A new journal published by Cambridge University Press sheds light on a Neolithic tradition of large, naturalistic camel depictions, with four newly documented panels discovered in Saudi Arabia's Nafud Desert that “appear to have been carved by the same individual (or group)".
Six regional traditions of large camel engravings were identified in the same area, with two-dimensional engravings measuring approximately 1.3 to 2.5 metres in length, according to the journal.
Archaeologists said the carvings could have been used to mark borders.
To date, a total of 27 panels, depicting 37 large, naturalistic engravings of camels, have been identified by “authors from previous publications, online sources and recent fieldwork,” which are spread across 11 rock-art sites situated around the edges of the Nafud Desert, with a 12th site in Jordan.
The Cambridge research journal also suggests that the Nafud Desert region was once the centre of an artistic tradition in which large, naturalistic representations of camels were engraved “requiring individual engravers to cross the Nafud Desert repeatedly.”
“These panels may represent the first archaeological evidence of a repeated pattern of movement across the Nafud Desert that can be linked directly to an individual artist or a small artistic community,” the journal said.
The technical sophistication used in the engravings demonstrates the symbolic significance that the wild camel had for its people at the time, and the site is probably home to the oldest surviving large-scale naturalistic animal engravings in the world.
The journal suggests that the camel engravings could have been drawn by the same person, as they share similar characteristic traits, including a naturalistic outline and the frequent depiction of details such as hair, eyes, callosities and ribs.
The Cambridge study said that their geographic distribution and stylistic traits indicate close links with the Camel Site engravings, located on a small cluster of three sandstone spurs, on the outskirts of Sakaka in the kingdom's Al Jawf province.
Recent studies by Saudi and European institutions in 2021 show the carvings could be 7,000 to 8,000 years old.
Previously, Saudi and French archaeologists in 2018 said that the life-sized camels engravings dated back only 2,000 years.