Lion Tombs of Dadan

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Lion Tombs of Dadan (مقابر الأسود في دادان) are two rock-cut burial niches decorated with reliefs of lions. In the ancient oasis Dedan, close to today's city of Al-Ula in Madinah Province, a kingdom flourished from at least the 6th century until the 2nd century BCE. This kingdom developed its own culture including a specific language and alphabet, that resulted in a mix of Arabian traditions and strong influences from the surrounding empires.


Carved in the eastern facade of Jabl Dadan, these brilliant tomb facades might have belonged to local governors or other influential people. These tombs are square-shaped holes, cut at different heights out of the side of the mountain, their cavities being about two meters deep. They are approximately dated to the 5th century BCE, the probable period of the Lihyanite takeover of the region. Today reaching the Lion Tombs involves climbing stairs up fifty meters where the tombs were cut in the cliffs.

An inscription on one of these two tombs indicates that it belonged to a member of the Minaic community of Dedan that originated from Ma'in in today's Yemen. The Minaic were the most important trade partners for Dedan and even had a small colony living in the ancient oasis.

circa 500 BCE

These carvings are located some 1 kilometer from the main Dadanite excavation site. Cut in to the rock cliff some 50 meters above the valley where the ancient oasis was centered. These are the only tombs that are decorated with two carved lions each, showing the importance of their owners, being governors or influential people. These tombs are evidence of 2600 years of settlement in al-Ula, originally called Dedan.

circa 500 BCE

These two tombs are known as al-Aswad Tombs and were carved around the 6th century BCE by the Lihyanites. the people who inhabited the oasis and created the powerful Kingdom of Dedan. The numerous tombs are mostly plain burial chambers carved into the rock, but a small number of them have lion sculptures above them.

Religious and Architectural Influence from Mesopotamia

circa 500 BCE

Lion of Babylon
According to the religious beliefs of the day, the lions protected those buried within the tombs. These sculptures of lions that are an outstanding example of the Mesopotamian influence (i.e. Lion of Babylon), and are the proud iconic figures of this ancient oasis. Although both of the depictions are of Asiatic Lion, extensively found in the regions of Arabia, eastern Turkey, Iran, Mesopotamia, Pakistan, and from east of the Indus River to Bengal and the Narmada River in Central India.


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