Take a trip to the complex of Bi'r Hima to admire the best of Arabian rock art. Whether you are an archaeology enthusiast or a curious history buff, you are sure to be impressed.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has emerged as an important area for rock art. The rock art of this region is considered to be one of the richest collections in the world along with impressive examples found in Australia, India, and South Africa. Bi’r Hima is one of the country's most prominent rock art sites and is located only 30 km from the city of Najran, making it an ideal destination for history lovers.
The area around Bi'r Hima was historically known for its wells and was an important stop on the Incense Route. Today, you will find thousands of petroglyphs, or rock carvings, in this ancient site amid ancient wells and rocky hills. There are about seven wells in the area surrounded by caves and mountains. Dating back to the Neolithic age, the site has images from the different periods of civilization, including prehistoric carvings and more recent ones depicting battle scenes. Bi'r Hima is also one of the most densely illustrated rock sites in the world.
The rock art images consist of thousands of human and animal illustrations and include depictions of daily life through different time periods. The oldest images are the ones of domestic cattle, adorned with stripes and geometric designs. These long-horned, hump-backed cattle drawings resemble those featured in Egyptian art. Among other images are fat-tailed sheep, ostriches with realistic postures and plumage, cavalrymen on horses, battle scenes, depictions of fertility rituals involving both men and women, and camels. Some of the carvings have acquired a patina indicating that they are among the oldest.
One of the expeditions that explored the area vastly was Harry St. John Philby's expedition in 1951. Apart from petroglyphs, the expedition members found carving tools that were used to draw the images. It is believed the images might have been inscribed with bronze in the rocks.
In an area covered with petroglyphs, it is difficult to decide where to look. Though each rock has its own story to tell, some of the rocks are more well known. The A'Abar Harema features a vivid battle scene including camel-mounted, armor-wearing fighters. It is unique among the camel depictions as it is the only one showing camel saddles. The Painted Bull Panel was discovered recently in 2010 by Dr. Majeed Khan and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History team. This is one of the best examples of horse petroglyphs in the area. Horsemen Slab is an isolated rock depicting horsemen with lances and swords. Fardath ZamZam is another site with a battle scene where a cavalry uses long lances and other weapons. It also shows a few female figures.
The Bi'r Hima petroglyph valley has an unusually high density of petroglyphs and is believed to have been an important watering hole for the region. Make sure to check out this unique piece of history.