Aramco geophysicist discovers remarkable petroglyphs
Images etched in rocks near Tayma show human figure holding a bow.
Ghaith A. Alshaia, a geophysicist in the Geophysical Imaging Department and a passionate explorer, recently made a stunning discovery etched into the canvas of the Kingdom’s vast desert.
During a trip with his father to the ancient city of Tayma, 400 km north of Medina, the pair came across a unique petroglyph on a rock.
“The Hunter” carving shows a human figure holding a wide bow. The figure is dressed in a hat adorned with a long feather and an izaar, a piece of cloth which is wrapped around the lower body. Alshaia and his father noticed the petroglyph displayed sophisticated detail not seen in previous discoveries in the Kingdom.
Alshaia immediately consulted Sandra L. Olsen, a professor at the Biodiversity Institute of the University of Kansas, who confirmed that the drawing dates back about 6,000 years. Olsen was also impressed by the level of detail. Alshaia then contacted the Heritage Commission, which documented the finding and arranged media coverage of the discovery.
The find did not happen by accident. Alshaia often takes exploratory trips around the Kingdom in pursuit of new discoveries. Before finding “The Hunter,” he had been following in the footsteps of 19th century travelers such as Charles Huber and Julius Euting, who kept diaries of their trips in Saudi Arabia.
“We had already completed most of the journey from Arar to Jiddah and decided it was time to explore more isolated areas near Al-Ula and Tayma,” said Alshaia. “They are tough terrains that used to be caravan roads for travelers coming from China and Persia, so we knew that even if we didn’t find the sites we were looking for, we would find something new.”
Alshaia and his father’s infectious excitement for ancient discoveries has led to their whole family traveling along with them, often driving for days and camping under the stars after long walks in pursuit of something new to find.
There is a lot to discover; you just have to train your eyes.
— Ghaith A. Alshaia
There are countless archaeological treasures to be found across the Kingdom. UNESCO’s World Heritage List includes five Saudi sites: historic Jiddah, Al-Ahsa, Madayin Salih in Al-‘Ula, Al-Turaif district in ad- Dir’iyah, and Ha’il.
Saudi Arabia is investing in preserving and exploring historical sites, in addition to rehabilitating areas of historic significance. Such efforts led to the Kingdom being elected to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in 2019.
Alshaia said discoveries such as “The Hunter” are great additions to the historical record of the Kingdom, helping scholars and researchers to uncover more mysteries of the lives of those who inhabited this land before us.