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    On all continents of the world pictures on rocks (petroglyphs) have been found as records of the activities of ancient man. From the sophisticated 30.000 year-old rock paintings in French caves like Lascaux and Chauvet to the pictures drawn by Australian Aborigines and African Bushmen, these drawings depict the life of our ancestors.

   Quite naturally, it is the daily life of the people who drew them that the rock pictures tell us about. Since the early tribes of man were mainly hunters, most of the early petroglyphs depict hunting scenes, with sometimes very accurate pictures of the prey that was being hunted.

   The more developed cultures such as the early Egyptians and the civilisations of the Euphrates/Tigris delta and the Indus valley used their temples and funeral places to record scenes from their life. These scenes are often of a different kind and include battle scenes, business records and domestic events - dances, feasts, and funerals.

   Many rocks with line drawings can be found also in the mountainous areas of the UAE. I came upon the first such rock almost twenty years ago. It was a huge triangular boulder that sat by the side of the road. One side showed what looks like an army - people on horseback all going in the same direction. On the narrow backside there were pictures of snakes, with the typical triangular head of the poisonous vipers.

   Soon afterwards I saw a different kind of rock carving - on the headstones of some graves. High on the pass from Wadi Khabb Sahmsi to Wadi Bih lies a farm that has an extensive graveyard. Apparently there was a great disaster, most likely an earthquake, which killed quite a number of people in the settlement. One day the farmer showed me around and told me what the pictures meant: a palm tree was the symbol for a boy, a necklace represented a girl.

   A few years ago some friends and I were looking for a way to get from Wadi Ashwani into Wadi Siji. We saw a low pass at the end of a sloping field. There was no track, so we left the cars behind and walked up the hill on a little used footpath. The hills are quite low in that area and nothing prepared us for the sight that met our eyes as we passed between two cairns of stones, piled up on the sides of the path.  A grandiose view unfolded at your feet at the first moment in which you passed between the cairns. There was a steep drop into a gorge, filled with green vegetation, a subsidiary wadi curved at the foot of a hill to reach the wide wadi that runs westwards to Siji. We stood in awe and felt magic in that place. Then we looked more closely at the stones that formed the cairns and noticed that they were covered in drawings. On one some people on horseback hunt what looks like a giant spider, on another - a man sits on the hump of a camel. But what really thrilled me was a very good image of a hunting leopard with a long curved tail. Leopards still occurred in those mountains where we were standing, and at the time we were trying to save them from extinction. Here we had a proof that these beautiful animals had been around for a long, long time.

   I went back to the same place last year and to my dismay a road had been put through the pass. The carved boulders had disappeared under the onslaught of a bulldozer. The road builders had no idea what they were destroying. No one would ever again feel the magic of that place. My leopard picture was gone.

   Near the Fujeirah R uler's summer palace in Hayl, there were many rock drawings on boulders that lay on the plain behind the settlement. Ms Michelle C.Ziolkowski from the University of Sydney in Australia has extensively studied them. Sixty-four petroglyphs were surveyed, with images that varied from extensive naturalistic scenes to mere squares and blobs. Michelle states in her article that the term "rock art" should not only include recognisable pretty pictures, but all man-made marks on rock surfaces. The techniques that were used in the UAE consisted of scratching (friction) and pecking (percussion), which outlines the images in dots.

   The Hayl rocks had at least 6 pictures of big cats, leopards or caracals. There were two or three snakes and three or four camels; there was one stick figure of a man with a khunjar . Other drawings depicted men on horseback. A few animals were unrecognisable - one looked like a crocodile, but it is more likely that the artist could not draw than that such an animal ever existed in the region.

   The rocks at Hayl have also disappeared; but this time they have been removed to be displayed in a museum, I heard. Of course it is better that they are preserved and do not run the risk of destruction. At the same time, it is a shame that no one will be able to see them on the site where they were made. It is so much more interesting to look at the surrounding hills and the wadi bed and vegetation below, and imagine the life of the people that took the time to carve and pound their pictures on the rocks.

   The rock art of Wadi Hayl has not been scientifically dated, but comparisons with dated archaeological finds and with associated material found in the vicinity of the site, give a time frame for the creation of these drawings that runs from as early as the Iron Age to late Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic eras.

   Interestingly, in Qatar there is rock art of an entirely different kind. On low rocky outcrops that run parallel to the East coast of the peninsula, there are hundreds of carvings of a very specific kind. Most of them are rows or rosettes of cups, varying in size from tiny (less than 1 cm across) to predominantly about 2 cm across and some much larger. Some experts have said that the double rows of cups resemble the board game mancala that is still being played throughout the region. The idea was that people serving as lookouts for the boats that had gone pearling would while away their time playing this game. However, some of the double rows are on rocks sloping 45 degrees - that would not be very useful if you want to play a game that involves round rocks, marbles or nuts - they would all roll down the rock. Also some of the cups are too tiny to be of any use for mancala. Besides, if people wanted to play mancala, why would they go to the trouble carving so many mancala "boards"? You can use the same one or same few over and over again.

   The drawings on these rocks of Jebel Jusasiyah have been dated as being contemporary with some surface pottery found nearby - 1600-1800 AD. Local experts believe, however, that the period of time in which they were made could be much more extensive, judging by the varying degrees of erosion of the drawings.

   In between the rows of cups, there are pictures of oval shapes with fringes. These are said to be pearling boats with rows of oars. This would make sense because pearling was a daily activity in those days. The pearling banks that gave Qatar prosperity in the past are just offshore. However, the shapes of these indentations are so perfectly almond-shaped that it comes to mind that it could also be an image of an eye with eyelashes. Warding off the evil eye also was a daily activity in days gone by!

   Being very intrigued by these rock carvings, I have my own thoughts: if the ovals are pearling boats, then the rows of cups could be some kind of accounting system to keep track of the pearl harvest.

   A bit closer to the sea are a few rocks with very detailed pictures of ships. One is an obvious sailboat with sail and anchor; the other is a larger ship with compartments in the hull. These drawings have been tentatively dated as being made no earlier than 1000-1200 AD.

   The Qatar rock art is the more interesting because it is so mysterious!

   Some of the most beautiful rock art I have seen in the region is on gravestones in a small settlement off Wadi Khabb Shamsi. The one-meter tall stones bear intricate images of people on horseback and have decorative borders. I have no idea how old they are, but I expect them to be fairly recent, even though the men in the pictures are still stick figures.

   Only in one place we have ever found a less cartoon-like picture of a man: near the magic place of Wadi Ashwani - a real person walks along, throwing his hands up in the air. Maybe that was what the artist felt like when he saw the goings-on of his day and age!



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