Like reptiles basking in the sun, some of them shoot out of the soft rock. Others are enigmatic depressions resembling an ancient game of board games played worldwide. Additionally, a few are simply perplexing.
Al Jassasiya is Qatar’s largest and most significant rock art site, located among the barren sand dunes of a desolate and windswept corner of the northeastern coast.
People used a series of low-lying limestone outcrops as a canvas to carve symbols, motifs, and objects they saw in their surroundings here in the past.
At Al Jassasiya, archaeologists have discovered approximately 900 rock carvings, or “petroglyphs.” Most of them are enigmatic cup marks in rows and rosettes, but there are also eye-catching representations of sailing ships, usually seen from above but also shown in linear profile, as well as other symbols and signs.
Ferhan Sakal, head of excavation and site management at Qatar Museums, told CNN, “Although rock art is common in the Arabian Peninsula, some of the carvings in Al Jassasiya are unique and cannot be found anywhere else.” Sakal was referring to the petroglyphs of ships seen from a bird’s-eye view.
He stated, “The artists who made these carvings demonstrated a high degree of creativity and observational skills.” Likewise [of] dynamic reasoning, as they couldn’t see the dhow (a conventional boat) from a higher place.”
Doha’s Al Bidda Par, which overlooks the Corniche, a popular waterfront promenade, is home to some of Qatar’s notable petroglyph sites, which can be found among the country’s 12 notable petroglyph sites.
In 1957, Al Jassasiya was discovered, about an hour north of Qatar’s ultra-modern capital and close to the old pearling port of Al Huwaila. A Danish team led by archaeologist Holger Kapel and his son Hans Kapel meticulously cataloged the entire site in photographs and drawings over the course of six weeks in late 1973 and early 1974.
Of the relative multitude of recorded single figures and organizations, in excess of a third comprise of cup marks in different designs, shapes and sizes.
The most obvious pattern is two parallel rows of seven holes. Some people think that these holes were used to play mancala, a board game that has been played in many parts of the world since ancient times in which two players drop small stones in odd and even numbers into the depressions.
Others have refuted this theory by pointing to the fact that some of the holes at Al Jassasiya are too small to hold any of the stones and others are on slopes, which would have resulted in the counters falling out.
The cup patterns being used in some way for divination is another possibility; or for pearl sorting and storage; or as tide and time calculation systems.
So, what exactly were they used for, and what does it mean?
Sakal, who also disagrees with the board-game theory, acknowledged, “It is very difficult to answer.” He stated, “We have no direct clues regarding the motifs used in Al Jassasiya.”
“They might have a ritual meaning and function that is very old and cannot be explained ethnographically,” in my opinion.
But at what age? We really don’t know,” Sakal conceded, explaining that rock art in general and petroglyphs are extremely challenging at this time.
He continued, “There are wild hypotheses about the age, ranging from the Neolithic to the late Islamic era.” Personally, I believe that not all carvings were created simultaneously.
One scientific study of nine different petroglyphs at Al Jassasiya a decade ago found no evidence that they were older than a few hundred years, but the researchers came to the conclusion that more research is needed, including the development of new techniques for limestone carvings.
Although experts can’t say for sure when or by whom the Al Jassasiya petroglyphs were made, they all agree that the boat carvings at the site are the most fascinating and unusual.
These creations provide crucial details about the various types of vessels used in Qatar’s thriving fishing and pearling industries, which have been the country’s mainstays for centuries.
The majority of boats seen from above are typically fish-shaped and feature rows of carved oars and pointed sterns.
They contain a few subtleties, for example, crossing ribs and openings probably showing the putting of poles and ruins.
A long line coming from the stern may depict either a traditional Arabic anchor (a triangular stone anchor with two holes) or a European anchor (a metal anchor with two curved arms and a long shank, first used in the region about seven centuries ago).
Journey to the afterlife
Frances Gillespie and Faisal Abdulla Al-Naimi wrote in “Hidden in the Sands:” “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.” It Qatar’s Past to Uncover.”
“This is what they would have looked like 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 on each time they came up,” the author writes.
When compared to other Qatari coastal petroglyph sites, experts claim they have no idea why Al Jassasiya has such a high concentration of ship carvings.
According to Gillespie and Al-Naimi, “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.”
Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians both held the belief that the dead went to the afterlife on ships. In Greek mythology, Charon was a ferryman who carried the dead’s souls to the underworld by crossing the Styx River. It’s possible that the earliest ship carvings are relics of a common memory that dates far back to prehistoric times.
When wandering among the carvings to contemplate their meaning, visitors should remember to bring water, a hat, and sunscreen, regardless of the reason.
Since there are no shaded areas on the fenced site, sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit. Because Al Jassasiya is just south of the well-known Azerbaijani Beach, you can combine an excursion there with a day spent unwinding by the water.