Discoveries from the remains of a 9000-year-old civilisation in Saudi Arabia may point to the very roots of the Arabian horse breed.
The rich vein of discoveries at Al-Magar made headlines this week, with Saudi officials saying researchers had unearthed evidence that pushed horse domestication back by a further 3500 years.
One statue shows the unique neck and head characteristics of the breed. Two are said to show evidence of harness and a bridle. A nearby cave drawing appears to show a man riding a horse, and other evidence points to horses and other animals being part of the inhabitants’ daily lives.
Previous research, published in 2009, put the earliest evidence of horse domestication at 5500 years ago, in Kazakhstan. Researchers found evidence that the Botai culture based there bred horses not only for riding, but for food, including milk.
Saudi officials say the finds at Al-Magar push that date back to 9000 years ago.
Among more than 80 artifacts found at Al-Magar is a one-metre long statue of a horse, comprising head, neck and chest.
Officials say the statue, which could well be the largest known sculpture of a horse during that period, has features similar to that of the original Arabian horses, characterised by a long neck and unique head shape.
The head of the statue carries what officials say are clear signs of a bridle.
Several statues of animals were found on the site, indicating the animals were part of the inhabitants’ daily lives. They included horses, sheep, goats, Saluki dogs, ostriches, falcons and fish.
All statues were made of the same local rocks available at the site and it seems they had been fixed on a central building at the southern bank of the river before the mouth point of the river at the waterfall.
This central building might have had a major role in the social life of the site inhabitants.
There are also rock drawings at the area next to the Al-Magar site.
These were created by deep pecking and engraving the rock surface.
A statue in which the horse’s neck and head’s lower details are clearly seen.
Ibexes, ostriches and other animals, as well as human figures including a knight riding a horse are carefully depicted, officials said.
Another drawing shows hunting ibexes followed by hound dogs, and another with five dogs surrounding an ibex.
The artworks have over time turned black, which indicates they were made when the site was inhabited.
Other rock drawing were found among the remains of the central building at Al-Magar, including drawings of horses and human beings.
Finds at the site also include arrowheads, scrapers and spearheads. Other objects included stone grain-grinders, a stone pestle for pounding grain, gravitation stones used in weaving looms, a stone reel for spinning and weaving, a soapstone pot decorated by geometrical motifs, and stone tools for leather processing which reflected advanced knowledge in handcraft activities.
Al-Magar is located in the province of Tathleet, between the towns of Tathleeth and Wadi Al Dawasir, about 120km from Wadi Al Dawasir.
In March, 2010, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities started site survey and exploration work after the site was reported by a Saudi citizen.
Man either settled this area before it turned to desert, or during a period of tremendous climate change which ended with the spread of desert through the region.
It is believed humans lived in the area initially because of its ability to support agriculture and animal husbandry.
Archaeological items were found all over site’s surface, including arrow heads, precisely made stone scrapers similar to those man used during the Neolithic period.
Equine face and mouth details are clearly seen on this piece.
Carbon-dating carried out in the United States found that the site dated back to 9000 year ago.
The site was first discovered by a Saudi citizen who collected some archaeological objects scattered on the surface. Another Saudi citizen reported the site to local authorities, who in turn reported it to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities.
Commission staff contacted the person who collected the archaeological objects, who immediately returned all objects and guided concerned officials to the site. The commission said it rewarded two people for their co-operation.
It began exploration around the site in March 2010, with a scientific team including Saudis and international researchers, archaeologists and specialists in prehistoric periods.
Saudi officials say the site is surrounded by other sites extending over a wide area, where similar objects have been found. Typically, some of them were connected with the agriculture activity. Other artifacts of interest found at Al-Magar include a stone dagger bearing the same features and shape of the Arabian daggers used today on the Arabian Peninsula.
“This artifact is an important cultural [find] as the dagger is one of the most important cultural and traditional element among the Arabs,” an official said.
Another significant stone piece was found at the site, bearing small cut lines on the edges. The parallel lines were set in groups, perhaps for accounting, numbering or timing purposes. Future studies may reveal its use.