Over the next few years, Ibn Gublan unearthed some 300 objects there. Though none was as large as the first, his finds included a small stone menagerie: ostrich, sheep and goats; what may be fish and birds; a cow-like bovid (Bovidae); and an elegant canine profile that resembles one of the oldest known domesticated breeds, the desert saluki. In addition, he found mortars and pestles, grain grinders, a soapstone pot ornamented with looping and hatched geometric motifs, weights likely used in weaving and stone tools that may have been used in leather processing, as well as scrapers, arrowheads and blades — including an exquisitely decorated stone knife in the unmistakable curved design of the traditional Arabian dagger.
… “This is Neolithic material,” he states, from “a sophisticated society possessing a high level of art and craftsmanship that we have not previously seen.” Al-Ghabban had a laboratory run a radiocarbon analysis on trace organic remains found later alongside some of the objects. That dated the material to between 6590 and 7250 BCE, he says.
The discovery has been named “the al-Magar civilization” after its location, a name that means “gathering place” or “headquarters” in a tribal context. It is the carvings of animals — far more numerous, and some larger, than anything previously found in the western Arabian Peninsula — that are the most intriguing. Among them, the largest, the one that prompted Ibn Gublan to stop the backhoe, has sparked the most curiosity of all.
Eighty-six centimeters (34″) long, 18 centimeters (7″) thick and weighing more than 135 kilograms (300 lbs), the carving has a rounded head, arched neck, muzzle, nostrils, shoulder, withers and overall proportions that clearly resemble an equid — a horse, an ass, an onager or some hybrid. But what makes it so very curious are its two distinctive tooled markings — one in relief from the shoulder down toward the forefoot, and the other carefully, even delicately, incised around the muzzle. The question fairly leaps out: Were the people who inhabited al-Magar putting early forms of bridles on such animals? If so, they were doing it millennia before experts believe it was done elsewhere.