Al Jassasiya: The mysterious symbols carved in Qatar’s deserts

(CNN) — Some shoot out of the comfortable rock like reptiles bathing within the solar. Others are mysterious depressions resembling an historical board recreation performed everywhere in the world. And some are straight-up puzzling.

On a desolate and windswept nook of Qatar’s northeastern coast, among the many sand dunes of the barren desert, lies Al Jassasiya, the Gulf nation’s largest and most essential rock artwork website.

Right here, folks centuries in the past used a sequence of low-lying limestone outcrops as a canvas on which they carved symbols, motifs and objects that they noticed of their atmosphere.

Total, archaeologists have discovered a complete of some 900 rock carvings, or “petroglyphs,” at Al Jassasiya. They’re principally enigmatic cup marks organized in varied patterns, together with rows and rosettes, but in addition eye-catching representations of crusing ships, normally seen from above but in addition depicted in linear profile, amongst different symbols and indicators.

“Though rock artwork is frequent within the Arabian Peninsula, among the carvings in Al Jassasiya are distinctive and can’t be discovered wherever else,” Ferhan Sakal, head of excavation and website administration at Qatar Museums, instructed CNN, referring to the petroglyphs of ships seen from a hen’s-eye view.

“These carvings characterize a excessive diploma of creativity and commentary abilities [on the part of] the artists who made them,” he mentioned. “Additionally [of] summary pondering, as they weren’t capable of see the dhow (a standard ship) from above.”

Cup marks

Consultants say the rock carvings at Al Jassasiya are distinctive to the situation.

Courtesy Dimitris Sideridis

There are about 12 notable petroglyph websites in Qatar, situated principally alongside the nation’s coasts — although some carvings may even be seen within the coronary heart of Doha’s Al Bidda Par, overlooking the Corniche, a preferred waterfront promenade.

Al Jassasiya, about an hour north of Qatar’s uber-modern capital and close to the outdated pearling port of Al Huwaila, was found in 1957. Over six weeks in late 1973 and early 1974, a Danish crew led by archaeologist Holger Kapel and his son Hans Kapel undertook a research which painstakingly cataloged your entire website in pictures and drawings.

Of all of the documented single figures and compositions, greater than a 3rd include cup marks in varied configurations, styles and sizes.

Probably the most outstanding sample entails two parallel rows of seven holes, main some to imagine that these had been used to play mancala, a board recreation fashionable in lots of components of the world since antiquity during which two contestants drop odd and even numbers of small stones into the depressions.

Others have disputed this idea, pointing to the truth that among the holes at Al Jassasiya are too small to carry any of the stones, whereas others could be discovered on slopes — an impractical selection that might have resulted within the counters falling out.

Additional ideas embrace the cup formations getting used ultimately for divination; or for the sorting and storage of pearls; or as programs to compute the time and tides.

Recreation idea

The area contains about 900 carvings.

The realm incorporates about 900 carvings.

Courtesy Dimitris Sideridis

So, what had been they really for and what do they imply?

“It is vitally troublesome to reply,” acknowledged Sakal, who additionally doesn’t aspect with the board-game idea. “We have now no direct clues concerning the motifs utilized in Al Jassasiya,” he mentioned.

“In my view, they may have a ritual that means and performance, which could be very outdated in order that it can’t be defined ethnographically.”

However how outdated? “We actually have no idea,” conceded Sakal, explaining that petroglyphs — and rock artwork, typically — are very difficult thus far.

“There are wild hypotheses concerning the age, starting from Neolithic to late Islamic instances,” he added. “I personally suppose that not all carvings had been made on the similar time.”

A decade in the past, one scientific research of 9 completely different petroglyphs at Al Jassasiya discovered no proof of them being various hundred years outdated, however the researchers concluded that extra research are wanted, together with the event of latest strategies particular to limestone carvings.

Whereas consultants can’t absolutely say when the Al Jassasiya petroglyphs had been created, and by whom, all of them agree that probably the most fascinating — and weird — carvings on the website are these of the boats.

Theories vary on the age of the petroglyphs.

Theories fluctuate on the age of the petroglyphs.

Courtesy Dimitris Sideridis

These creations present essential details about the kinds of vessels used within the thriving fishing and pearling industries (for hundreds of years, the mainstays of Qatar’s economic system), in addition to their varied parts.

Many of the boats seen from above are normally fish-shaped with pointed sterns and rows of oars, carved with a pointed metallic instrument.

They include a number of particulars, equivalent to crossing ribs and holes seemingly exhibiting the inserting of masts and thwarts.

In some circumstances, a protracted line from the strict depicts a rope ending both in a standard Arabic anchor (triangular stone anchor with two holes) or a European one (a metallic anchor with a protracted shank and two curved arms, first used within the area about seven centuries in the past).

Journey to the afterlife

Mystery prevails over the purpose of some of the carvings.

Thriller prevails over the aim of among the carvings.

Courtesy Dimitris Sideridis

“On among the boats the oars should not parallel, as they must be when used for rowing, however pointing in several places,” Frances Gillespie and Faisal Abdulla Al-Naimi wrote in “Hidden within the Sands: Uncovering Qatar’s Previous.”

“That is how they’d have seemed when the boats had been anchored out on the pearl banks and the oars had been left in place for the divers to cling to and relaxation every time they got here up.”

Consultants say they’ll solely speculate as to why there may be such a excessive focus of ship carvings at Al Jassasiya, in comparison with different coastal petroglyphic websites in Qatar.

“Ships held a strong function within the beliefs of historical peoples, who noticed them as a symbolic technique of transit from this world to the following,” Gillespie and Al-Naimi famous.

“Each Babylonians and historical Egyptians believed that the lifeless reached the afterworld upon a ship. Greek myths spoke of the ferryman Charon who carried the souls of the lifeless throughout the river Styx to the underworld. It might be that the oldest of the ship carvings are echoes of a folks reminiscence reaching far again into pre-historic instances.”

Regardless of the purpose, guests ought to bear in mind to take water with them and put on a hat and sunscreen when wandering among the many carvings to ponder their that means.

The fenced website doesn’t have any shaded areas, so the perfect instances to go to are at dawn and sundown. Al Jassasiya is situated simply south of the favored Azerbaijani Seashore, so an tour there will also be mixed with a soothing day beside the ocean.