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Jabal Umm Sanman, Jubbah, Hail region: (820 m above sea level, 15,900 square meter area)
The Great Nafud desert in northern Saudi Arabia covers an area of about 68,000 square kilometre stretching between 300 to 400 km east-west and 125 to 250 km north-south (Powers et al 1966). The town of Jubbah facing Jabal Umm Sanman (the nominated site) is located inside the southern border of the sand sea at about 90 km northwest of the city of Hail in northern Saudi Arabia in between 28 05 27.55 N longitude and 41 15 40.45 E latitudes, at a height of 820 m above sea level. The site consists of several hills and mountains and a dry lake-bed which was active until 8,000 years before present (McClurie 1978; Garrard 1980).The sand of the Nafud has covered most of the rocks and hill bases and if there were any remains of ancient settlements near the lake, now are buried under the prevailing sand dunes. It is thought that the Jubbah lake about 20 km long and 5 km wide at its peak existed until 8000 years before present vanished in mid- Holocene times (McClurie; Gerrard and Harvey 1977). The aquifer level is now between 50 m to 75m below the plain.
After the last glaciations around 15,000 years before present, a civilization, if it could be called as the earliest developing culture or civilization left its marks in the middle of great Arabian Desert “Nafud” in the north of present Saudi Arabia. The range of Umm-Sanman mountains surrounded by sand dunes, once facing the shores of an active lake in its south and southeast, contains hundreds of beautifully and skilfully carved human and animal figures that surpassed both in technique and skill the rock art located anywhere in the Arabian Peninsula or its neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Palestine, Egypt or Iraq. The presence of Islamic and pre-Islamic inscriptions proves the reliability of patina as a relative guide to age. The art offers limited range of well-defined styles and a wealth of iconographic details.
The Survey and Exploration of Jabal Umm Sanman /Jubbah rock art:
The site was visited by several European travellers and historians such as Doughty (1888), Huber (1899), Euting (1894 and 1914), Philby (1952) and Musil (1914). They wrote brief accounts of the site but did not pay any proper attention towards recording rock art and inscriptions from the area.
Scientific archaeological investigations started when the Department of Antiquities and Museums initiated a Comprehensive Archaeological Survey of the entire Kingdom in 1976. As a result, the site was mentioned by Peter Parr and McAdams in their first report in 1976 published in Atlal vol.1 (1977). Christopher Clark a British student presented a first-hand account on the rock art of Jubbah in the Arabian Seminar in London (1979).
The rock art of Jubbah was first thoroughly investigated and recorded by the Rock Art Survey team of the Department of Antiquities and Museums in 1986 and published the report on Jubbah in Atlal vol. 11, 1987.
A brief reference of Jubbah with its dating and interpretations was given by Majeed Khan (1989) in his Ph.D thesis published by the Ministry of Education. Besides these brief reports, nothing in particular has been written on this magnificent rock art site of Saudi Arabia.
Dr.Khan and Dr. Rober Bednarik revisited the site and wrote a scientific report in “Rock Art research” in 2005.
Another comprehensive rock art, epigraphy and archaeological survey of Jubbah (Jabl Umm Sanman) and its environs was conducted by a team of Deputy Ministry of Antiquities and Museums in 2005.
Archaeology of Jubbah based on archaeological surveys and investigations:
Evidence has been found of four major phases of settlement at Jubbah. However, the only evidence for permanent occupation is from the latest phase. Two typical Middle Palaeolithic (80,000 – 40,000 years BP) sites containing Levallois-Mousterian stone artifacts were located during the Comprehensive Archaeological Survey. One of such sites was found on the summit of Jabal Umm Sanman, where large number of worked and discarded stone objects scattered on the site suggests that it might have been a quarry or factory site exploiting the summit outcrop of hard ferruginous sandstone; while the second site was found on a sandstone platform at the base of the north-eastern corner of the mountain (site no. 201-25a), and contained both local ferruginous sandstone and local quartzite artifacts. Middle Palaeolithic or Mousterian implements, were also found on the weathered surface of deposits (201-25b) just to the east of the previous site; C14 date of 25,630 + - 430 BP was obtained from a similar elevation, 100 m to the west. It is evident from the analysis of a well deposit that Lacustrine conditions prevailed during the Middle Palaeolithic in Jubbah area.
Although, evidence of human occupation in the Middle Palaeolithic period is found at Jubbah no rock art could be attributed to this period. Either the petroglyphs of this period could not survive or it was not practiced by the Jubbah people at that time.
Despite seemingly favourable environmental conditions during the upper Palaeolithic Period no evidence was found of settlement in Jubbah during this time. However, Neolithic sites are abundantly located in the area. Twelve sites of possible Neolithic date have been found, eight of them near the base of the windward side of sand dunes along the northern and southern borders of the basin. These were associated with evidence of a Palaeo-soil and possible marshy conditions. The contents of these sites was described by Parr, Zarins et al (1978) and included finely retouched, tinged arrowheads, blades, awls, tabular scrapers, large choppers and little pottery. The tools were prepared on a variety of stone including chart, rhyolite, ferruginous sands tone and quartz.
There are a number of early Neolithic sites reported from northern Saudi Arabia. From Jubbah, situated in almost middle of the great Nafud desert, twelve Neolithic/Chalcolithic sites have been documented (Parr, Zarins etal 1977; Ingraham etal 1981) in Jabal Umm Sanman area. Some of these sites are located near rock shelters and close to some rock art panels on the nearby rocks. The stone artefacts are usually arrow-heads, bifacial points, blades, side and bi-face scrapers and disc cores which are supposed to be typical of pre-pottery Neolithic in Arabia (Parr, Zarins etal 1977, Ingraham et al 1980).
The human and animal figures recorded from 490 localities at Jabal Umm Sanman in addition to ancient Arabian and Kufic inscriptions are:
Human figures Cattle Camel Horse Others Total
626 80 1378 45 1944 4073
Thamudic and other inscriptions 3500
Chronology of rock art at Jabal Umm Sanman:
All these cultural periods are manifested in the form of stone tools, rock art, ancient Arabian and Kufic inscriptions that are located all around Jabal umm Sanman. Thus, this unique site was occupied and used by man at various times from Middle Palaeolithic to the early Islamic period making it an outstanding site of international importance.
Cairns and tombs
This is a general tendency in Saudi Arabia to find cairns and tombs on top of the hills or on their inclined surfaces. The hill ranges of Jubbah Jabal Unayza, Jabal Shouwaith and Jabal Samnan contain stone structures which are usually cairns and circular tombs. Many of these burials are not very well preserved but still are in good shape to give their real identity.
The cairns or tombs are usually located on the top of the hills or on their lower levels. Besides Jabal Umm Sanman, Jubbah. On Jabal Unayza and Jabal Showiath the tombs are located on three levels, that is top of the hills, on the first and then on the second level. These tumuli are mostly circular in shape with rectangular or circular pits. In some cases tail like structures are associated with these structures. We may assume that the tombs located on top of the hill were for the head of the tribes, those on the second level might have been for the religious leaders and on the third level other important people. It is certain, due to the limited or very few tombs located on these hills, that common people were not buried on hill tops otherwise hundreds of tombs should have been found on these hills.
Jabal Manjour and Jabal Rata’a, Shuwaymis, Hail: (19,480 square meter)
The Jabl Manjour /Rata’a complex near the village of Shuwaymas was discovered in the near past. The remote and relatively inaccessible area far of the west of the village of Shuwaymas features several Pleistocene lakebeds and a series of widely spaced eroding cliffs.
The area is now unsuitable for habitation, but even at mid-Holocene times it was still densely settled, as shown by the abundance of archaeological evidence, such as numerous megalithic burial sites, stone objects and rock art. It is the most spectacular of the sites listed from northern Saudi Arabia. It consisted of a slope of jumbled, sub-angular boulders, mostly 5-10 meters in size, on which many thousands of motifs occur,. Some compositions bring to mind monumental masonry work, in that the very detailed and meticulou8sly pounded figures of one or two meters are rendered 15-20 mm deep, relief like figures. The profusely decorated panels on many of these huge boulders are no longer right way up, and as they changed their orientation every time the boulders moved down the slope, new oriented differently now, some of them occurring entirely upside-sown, and many are truncated by subsequent fractures. The site therefore offers good potential in depth seriation studies.
The Geomorphology of the site explains its present state. The boulders are of a relatively weathering resistant facie in the horizontal strata, supported by an argillaceous, more readily decomposing sandstone stratum. As the later deteriorates it can no lo9nger support rock mass above it, large portions of the decorated upper layer broke off through gravity and rolled or slid a few meters, only to be engraved again in their new positions as they gradually made their way down the scree slope.
The site has thus been in use over a prolonged period of time, certainly for some millennia at least. On one steeply sloping panel, about fifteen large cupules of 8-14 cm diameter occur. They appear to be the oldest surviving component of the site, and are very likely Late Pleistocene age. The surface of the panel has largely fallen victim to exfoliation since the cupules were made, and the original surface has best survived within the cupules. The same panel bears a series of archaic geometric motifs, such as circles, chronologically followed by “hoof –prints” and superimposed large motifs. |Most of this panel is accessible to work on because of a massive boulder now placed above it. Because of the extraordinary density of petroglyphs at this major site, petroglyph-making stone tools (hammer stone) can be found readily. They were made mainly from a dark siliceous contacts-metamorphic quartzite occurring locally. These tools were in every formal respect similar to such stone implements found and studies in many other countries around the world (Bednark 1998). Other stone implements occur also and seem to be of archaic type.
Shuwaymas/Rasta’a complex appears to be entirely free of recent petroglyphs (of, say less than 3000 years ago) and inscriptions, and here are no images thought to depict camels or date palms. Similarly, recent graffiti are notably lacking. This confirms the strong impression that the site and perhaps the site complex as a whole, comprises only relatively early rock art traditions. There are vague stylistic and technological elements bringing to mind not only the early petroglyph tradition at Jubbah (although there are also significant differences), but in the broadest sense also northern African petroglyphs, such as the probably mid-Holocene genres of the Sahara.
Overlooking the valley which was once active river most likely in the Neolithic times, provided shelter and water to both men and animals. Here on these hills, the ancestors of present Arabs left the marks of their presence, their religions, social, cultural, intellectual and philosophical perspective of their belief in life and death, metaphysical and cosmological ideologies.
Trees, plants and grasses around the peripheries of the river were attractive to the animals; while the animals and wild fruits were essential part of the Neolithic hunters and food gatherers. However, later when dry conditions prevailed, Jabal Manjour /Rata’a overlooking the river provided substantial source of water within a large desert. It must have been attractive in all periods of history for hunting and habitation, supporting a rich variety of fauna, and providing water, vegetation, shelter and a platform for security and sighting game.
Similar deposits were also noticed near the windward side of the dunes. In this case, the black sandy-silt gave way at higher elevations in the dunes to what appeared to be slightly calcareous or cemented sand full of root and stem encrustations. Neolithic/Chalcolithic sites were frequently found on the surface of the latter, and it seems possible that the divide between black sandy-silt and calcareous sand marks the borders of a marshy area.
The intensive and comprehensive survey of Jabal al-Manjour and Rata’a complex area resulted in the location of hundreds of rock art panels, several stone structures and typical stone objects of the Neolithic era. Rock art mostly represent one cultural period covering a long time period of Neolithic era, thus making the site of universal value representing cultural about which we know very little.
One of the biggest and richest rock art compels not only in Saudi Arabia but in the Arabian Peninsula also. It stands among the most fascinating and largest rock art sites of the world, and could be compared with the world famous rock art sites of Australia, France, South Africa, and the Saharan Desert in Morocco.
A unique site in the sense that it faces a valley that was once active with running water. The mountains and the other hills and outcrops contain large number of human and animal figures.
The mountain is the product of millions of years of geological processes and thousands of years of interactions between humans and nature in a hostile volcanic and desert environment located in the middle of several volcanic and igneous mountains and hills.
The environs is an iconic superlative example of a highly varied desert and volcanic landscape and varying climatic influences that have fluctuated considerably over the long period that it has taken the landscape to evolve. Geology has been the ever-present artist, a sculptor playing with abundant possibilities of form, colour and texture.
Large number of petroglyphs and inscriptions attributed to 12,000 to 10,000 years of human history reflects a Bedouin culture. This unique site represents mostly only one cultural period of human history satisfied all key requirements for an effective long term management and protection process that balances the visions and needs of a wide spectrum of stakeholders.
The petroglyphs of human and animal representations and their compositions are unique, highly illustrative, impressive and represent social, cultural and religious entities of the Neolithic period (12000-9000 years before present). The images represent a masterpiece of human creative genius.
The site bears a unique testimony to the practice of rock art and inscriptions representing a long span of several millennia. Hundreds of outstanding petroglyphs of human and animal figures that make it a most valuable site of universal importance with no parallels elsewhere in the world. The naturalistic, schematic and abstract images represent human mind and ideology, aesthetic, intelligence and ingenuity of prehistoric thoughts and life pattern. Thus, the site is like an open air art gallery, an open air museum of art and is a critical site for the study and understanding of the evolution of aesthetics, ancient culture and prehistoric environment and patterns of human life.
The landscape, caves, rock shelters and now a dry river bed played an important role in fostering human settlement and human presence and, as a result, the development of sophisticated intellectual activity that is documented by large number of petroglyphs and rock inscriptions. This graphic testimony to diverse cultural tradition and civilizations over millennia is one of the world’s richest source for understanding prehistoric lifestyle, religious, social and cultural entities. Nowhere else in the world can one find such a wealth of information that enables the study and understanding of the continuum of human presence from the oldest (Neolithic) to the present day lifestyle in the desert landscape. Here is the record of resource use in the desert and mountain environment illustrating the adaptability and ingenuity of human communities who have made the most of scarce resources to sustain continuous presence over several millennia from cool and humid (Neolithic) to hot and dry (Bronze/Iron Age) environment. The significance of the site in the middle of the volcanic and desert area goes far beyond its north-Arabian context as it represents a uniquely documented instance of human interaction with once wet and humid and now dry environment of relevance to other arid areas worldwide.
Thamudic or North Arabian inscriptions, although very few, inscribed on the rocks and hills have allowed scholars to identify representation of different cultures and civilizations. The dancing scenes located reflects a continuous tradition from prehistoric times to the present day. The religious icons and images of gods and deities are artistically represented revealing the ancient beliefs, ideology and thoughts about the metaphysical world making the site of universal significance.
The animal representations inform us about the past and present environmental and climatic conditions as well as the social, cultural and religious values of prehistoric people.
Criterion (i): Far back in prehistory, about 10,000 years before present, with crude stone tools the ancient people of Jubbah and Shuwaymis created a masterpiece of art, and represented a creative genius by deep carving and chiselling the sandstone rocks of the hills. The images are superb and very well preserved until today in their best form. The human like figures are almost naturalistic, while animals specially the ox figures are deeply pecked with all their naturalistic details. The fauna of the Neolithic period and the weapons and dresses as well as social and cultural gathering of men and women dancing in groups provide us the details of everyday human life that was prevailing before ten thousand years in the north of Arabia. The technique of execution, selection of flat, smooth and dark brown rock surfaces to create images by scratching, pecking and engraving shows the intelligence and ingenuity of ancient artists.
Crierion (iii): Jabal Umm Sanman (jubbah) and Jabal al-Manjour (Shuwaymis) bears a unique testimony to the practice of rock art and inscriptions representing a long span of several millennia. Hundreds and thousands of inscriptions and outstanding petroglyphs of human and animal figures at Jabal Umm Sanman and Jabal al-Manjour make them a most valuable site of universal importance with no parallels elsewhere in the world. The naturalistic, schematic and abstract images represent human mind and ideology, aesthetic, intelligence and ingenuity of prehistoric thoughts and life pattern. The Thamudic and early Arabic inscriptions highlights the development of writing and wide spread literacy in the pre-Islamic and early Islamic period. Thus, Jabal umm Sanman and Jabal al-Manjour are like open air museums of art and culture and are critical sites for the study and understanding of the evolution of aesthetics, writing and ancient cultures.
Criterion (v): Be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement or land-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures) of human interaction with the environment, especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change is one that rock art can only satisfy if it is still living and represents a significant part of the culture of a society.
The landscape, caves, rock shelters and a nearby lake played an important role in fostering human settlement and human presence in the middle of the desert and, as a result, the development of sophisticated intellectual activity that is documented by large number of petroglyphs and rock inscriptions. This graphic testimony to diverse cultural tradition and civilizations over millennia is one of the world’s richest sources for understanding prehistoric lifestyle, religious, social and cultural entities. Nowhere else in the world can one find such a wealth of information that enables the study and understanding of the continuum of human presence from the oldest (Neolithic) to the present day lifestyle in the desert landscape. Here is the record of resources used in the desert and mountain environment illustrating the adaptability and ingenuity of human communities who have made the most of scarce resources to sustain continuous presence over several millennia from cool and humid (Neolithic) to hot and dry (Bronze/Iron Age) environment. The significance of Jabal Umm Sanman and Jabal al-Manjour in the middle of the desert goes far beyond its north-Arabian context as it represents a uniquely documented instance of human interaction with dry environment of relevance to other arid areas worldwide.
Although, rock art is not practiced now until recent past in the early Islamic era and pre-Islamic Thamudic period hundreds of inscriptions were depicted to who a continuity of use of rocks for documenting events and names of people. It was the harsh, dry and inhospitable environment of the desert that attracted people to Jabal Umm Sanbman and Jabal al-Manjour at various times of the history but facing the same harsh and dry climate and desert landscape. The only major attraction was availability of water in the middle of the desert. Even today, although the lake is dried, the people in the area depended upon underground water. They may be the off springs of the same ancient people who once lived at the site but now have adopted to new life style.
Criterion (vi): The practice of rock art continued until the invention of writing and even after that when camel and horse figures were depicted associated with the names of their owners or tribes.Thamudic and other North Arabian inscriptions in addition to early Arabic Kufic and Quranic verses inscribed on the rocks and hills have allowed scholars to identify Jabal Umm Sanman representing different cultures and civilization and contacts with neighboring and far off countries like Jordan, Syria, and Iraq through the caravan route on which it lies. The dancing scenes located at Jabal Umm Sanman and Jabal al-Manjour reflected a continuous tradition from prehistoric times to the present day. Some of the dancing scenes on abal Umm Sanmna are similar to the local Bedouin dances like “Ardha” which is the main tribal dance practiced until now in Arabia. The religious icons and images of gods and deities are artistically represented revealing the ancient beliefs, ideology and thoughts about the metaphysical world making the site of universal significance.
Jabal Umm Sanman is the largest protected and well preserved rock art site in the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. The site has been fenced to protect, preserve and conserve the representative mountain site in mid desert and the ecosystem along with its associated cultural values. Covering more than 24 square kilometres the protected area encompassed the finest and unique example of protection by steel fence and bars which is the basis for the claim to outstanding universal value. The area includes the iconic sandstone hills located in the middle of the great Nafud desert that also encompasses the large number of petroglyphs and inscriptions intermingled with desert ecosystems and ancient cultural entities demonstrating the long established interaction between man and his environment. The integrity and authenticity of the site is very well secured and no vandalism or illegal entry is possible.
Jabal Manjour/Rata’a complex is one of the largest protected and well preserved rock art site in the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. The site was fenced to protect, preserve and conserve the representative mountain site in mid desert and the ecosystem along with its associated cultural values. Covering the protected zone encompassed the finest and unique example of protection by steel fence and bars which is the basis for the claim to outstanding universal value. The area includes the iconic sandstone hills located in the middle of a volcanic area that also encompasses the large number of petroglyphs and inscriptions intermingled with desert ecosystems and ancient cultural entities demonstrating the long established interaction between man and his environment. The integrity and authenticity of the site is very well secured and no vandalism or illegal entry is possible.
Jubbah lies on the ancient caravan route and is one of the biggest and richest rock art site not on in Saudi Arabia but in the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. It was once an important watering place on the trans-desert caravan route to Jordan and Syria. It is still the sole oasis of any size in the Nefud, and supports a permanent settlement and seasonal influx of Bedouins. It stands among the most fascinating and largest rock art sites of the world, and could be compared with the world famous rock art sites of Australia, France, South Africa, and the Saharan Desert in Morocco.
Jabal Umm Sanman is a unique site in the sense that it faces an ancient dry lake bed in the vicinity of the Nafud Desert. Jabal Umm Sanman and other hills and outcrops contain large number of human and animal figures, ancient Arabian and early Kufic inscriptions suggesting a continued use of the site for thousands of years.
The mountain is the product of millions of years of geological processes and thousands of years of interactions between humans and nature in a hostile desert environment located in the middle of the great Nafud desert. Jabal Umm Sanman and its environs is the iconic superlative example of a highly varied desert landscape and varying climatic influences that have fluctuated considerably over the long period that it has taken the landscape to evolve. Geology has been the ever-present artist, a sculptor playing with abundant possibilities of form, color and texture.
Large number of petroglyphs and inscriptions attributed to 10,000 years of human history and the very early development of writing (Thanudic) reflects a Bedouin culture. While Quranic verses reveal the use of the site in different cultural periods for camping and temporary settlement. This unique site representing almost all cultural phases of human history from Neolithic to early Islamic period and satisfied all key requirements for an effective long term management and protection process that balances the visions and needs of a wide spectrum of stakeholders.
In the desert environment the presence of a lake and various types of fauna and flora was the major attraction for both man and animal and hence one can witnesseshundreds and thousands of petroglyphs and ancient Arabian inscriptions all around the mountain. The importance of this factor is strikingly obvious in cases such as Ulru (Australia), Cueva de las Manos (Argentina), in the Rio Pinturas, the Coca Valley (Portugal) and the canyons of the Sierra de San Francisco (Mexico), as well as sites in Tassili n’Aljier in Algeria, Libya, Morocco and the Sahara desert.