Ancient life-size relief carvings depicting camels in Saudi Arabia are believed to be the oldest large-scale animal reliefs in the world.
Discovered in 2018 in the northern Al-Jawf province along with a series of other animal reliefs such as donkeys and horses, they were thought at the time to be 2,000 years old, based on similar findings of camel reliefs in Petra in neighbouring Jordan, ascribed to the Nabataean civilisation.
However, it is now thought that the Saudi findings at the so-called "Camel site" – numbering 21 in total are a lot older than originally estimated, according to a new analysis published in the Journal of Archaeology which dates the sculptures back 8,000 years making them almost twice as old as Britain's Stonehenge.
This was a period when the kingdom's northern deserts were "a savannah-like grassland scattered with lakes and trees". Chemical analysis and examining tool marks suggest the carvings were made using stone tools during the 6th millennia.
"We can now link the Camel Site to a period in prehistory when the pastoral populations of northern Arabia created rock art and built large stone structures called mustatil," the study's authors said. "The Camel Site is therefore part of a wider pattern of activity where groups frequently came together to establish and mark symbolic places."
"They are absolutely stunning and, bearing in mind we see them now in a heavily eroded state with many panels fallen, the original site must've been absolutely mind blowing," said lead author of the new study on the carvings, Dr Maria Guagnin from the department of archaeology at Germany's Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
"There were life-sized camels and equids two or three layers on top of each other. It must have been an absolutely stunning site in the Neolithic."
A scientific study by the #SaudiHeritageCommission with Saudi and international researchers, has been able to date rock carvings at the 'Camel Site' in Al Jouf back to the Neolithic period. pic.twitter.com/LxoH3ZSj1U
— هيئة التراث (@MOCHeritage) September 15, 2021
The research was carried out in a joint effort by the Saudi Ministry of Culture, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, French National Centre for Scientific Research and King Saud University.