Ancient Camel Sculptures Are Older Than the Pyramids and Stonehenge, Scientists Discover

The eroded camel reliefs in Saudi Arabia date from the Neolithic period
Ancient Camel Sculptures Are Older Than the Pyramids and Stonehenge, Scientists Discover
Image: FAYEZ NURELDINE / Contributor via Getty Images

A team of archaeologists has determined that a set of camels carved into three rock spurs in  Northern Saudi Arabia are between 7,000 and 8,000 years old, making them older than the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge.  

Initially, experts believed that the camel carvings were roughly 2.000 years old. However, the researchers explain in a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Wednesday, the team used erosion patterns and tool marks on the sculptures to date them back to the prehistoric era (5200 to 5600 BCE). That predates both the Pyramids at Giza and the domestication of camels, the BBC reported this week.

The team of 14 scientists, who came together from across Europe and the Middle East to study the formations, used luminescence dating—the use of infrared and thermal radiation to measure the energy of photons being released from a geological structure—and X-ray analysis to age the rock structures, a task that was previously difficult given their age and severely eroded condition.

Though they’ve been damaged over the years, aspects of the structures—located in Al Jouf, a northern Saudi province—remain visible today, including deep carvings of camel legs and hooves and intricate linework in the outline of a camel’s face and snout. They were likely recarved and reshaped over time with stone tools as the rock began to fall, around 1000 BCE, the researchers note in their paper.

The life-size structures each likely took between 10 and 15 days to complete, and likely required scaffolding structures to build at their height above the ground. Given technological limitations around tools for carving and reaching the rock, their existence and remains today is mesmerizing, the study’s lead author, Maria Guagnin, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History told UAE-based outlet The National

“They are absolutely stunning,” Gaugnin said. “Bearing in mind we see them now in a heavily eroded state with many panels fallen, the original site must’ve been absolutely mind blowing.”