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

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

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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 necessary rock artwork web site.

Here, individuals centuries in the past used a series of low-lying limestone outcrops as a canvas on which they carved symbols, motifs and objects that they noticed in their surroundings.

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

“Although rock art is common in the Arabian Peninsula, some of the carvings in Al Jassasiya are unique and cannot be found anywhere else,” Ferhan Sakal, head of excavation and web site administration at Qatar Museums, informed CNN, referring to the petroglyphs of ships seen from a chook’s-eye view.

“These carvings represent a high degree of creativity and observation skills [on the part of] the artists who made them,” he mentioned. “Also [of] abstract thinking, as they were not able to see the dhow (a traditional ship) from above.”

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Cup marks

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Experts say the rock carvings at Al Jassasiya are unique to the location.

Experts say the rock carvings at Al Jassasiya are distinctive to the placement.

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 in the center 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Al Jassasiya, about an hour north of Qatar’s uber-modern capital and close to the outdated pearling port of Al Huwaila, was found in 1957.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 group led by archaeologist Holger Kapel and his son Hans Kapel undertook a examine which painstakingly cataloged the whole web site in pictures and drawings.

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

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The most distinguished sample includes two parallel rows of seven holes, main some to imagine that these have been used to play mancala, a board recreation common in many components of the world since antiquity in which two contestants drop odd and even numbers of small stones into the depressions.

Others have disputed this concept, pointing to the truth that a number of the holes at Al Jassasiya are too small to carry any of the stones, whereas others will be discovered on slopes — an impractical selection that will have resulted in the counters falling out.

Further options embody the cup formations getting used in a way for divination; or for the sorting and storage of pearls; or as techniques to compute the time and tides.

Game concept

The area contains about 900 carvings.

The space accommodates about 900 carvings.

Courtesy Dimitris Sideridis

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

“It is very difficult to answer,” acknowledged Sakal, who additionally doesn’t facet with the board-game concept. “We have no direct clues about the motifs used in Al Jassasiya,” he mentioned.

“In my opinion, they might have a ritual meaning and function, which is very old so that it cannot be explained ethnographically.”

But how outdated? “We really do not know,” conceded Sakal, explaining that petroglyphs — and rock artwork, in common — are very difficult to this point.

“There are wild hypotheses about the age, ranging from Neolithic to late Islamic times,” he added. “I personally think that not all carvings were made at the same time.”

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

While specialists can’t certainly say when the Al Jassasiya petroglyphs have been created, and by whom, all of them agree that probably the most fascinating — and weird — carvings on the web site are these of the boats.

Theories vary on the age of the petroglyphs.

Theories range on the age of the petroglyphs.

Courtesy Dimitris Sideridis

These creations present necessary details about the varieties of vessels used in the thriving fishing and pearling industries (for hundreds of years, the mainstays of Qatar’s financial system), in addition to their varied components.

Most of the boats seen from above are often fish-shaped with pointed sterns and rows of oars, carved with a pointed steel instrument.

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

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

Journey to the afterlife

Mystery prevails over the purpose of some of the carvings.

Mystery prevails over the aim of a number of the carvings.

Courtesy Dimitris Sideridis

“On some of the boats the oars are not parallel, as they would have to be when used for rowing, but pointing in different locations,” Frances Gillespie and Faisal Abdulla Al-Naimi wrote in “Hidden in the Sands: Uncovering Qatar’s Past.”

“This is how they would have looked when the boats were anchored out on the pearl banks and the oars were left in place for the divers to cling to and rest each time they came up.”

Experts 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 powerful role in the beliefs of ancient peoples, who saw them as a symbolic means of transit from this world to the next,” Gillespie and Al-Naimi famous.

“Both Babylonians and ancient Egyptians believed that the dead reached the afterworld upon a ship. Greek myths spoke of the ferryman Charon who carried the souls of the dead across the river Styx to the underworld. It may be that the oldest of the ship carvings are echoes of a folk memory reaching far back into pre-historic times.”

Whatever the rationale, guests ought to keep in mind to take water with them and put on a hat and sunscreen when wandering among the many carvings to ponder their which means.

The fenced web site doesn’t have any shaded areas, so one of the best occasions to go to are at dawn and sundown. Al Jassasiya is situated simply south of the favored Azerbaijani Beach, so an tour there can be mixed with a soothing day beside the ocean.

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