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Writ in Stone: Rock Art in Shuwaymis, Saudi Arabia

In this art post, Lars Bjurström shares with us pictures of rock art from Shuwaymis, south west of Hail in northern Saudi Arabia close to Hulayfah. Rock art sites in Saudi Arabia are among the oldest and richest in content. The pictures reproduced below are man’s earliest attempts at creating beauty and fashioning permanence out of materials available to him. Interestingly, their discovery came about as late as 2001. Although they had been known to local nomad bedouins for a very long time, they were reported to authorities in 2001 after being spotted by Mamdouh Al Rasheedi, a headmaster at the (only) local school at Shuwaymis. As a perspective on art, it is illuminating and humbling that such detail of form, such magnificence prevailed under times so far removed and with the most basic materials.

About Lars

Lars Bjurström , a Swede by birth, lived in Saudi Arabia for over 12 years, mostly in Riyadh. He remembers that as ‘the best years of his life’. His full-time occupation here was as a dentist in the family health department, but ‘the years in Saudi Arabia became the best years because of all that I did besides my actual work. I used to bike, I did caving, I went out into the desert, photographed. It was magical being out in the desert, nothing quite compares to it.’ Impressions about the place? “Saudi Arabia is awfully misrepresented in Western media. Living life here from the inside out and getting to know people first hand totally changed my perception.”

Rock carvings show the usual scenes of arching and hunting, and compositions with men and animals.

Sequences of animals both wild and domesticated, the etchings show ostriches, lions, cheetahs, gazelles, wild donkeys, hyenas, antilopes, oxen, leopards and a particular kind of desert dog called saluki. The saluki was a frequent hunting companion for ancient men.


Whole rock façades devoted to representations of the Saluki.


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4 thoughts on “Writ in Stone: Rock Art in Shuwaymis, Saudi Arabia

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  2. As one who has been to Saudi Arabia often I strongly endorse the comment that the country “is awfully misrepresented in Western media”. As the first foreign researcher to study the Shuwaymis petroglyphs, immediately after their “discovery” in 2001 (and having published 3 scientific papers about them), some corrections if I may: there is no such thing as rock etchings or carvings, the petroglyphs were made by direct percussion (hammering). Some of those depicted here are Neolithic, the others are younger. This is one of two rock art complexes in the Hail region nominated for World Heritage listing in January 2014.
    Robert G. Bednarik
    Convener and Editor, IFRAO


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