be the names of the two opponents. The inhabitants of Arabia continued to create rock art after the invention of writing. Bedouin writing, the earliest tribal writing system, also known as 'Thamudic' script, was rudimentary. Only the names of persons or tribes have been found carved on the rocks; no extended inscription has yet been discovered.
Rock Art Saudi Arabia Middle East
Open palm handprint representations
Rock Art Saudi Arabia Middle East
Open palm handprint representations
Rock Art Saudi Arabia Middle East
Handprint representations
Rock Art Saudi Arabia Middle East
Handprint representations
The gradual change of style, content, context and conceptualization between prehistoric art and tribal or Bedouin art can be traced through the use of animal figures, tribal symbols and the later developments of Bedouin writing in the early Iron Age. The depiction of Bedouin folk dances and branded camels, as well as the presence of names of tribes or individuals carved next to certain images, show that rock art played an important role in the description of the social, cultural and religious entities of Arabia from the Prehistoric period up to the beginning of the Islamic era.
 
The beginning of the large-scale domestication of the camel, which went hand-in-hand with the sedentarization of large communities and the development of tribes and clans, is evidenced in the rock depictions by the inclusion of brands, locally called wusum. Each tribe used a specific mark to define its territories, sign documents and differentiate its tombs, tents and encampments. The branding of animals is a universal phenomenon. Still practised in modern times on horses and livestock, in Arabia it is an ancient tradition deeply rooted in the local customs. The Bedouins still roaming the desert today use geometrical or non-figurative motifs to denote their respective tribes. They have not left their territories for millennia, and their social and cultural values remain unchanged. The wusum system is a sort of code developed for limited use relying on a complex combination of non-phonetic signs. These wusum are symbols related to language or writing but instantly conveying their meaning, like traffic signs that require no linguistic knowledge and are understandable by all.
 
 
Middle East Rock Art Archive
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