Messages on the mountains

In and across the AlUla Valley loom vertical sandstone cliffs. A lot of them now show depictions of human figures or animals often called petroglyphs, a time period derived from the Greek phrases petra, which means “rock”, and glypho, which means “to carve”. Historical artists would use stones or instruments to scrape pictures onto the floor of cliffs and freestanding rocks—or, in some situations, they’d carve figures or traces of textual content in aid, standing pleased with the rock floor.

The AlUla area is dwelling to 1000’s of those petroglyphs, taking totally different types and spanning centuries of time. Ibexes, camels, horses, ostriches, and lots of different species cavort throughout the rock faces, some pursued by stylized human hunters holding spears and different weapons. Different pictures depict giant urns and embody advanced ornamental patterns. What have been these petroglyphs for? We can’t be certain, however the human urge to signify the pure world in artwork, and to file the nice occasions of life, has proven itself in each tradition and each society.

Within the north of the AlUla Valley rises the mountain recognized in Arabic as Jabal Ikmah. It is a notably wealthy repository of pictures and texts which have managed to climate centuries of solar, wind, and rain with remarkably little deterioration—so wealthy that Ikmah has turn out to be often called an open-air library, though its origin seems to have been as a spot of worship fairly than research. A few of its a whole lot of inscriptions could also be as a lot as 2,500 years outdated. Most supply tantalizing insights into life and tradition throughout the interval when the Lihyanite kingdom flourished on this area of northwest Arabia, roughly from the fifth to the primary centuries B.C.E.

The Lihyanite capital, Dadan, near Jabal Ikmah, was an necessary metropolis and method station on the routes of the camel caravans that facilitated long-distance overland commerce. Luxurious items akin to frankincense sourced from south Arabia would arrive in Dadan for onward transport to markets in Egypt, across the shores of the Mediterranean, and past. The inscriptions carry a number of advanced meanings, however it’s thought that a few of the retailers and merchants in Dadan who managed these shipments might have recorded their choices to the Lihyanite god Dhu Ghaybat—typically alongside prayers for reward and favor. Many of those traces of textual content, etched and carved into the mountain and on fallen boulders in a deep gorge, are nonetheless clear at the moment, written in an area script known as Dadanitic* that omits illustration of vowels inside phrases.

Utilizing a simplified transcription system, one, for example, reads: “Wshh son of Wdd of the lineage of Dmr carried out the zll ceremony for Dhu Ghaybat and so might he favor him and will he assist him and his descendants.” The zll—talked about many instances in these inscriptions—appears to have been a ritual of homage to the deity. We will solely guess at who the named people might need been. One other inscription information: “Ssn priestess of Dhu Ghaybat organized the zll ceremony for the sake of her palm bushes in Dmn.” And once more: “Mhrh son of Gdn of the lineage of Wtmt carried out the zll ceremony for Dhu Ghaybat.” And: “Thbb daughter of Abddktb carried out the zll ceremony for Dhu Ghaybat for what she has in Bdr and so favor her.”

And so forth. Title after identify of maybe earnest, nervous, or pompous worshippers and beseechers, providing us tiny glimpses of their lives as they search success for themselves, their crops, and properties.

Ikmah additionally hosts a couple of texts in different languages—Thamudic, Minaic, Nabataean, and even early Arabic—however the majority, carved in Dadanitic, come in several sorts. Some are dedications, whereas others are what we would acknowledge at the moment as easy graffiti: “Blns the horseman,” or only a private identify scratched right into a rock: “Nfn Nfn” “Whblh” “Sr daughter of Zd”.

Others are extra formal, maybe the work {of professional} scribes, and typically mentioning the names of kings or rulers: “Hny priest of Dhu Ghaybat carried out the zll ceremony for Dhu Ghaybat within the 12 months 20 of Tlmy.”

Who was King Tlmy? When did he rule, and over exactly what space? Students proceed to research these and lots of different questions surrounding the lives and historical past of the folks of Dadan.

One ongoing subject of inquiry surrounds the place names talked about within the stone-carved inscriptions. Some archaeologists have recognized Bdr as mendacity to the south of modern-day AlUla, although others dispute that. Dmn might have been within the north, round what are actually the borderlands between Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Since each locations function prominently in Ikmah’s open-air library, confirming their places would imply the Lihyanite kingdom’s affect might have prolonged many a whole lot of miles from Dadan itself.

The insights that the inscriptions of Jabal Ikmah supply into the historical past of this a part of Arabia proceed to reinforce our understanding of the financial, political, social, and spiritual lives led by the folks of the AlUla Valley greater than two thousand years in the past.

*Dadanitic—the script during which a lot of the inscriptions at Jabal Ikmah have been written—omits illustration of vowels inside phrases. As well as, it contains many sounds for which English has no written equal. The transcription system now we have used on this article has been simplified to facilitate understanding for non-specialist readers.

Journey by means of time to find the wealthy historical past of AlUla right here.

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