Musandam petroglyphs offer a glimpse into Oman’s ancient past

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Petroglyphs are carvings created by scratching and chipping the surface of rocks. These ancient etchings were made by ‘artists’ who scratched or removed the top layer of the rock’s surface with a sharp tool. The chipping removed the dark upper layer and the images traced on were highlighted by the lighter rock which lay exposed below.
The Petroglyphs in Oman, according to some estimates, are over 5,000 years old! Yet there’s not much we know about them, and definitely no signage near Wadi Qida at Musandam or in fact near the other sites at Wadi Sahtan, Wadi Bani Auf, Wadi Adai, Al Hamra, and Al Qabil. Created by people who belonged to an as-yet-unknown civilisation, some of the petroglyphs have been hidden beneath sand and mud while the location of others is familiar to locals.
Sometimes, locals use little piles of stones as markers at the place where the Petroglyphs can be found. Ask people from the local community about the possible meaning behind the intriguing art and you will hear interesting interpretations; from stories of people trapped in rocks by magic to others that mention a mighty hunter.
The ancient carvings portray both images and text and represent the cultural heritage of the people who lived here thousands of years ago.
The engravings typically depict animals like ostriches, lions, camels, ibex and hyenas, some of which no longer inhabit the region.
Shown with these animals are human figures, some holding weapons and others carrying objects that indicate that the original artists may have come from a hunter-gatherer society. Some etchings also depict what is assumed to be the artists’ immediate surroundings including rivers, trees and other aspects of the local terrain.
In Musandam, just outside the village at Khor Qida, tucked away in a valley near Khasab, are huge rocks that have rock carvings of human figures and a trio of camels. A rocky outcrop on the right has a stylised figure on horseback. A similar collection of beautiful Petroglyphs can also be seen across the bay at the village of Tawi.
Just along the road are huge boulders that seem to have fallen down into the valley from the mountains behind. These rocks, it is believed, were until some time ago, part of a cave in the rock face. Environmental erosion or an earthquake perhaps brought them crashing down to reveal the art from centuries ago. Now exposed to the elements, most of them have weathered and are not easily recognisable. Of Musandam’s many Petroglyphs, the most easily accessible are those at the top of Jabal Harim and those in Wadi Tawi.
Omani petroglyphs have been created by using several techniques including percussion, incision, and bas-relief carvings in addition to painting.
Dating the images poses a problem, although the fact that most of them depict human or animal figures suggests that they may well pre-date the arrival of Islam (which prohibits the making of images of living creatures). Experts believe that the Petroglyphs in Oman were perhaps produced almost continuously from as early as the Omani Bronze Age (Third Millennium BCE) right through to the early 7th century CE.

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