Saturday, March 10, 2018


Two camels, The Camel Site,
Saudi Arabia. Public domain,

In university art departments there is a common practice known as the artist-in-residence. This is usually a working artist brought in from outside the university for a term to provide the students a good example of a working artist as well as broaden their range of experience.

The Camel Site, Saudi 
Arabia. Public domain,

"In 2016, archaeologists discovered a site in what appears, at first glance, to be the middle of nowhere. There isn't much else around for miles: the surrounding desert is bleak and inhospitable. Which is why archaeologists were surprised to find at least 11 carved dromedary camels protruding from stones at what they call 'the camel site.' The international team of archaeologists has now published their analysis of the site in the Cambridge journal Antiquity." (Hugo 2018) At first glance, these relief carvings, apparently done by someone who came from somewhere else, reminded me of artists-in-residence.

Map of location,

"The archaeologists studying the weather-beaten "Camel Site in Al Jawf, a province in northwest Saudi Arabia near Jordan, suggest the sculptures are a facet of broader Arabian tradition that was probably influenced by the Parthians (ancient Iranians) and nomadic Nabateans from preceding centuries." (Schuster 2018) Because of the location most of the severe erosion of the images would have been caused by the abrasion of wind-blown sand. This style of relief carving was certainly common in parts of the Middle East at this time, but such reliefs were not common in Saudi Arabia, making the possibility that they originated with foreign travelers more likely.

The Camel Site, Saudi
Arabia. Public domain,

"The somewhat eroded statues are tentatively dated at around 2,000 old, give or take a century or more, according to a collaboration between the French National Center for Scientific Research and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage reported this week in the Cambridge journal of Antiquity." (Schuster 2018)

The Camel Site, Saudi
Arabia. Public domain,

Given the facts that the style of carving is uncommon in the Saudi Arabia of the time, that the location of the carvings is a likely rest stop along a caravan route, and that the subjects (beasts of burden) would be most common among caravans, the conclusion that they source of the carvings was caravaneers is inescapable. Two other animals that are portrayed may be horses or donkeys, other beasts of burden that may have accompanied caravans.

 The Camel Site, Saudi
Arabia. Public domain,

My artist-in-residence analogy above is not really applicable for there were probably no permanent residences, or art departments. Based upon what can be seen today the location was probably a temporary stop along a caravan route.  However, the fact that it would have taken considerable time and effort for some of the carvings suggests that something more was involved.
"Some of the sculptures were so high up the rock that they must have required ropes or scaffolding. They had journeyed for miles and carved deep lines in the rock to depict their traveling companions. However, as (the) rocky spot is along a caravan route, the camel site could have been a resting place where travelers created images and reliefs of their four-legged friends (which) carried them and their goods from place to place." (Hugo 2018)

Perhaps the caravans left a cache of water and/or other supplies at this spot for their return trip, and one or more attendants may have stayed behind to safeguard it. To pass the time they may have done the carving. In any case, the images now provide clues to aspects of life in this part of the world 2,000 years ago.

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet with a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.


Hugo, Kristin
2018 Ancient Rock Carvings Discovered in Saudi Arabia Hint at Artists From Faraway Lands, February 14, 2018,

Schuster, Ruth
2018 2,000 Year Old Life-Size Camel Art Found In Heart of Saudi Arabian Desert, Feb. 13, 2018,

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