The rock formations around Jabal Ikmah, a mountain five kilometers north of Al-Ula, are stunning. But what makes Jabal Ikmah truly exceptional are the thousands of ancient inscriptions carved into the cliffs along one of its crevasses. The high concentration of engravings at Jabal Ikmah made it earn the title of “Open Library,” but the reason why so many ancient people decided to leave their mark here is unknown. What is known is that the nearby Dadan city used to be a major regional hub in the 6th century B.C., attracting traders and scholars from far and wide. Reliable estimates date the oldest inscriptions at Jabal Ikmah to 644 B.C.
Languages represented in these inscriptions include Aramaic, Dadanitic, Safaitic, Thamudic, Minaic, and Nabataean, all languages that predated and eventually influenced Arabic. All these scripts and languages have been deciphered, which increases the historical significance of this place. This mountain truly bears witness to the tumultuous history that unfolded in this region through the millennia. The topics represented in the inscriptions range from names of people with little or no additional information, to detailed descriptions of religious rituals, commercial transactions, and transcriptions of local laws. Several geographical names are also mentioned, including Badr, Tha’al, and Mahja, which testifies to the crucial role that the city of Dadan played along this trading route.
In addition to writings, there are also drawings of human figures, animals, and everyday tools. Stylized representations of humans are generally drawn in the act of performing a task, such as hunting, herding, or farming. As for animals, in addition to the predictable depictions of camels, there are also deer, sheep, goats, and a conspicuously muscular bull. Finally, several tools can be recognized, including farming and hunting implements, and musical instruments.
The presence of rock inscriptions is not an anomaly in this area, and they can also be found at Mabrak al-Naqah, Naqsh Zuhayr, and Umm Daraj, but the concentration, quality, and variety found at Jabal Ikmah is unique.