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Ancient Life-Sized Camel Carvings Discovered in Saudi Desert

Ancient camel carvings discovered showing their unique features
Ancient camel carvings were discovered, depicting their unique features. Credit: Dennis Jarvis / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Archaeologists recently discovered a group of ancient camel carvings depicting camels on a big rock near the southern part of Saudi Arabia’s Nafud desert. These impressive carvings display twelve life-sized wild camels, which are no longer around today.

They used to live in this part of the Arabian Peninsula desert many years ago, but scientists haven’t given them an official name. This discovery was reported in the journal Archaeological Research in Asia.

Place of discovery of ancient camel carvings

The place called Sahout was already known to some archaeologists, but nobody had previously spotted the camel carvings on the rock.

Maria Guagnin, who led the study and worked as a researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology in Germany, explained, “We learned about the site from another paper —but the panel was difficult to find because its location wasn’t precise, and this isn’t an easy landscape [to navigate].”

Challenges encountered during the research

Detecting the outcropping amidst the sandy dunes presented a significant challenge. Additionally, the carvings have more recent etchings on top of the camel images, creating an additional layer of mystery regarding the culture responsible for the artwork and its age.

Guagnin said, “The outcroppings contain a dense cluster of rock art from many different periods.” She further said, “You can see that the carvings were done in various phases and are stylistically different.”

Another challenge arises because most of the carvings are tucked away inside narrow openings, making it tough to reach and determine when they were produced using radiocarbon dating techniques.

Nevertheless, the study employed radiocarbon dating on two trenches and two hearths close to the Sahout site. The results suggest that people occupied this area multiple times, stretching from the Pleistocene period, which ranged from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, to the Middle Holocene, which occurred from seven to five thousand years ago.

Results of the study on ancient camel carvings

The lifelike depiction of the carvings showing the fur and gender of the animals provides some proof as to when they were created. “What’s most striking about the beautifully carved camels is that most of them are male,” Maria Guagnin noted.

She further said, “What stands out about these exquisitely carved camels is that the majority of them are male. Some of the carvings even depict camels displaying their ‘dulla,’ which is a part of a male camel’s mouth used to attract females.”

Based on these symbols alone, researchers put forward a theory that the art might have been produced during the camel mating season, which is also known as the “rut” and typically takes place between November and March, as stated by Veterinary World.

Maria Guagnin mentioned, “The feral camels also hadn’t [shed their fur] yet and still had their winter hair.”

Need for more investigation

More investigation is necessary to uncover the true meaning of this site. Guagnin added, “There’s no known water source, so there might have been something else that brought people here.”

“Perhaps it was a good stopping point on their way to another location,” she said. “It must’ve been an important location, but right now, we’re not sure why.”

It’s worth noting that Sahout isn’t the sole location in Saudi Arabia where camel carvings have been discovered. In 2018, archaeologists discovered a group of life-sized camel carvings resembling a “parade” in the Al-Jouf province in the northwestern Saudi desert.

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