LONDON: In Could 1976, Majid Khan, a younger graduate of Pakistan’s Sindh College, left for Saudi Arabia to hitch the Ministry of Tourism as an archaeological guide, advising on the event of museums and the conduct of archaeological analysis within the nation. .
It was to show the impressed appointment.
At a time when Saudi Arabia was using the wave of its first main oil increase and targeted on its fast-growing future, the Kingdom’s archeology was in its infancy.
However in Khan, the nation had discovered one in all its best heritage treasures, a champion of historical rock artwork, 1000’s of examples of that are scattered throughout the panorama and which bear witness to a historical past of human tradition stretching again 10,000 years.
Khan, who lives in Riyadh and nonetheless works as a guide within the Ministry of Tradition’s antiquities division on the age of 80, has devoted his whole working life to a topic that continues to fascinate and amaze him to today.
He acquired one other shock final month when he discovered that his seminal ebook, “Prehistoric Rock Artwork of Northern Saudi Arabia,” revealed by the Saudi Ministry of Training’s Division of Antiquities and Museums in 1993, was now thought-about a collector’s merchandise.
A duplicate of the primary version was put up on the market for £1,250 ($1,448) on the UAE’s Sharjah Worldwide E book Truthful, which ran from November 2 to 13, by a London-based ebook specialist.
That, Khan felt, was some huge cash. However alternatively, “it was the primary analysis ebook on rock artwork revealed in any Arab nation,” he stated. On the time it got here out, “rock artwork was not taught in any Saudi college, and there was no actual analysis into rock artwork in Saudi Arabia.”
Furthermore, there was little or no recognition within the wider world of Saudi Arabia’s historical previous; a previous that’s now enthusiastically embraced because the spine of main tourism tasks comparable to AlUla and Diriyah, designed to usher in tens of millions of tourists yearly. the dominion.
For instance, within the supposedly complete Cambridge Illustrated Historical past of Prehistoric Artwork, revealed in 1998, there was no point out of Saudi Arabia, an omission that may have dramatically uncovered Khan’s work.
To explain Khan as a pioneer in his subject is to underestimate the influence he had on understanding the extent and significance of the Kingdom’s historical previous.
Over the previous 4 many years, he has revealed dozens of analysis papers. The primary he co-authored was on “The Decrease Miocene Fauna of Asasarari, Japanese Arabia”, revealed in Atlal, Saudi Journal of Archaeology, in 1981.
His first ebook, revealed in 1993, simply earlier than his groundbreaking work on prehistoric rock artwork in Saudi Arabia, was The Origin and Evolution of Historic Arabic Inscriptions, additionally revealed by the Ministry of Training.
Nevertheless it was to petroglyphs that he would commit most of his energies, a tutorial dedication that culminated in 2015 with the petroglyphs of Saudi Arabia’s Hale area being designated a World Heritage Website by UNESCO.
Together with two colleagues on the then-named Saudi Fee for Tourism and Antiquities, Jamal Omar and vice-chairman Professor Ali Al-Ghabban, it was Khan’s identify that appeared within the nomination textual content that noticed the dual websites close to Jubba and Shuwaymis. North Karkut Province has been acknowledged by UNESCO as “Excellent Common Worth”.
As Khan advised Arab Information in January 2021, “it was essentially the most emotional second for me in my 40 years of analysis.”
Not that he’s resting on his laurels. Hail is not the one area in Saudi Arabia the place rock artwork might be discovered, and “nowadays I am working on the Najran rock artwork website to see it additionally on the UNESCO World Heritage Checklist.”
There are over 2,000 rock artwork websites round Saudi Arabia. However the largest focus of Neolithic petroglyphs or petroglyphs, and the oldest examples courting again 10,000 years, might be discovered at two websites 300 kilometers aside within the north of the nation in Karkut province.
The traditional ancestors of as we speak’s Saudis had no paper, pen, or written language to document their time on earth.
However with the rocks of their dramatic landscapes as a canvas, 1000’s of years in the past the traditional peoples of what would develop into Saudi Arabia discovered a approach to go away their mark on historical past with a painstakingly carved illustration of a now forgotten world. , carved and carved from the sandstones of the area.
The primary of the 2 hail websites is in Jabal Umm Sinman, a rocky outcrop west of Jubba, about 90 kilometers northwest of Hail and 680 kilometers from the capital, Riyadh.
The town’s origins date again to the daybreak of Arab civilization, when the hills of Umm Sinman ignored a freshwater lake that was ultimately misplaced to the sands of the encompassing Nefud desert some 6,000 years in the past.
It was on these hills, in response to the UNESCO nomination paper co-authored by Khan, that the ancestors of as we speak’s Saudi Arabia “left the social, cultural, mental and philosophical features of their presence, their religions, their beliefs. life and loss of life, metaphysical and cosmological ideologies.”
Jubba’s rock artwork, Khan says, “represented all phases of human presence, from the Neolithic, 10,000 years in the past to the current, to the current previous,” and mirrored a time when the local weather and panorama had been very completely different from as we speak.
On the rocks, usually in mysterious inaccessible heights, are carved the trimmings of the misplaced world; a parade of dancers, long-forgotten gods and goddesses, mythological figures, half-man, half-beast and animals together with sheep, ibex, camels. , horses, wolves, ostriches, and—reflecting a time when sport roamed the as soon as lush plains of Arabia in abundance—lions.
“The kind of animals (within the portray) steered modifications in local weather and atmosphere,” Khan stated. “The big depictions of oxen indicated a cool and humid local weather, whereas the absence of oxen depictions and the looks of camel petroglyphs represented sizzling and dry circumstances.
“This modification in fauna and flora at each Jubba and Shuwaymis clearly represented a gradual however dramatic change in society and local weather through the prehistoric and pre-Islamic period.”
Importantly, he stated, similarities in themes and pictures to different components of the world, together with Africa, India, Australia, Europe and the Americas, present that “Saudi Arabia is a part of world heritage and cultural traditions.”
Like different peoples of the world, “historical Arab artists painted the animals they lived with and depicted their social actions, comparable to dances and non secular rituals.”
The second of the dual hail websites is in Jabal Al-Manjor and Raat, 220 km southwest of Jubba close to the village of Shuwaymis. It’s noteworthy that its treasures had 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 Saudi Arabia’s nationwide oil firm, reported that in March of the earlier yr, a Bedouin grazing his camels had come throughout unusual tracks on a distant cluster of rocks. He occurred to say his discovery to a trainer from the native city of Shuweimis. He alerted the authorities, and so they referred to as Khan.
“Sure, the story is true,” Khan stated. “I met each the Bedouin and Mr. Saad Rawsan, the director of archeology within the Karkt area, who took us to websites for additional investigations and analysis.”
He found that the dual websites collectively advised greater than 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.
As UNESCO paperwork, these websites justify their inclusion on the World Heritage Checklist as a result of they comprise “numerous petroglyphs of remarkable high quality, courting from 6,000 to 9,000 years of human historical past, adopted by early writing within the final 3,000 years.” improvement. which displays Bedouin tradition ending with verses from the Qur’an.”
Moreover, the websites of Jubba and Shuwaymis embrace “the most important and most magnificently preserved corpus of Neolithic rock work on the earth”.
Neolithic rock artwork has been discovered at many websites in Eurasia and North Africa, “however nowhere in such dense focus or constantly excessive visible high quality” as on this distant a part of northwestern Saudi Arabia.
Peter Harrington, the London specialist bookseller who introduced Khan’s ebook to the Sharjah E book Truthful, described it as “a pioneering monograph … the primary and solely version of this necessary work, which addresses a hitherto uncared for topic, challenges acquired knowledge.” that the affect of rock artwork within the area got here from Mesopotamia, the Levant, and the Nile Valley helped put the dominion’s historical previous on the map of recent data and paved the way in which for the 2015 Hailstone Rock Artwork Checklist. the area as a UNESCO World Heritage Website.
“I’m extraordinarily stunned to see the worth of my ebook,” Khan stated after Arab Information knowledgeable him of the asking worth for the quantity revealed on the Sharjah Worldwide E book Truthful, although he did have some information; her personal.
“The Ministry is printing once more”.
Nevertheless, that is hardly a deterrent to collectors, who’re at all times eager to amass uncommon first editions of books on the historical past of the area, and there are few tales as fascinating because the historical past of Saudi Arabian rock artwork, and few books as necessary. In a rising appreciation of the dominion’s previous as Khan’s 30-year quantity.