Giant warriors in Arabian art

Saudi Arabia is a paradise for researching engraved rock art (see ‘Saudi Arabian rock art’ in CWA 102). In March 2022, I returned to the Saudi provinces of Najran and ‘Asir. In the latter, the exploration of Wadi al-Khayyur, located west of the Wajid Desert, resulted in surprising findings. Whereas the 8km-long and 150m-wide wadi, lined by 10m- to 30m-high cliffs, is rich in petroglyphs – ranging in size from 20cm to 40cm tall, featuring well-known motifs such as foot warriors, mounted lancers, hunters, and women with raised arms and plaited hair – the wider space at the end of the wadi revealed what are probably so far undocumented monumental petroglyphs. Within an area of 1km2, nine larger-than-life-size armed male figures of high quality are engraved; the three largest are 3.2m tall, the smallest 2m. There are also five warriors, 1m to 1.4m tall, from the same period. The giants were partly superimposed over petroglyphs of mounted lancers, felines, ostriches, hunting scenes, ibexes, and brief Thamudic inscriptions. Later Arabic inscriptions have been added. The men carry a straight sword and a curved dagger; one holds a shield, and all have a rod-shaped, ultra-slim heads and long hair curved outwards. Similar but much-smaller figures are known in the Qahra and Kaukab regions in the neighbouring Rub’ al-Khali Desert. These petroglyphs at al-Khayyur are unique: based on the shape of the swords and the overlaid smaller figures and Thamudic inscriptions, they can be dated to the later pre-Islamic period around AD 400-600.

Text & Image: Christoph Baumer
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