The Enduring Riddle of  The Split Rock

By Marc Roland

Riding atop their stalwart camels, a French chemist and two native guides plodded through the Saudi Arabian Desert, about 248 miles north from the holy city of Medina. A Société de géographie de Paris gold medal recipient for previous expeditions as far afield as Tibet, Auguste Hugues Charles Huber was funded this time by the government of France to charter an unknown region of the peninsula so inhospitable and hazardous, not even most Arabs ventured into it.1

After arduous months of monotonous trekking across barren territory, the three exhausted men stumbled upon gushing springs and luxuriant vegetation belonging to the Tayma Oasis, as it is called today. Littered on the ground nearby were tablets covered with Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions dating back to the 6th and 8th centuries B.C. amid the ruins of ancient shrines and palaces. Back then, “the oasis developed into a prosperous city,” according to Saudi archaeologists, “rich in water wells and handsome buildings.”2 No less remarkable was a 22-foot, four-inch-tall boulder standing on two, natural pedestals. Huber measured its diameter at 36 feet, three inches, correctly estimating the monolith’s weight at 24 tons. Along its base appeared several examples of rock art, most notably, the graceful rendering of a horse.

What attracted Huber’s special notice, however, was a vertical cut that sliced the boulder clean down its middle, precisely separating one half from the other, running top to bottom with a consistent gap of 3.9 inches, undeviating through 19 feet of 18-foot-11-inch-thick sandstone.3 A columnist for Science-101 writes how “the two remarkably heavy sides of the formation seem to balance on nothing more than thin pieces of rock, appearing to nearly gravitate in thin air … the two parts have managed to remain standing for centuries and are perfectly balanced.”4 Huber could not imagine any natural activity or artificial means capable of making such a long, perfectly straight, surgically precise incision in solid, sedimentary conglomerate.

Later, while traveling north of Jeddah, the port city where he planned to catch a ship back to France, the 37-year-old discoverer was robbed and murdered by his own guides, July 30, 1884, near Rabigh, an urban center on the Red Sea coast. For some weeks thereafter, the outside world knew only he had vanished into the desert wilderness, until an escaped Saudi convict on the run from the police accidentally found the dead man, and notified European authorities in exchange for amnesty. A grey sarcophagus inscribed with the name of the martyred explorer may still be seen at Jeddah’s Non–Muslim Cemetery. His Paris colleagues additionally retrieved Huber’s scientific papers, which described and located the unusual boulder, known since as the al-Naslaa Rock.5

It continues to excite attention in the early 21st century among professional observers and curious tourists alike, minus any consensus of opinion to explain the odd formation. Certified geologists are themselves divided in trying to understand just how it came to be.

“Most likely, the ground shifted slightly underneath one of the two supports,” according to the official Saudi view, “and the rock split. Or, it could be an old pressure crack that has been pushed/pulled apart some.”6

Geologic upheavals are known to fracture rock, but never with a straight-line precision unerringly over several yards, as found at al-Naslaa. Other geologists believe rainwater falling on top of the boulder seeped into it, alternately freezing at night and thawing during the day to eventually create an ever-widening crack uniformly widened by windblown sand. This process is undoubtedly responsible for creating many other split rocks around the world, but does not apply at al-Naslaa, because, since the end of the last ice age, 11,700 years ago, it receives an annual rainfall of just 2.56 inches, insufficient to engage freezing-thawing conditions.7 Most telling of all, al-Naslaa is absolutely unique in the world of Nature: No other split rock comes close to displaying so uniformly perfect a fissure. Seismic displacement or pluvial and wind erosion invariably result in measurement irregularities, quite unlike the Tayma Oasis monolith.

“Many argue that it was performed with a laser,” offers Conspiracy Theory Archives, “or a Sound Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (SASER), a device that emits acoustic radiation or even with an ancient technology highly advanced and forgotten. Everything would suggest that these instruments are to be traced back to a genie of evolved beings, certainly not human, present on our planet since the dawn of civilization.”8 What purpose a laser- or saser-wielding extraterrestrial visitor to Saudi Arabia before 1883 would have served by slicing a boulder in two is unclear. If credible solutions from either geology or outer space are not forthcoming, re-examining al-Naslaa within the context of its environment may provide some enlightening clues.

“In 2010,” reported the Saudi Archaeology web site, “the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage announced the discovery of a rock near Tayma with a hieroglyphic inscription of Pharaoh Ramses III. Based on this discovery, researchers have hypothesized that Tayma was part of an important land route between the Red Sea coast of the Arabian Peninsula and the Nile Valley.” 9

Ramses III reigned from 1186 to 1155 B.C., when Egyptian construction greatness still flourished, as attested by his own, colossal and well-preserved “Victory Temple” at Me­­di­net Habu, on the west bank of the Nile, across from Luxor. According to first-hand investigation of similar Dynastic sites undertaken by professional toolmaker and expert machinist Christopher Dunn, the material engineers of Ramses’s time and long before operated power tools featuring immense blades for finely cutting prodigious quantities of quarried stone that went into the pyramids, palaces, obelisks and other stupendous projects raised by that high civilization.10 It seems at least possible then, that al-Naslaa’s precision cut was deliberately made by one of Ramses’ huge, technologically advanced saws, perhaps to publicly signify his connection between two parts of the world—“an important land route between the Red Sea coast of the Arabian Peninsula and the Nile Valley.” Virtually no archaeological work has been carried out at the site.

Perhaps close examination of its cut would reveal tell-tale tool marks, unless they have been sand-blasted away by the last 32 centuries of wind erosion. Until then, the al-Naslaa Rock still stands as the monumental enigma Charles Huber found it, 137 years ago.                                      v


1 Voyage dans l’Arabie centrale. Bulletin de la Société de géographie, 1884-1885.

2 al-naslaa-tayma/

3 Journal d’un voyage en Arabie (1883-1884), 1891.

4), “What is the Al Naslaa Rock Formation in Saudi Arabia?” April 2, 2020.

5 Broc, Numa. Dictionnaire des explorateurs français du XIXe siècle, T.2, Asie. Paris: CTHS, 1992, p. 245-246.


7 Deutsches Arqueologisches Institut,



10 Dunn, Christopher. Lost Technologies of Ancient Egypt: Advanced Engineering in the Temples of the Pharaohs. VT: Bear & Company, 2010.


This article appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of The Barnes Review. Click here for more information.

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