Friday, 30 October 2015

Graffiti Rock - Picnics and Petroglyphs

The last time we saw ancient graffiti was at Madain Saleh. There it was traders and camel caravans telling the story of first century BC Nabatean traders bringing incense and myrrh from Southern Arabia to the Mediterranean.

Today we saw rock art that was even more ancient, dating possibly as far back as 3000 BC. Although graffiti perfectly describes the random jumble of scribbled figures, the correct term is petroglyphs. Today’s story was quite different from that of Madain Saleh. We saw hunters, pastoralists and the animals that would have lived alongside them: the backward horned ibex, ostriches, camels, hyenas, antelopes and strange long bodied creatures with tails waving in the air.

We’d left our compound early and travelled for about an hour and a half before we turned off the Makkah highway near the exit for Musayqirah. Graffiti Rock was easy to spot.  In geological terms it's called an inselberg, meaning one isolated rock surrounded by virtually level ground.

The site had been fenced off, but others had been there before us with wire cutters so getting in was not a problem. We walked around to the northwest face and scrambled up towards the summit where we reached a shiny black rock covered in figures: skeletons, animals, palm trees, bows and arrows. 

I couldn’t help thinking that anywhere else in the world there’d be hoards of tourists and proper protective fencing, but here, just like Madain Saleh, there was just us. Behind Graffiti Rock there’s an escarpment with three ancient tumuli just visible. These mark burial sites and can be found all over central Arabia on rocky outcrops. We thought of climbing to see them close up, but the sandy desert wind and the coughing of one of us who is prone to asthma made us retreat to the car.  We shared our picnic food and in between mouthfuls agreed that next time we'd bring family and do it again, including the tumulus.