Updated September, 2013

Sketches of caves located in Saudi Arabia have probably been made for centuries, but the production of accurate cave maps based on the use of survey compasses, measuring tapes and clinometers is a very recent development.

In the summer of 2007, Saudi Geological Survey published its first collection of cave maps, entitled:

Maps of caves surveyed by Saudi Geological Survey, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Saudi Geological Survey Data-File Report SGS-DF-2005-14, 59 p, 58 figs.

This data file brings together maps and sketches of twelve limestone caves and seven lava tubes explored by the Saudi Geological Survey Cave Unit during the years 2000-2004. One of these caves was found within the city limits of Riyadh; four of the caves are located on the As Sulb Plateau; seven are found in the northern regions of the Kingdom and the seven lava caves are located in Harrats Khaybar, Ithnayn, Kishb and Nawasif-Buqum.


The nineteen cave maps and sketches in this collection represent only a few of the many caves located and/or explored by the SGS Cave Unit between 2000 and 2004 and it is expected that more collections of cave maps and sketches, based on these explorations, will be compiled and published in the future.


This report can be downloaded as a PDF file  (4.l megabytes) from this website. 

Mahmoud Al-Shanti working on a draft map of Umm Jirsan, the longest lava cave in Saudi Arabia (1.4 km).



A Brief History of Cave Mapping in Saudi Arabia


In the late 1930s, geologist and later CEO of Aramco, Tom Barger, sketched the interior of some dahls located near Ma’aqala in the karst of the Summan Plateau (Barger, 2003).

In 1968 German divers published a sketch of Ayn Khudud, the largest spring in the Al Hasa Oasis. (Al-Sayari & Zötl, 1978).

In 1976, H. Hötzl & V. Maurin published a map of Ghar An Nashab, a series of 30m-high, narrow, joint-controlled fissures containing 1.5 kms of passages. Their survey was carried out using tape, compass and clinometer readings and may be the first “professional” cave map ever made in Saudi Arabia. For many years Ghar An Nashab (also called Al Qara Cave), located near Hofuf in Al Hasa, has been Saudi Arabia’s best known (and perhaps only) Show Cave. (Al-Sayari & Zötl,1978).

In 1983, Bruce Davis of the U.S. National Speleogical Society published sketches of several caves including Dahl Sabsab (Davis, 1983). Years later, the accuracy of this Sabsab sketch was commended by geologist Greg Gregory after mapping the cave with compass and tape (Gregory, 2001).

Perhaps the first attempt to map a lava tube in Saudi Arabia was made by Mamdoah Al-Rashid who used a 50m-long tape to measure the length of Kahf Al Shuwaymis. The date of this event is not recorded, nor is there any reference to the use of a compass, but Mr. Rashid’s calculation of the cave’s length (500 m) comes very close to the length of 530 m measured in a recent BCRA grade 3C survey (Rashid, 2002). If the length of side passages (30 m) is removed from the total, Mr. Rashid’s results are exactly on the mark.



Mahmoud Al-Shanti (left) and Abdulrahman Al Juaid (right) mapping Kahf Al Shuwaymis.


In 1983 mapping of Dahl Sultan was undertaken using compass, clinometer, tape and tripod, perhaps fulfilling the stringent requirements for a BCRA grade 6D survey. Unfortunately, this accuracy was maintained for only the first 18 stations (Peters et al, 1990).

In 1986, scientists from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals and the Austrian Academy of Sciences initiated a project to study the role that dahls play in replenishing the Umm-Er-Radhuma aquifer, the most important in the Kingdom. Over a period of several years, speleologists from this group explored and surveyed 58 caves located in the vicinity of Ma’aqala, on the Summan Plateau, producing a collection of high-quality cave maps as well as valuable information on the hydrology of this karst area. Of particular interest is their map of UPM Cave which has passages on three different levels and features a large underground room 45 meters wide, 80 meters long and 17 meters high (Benischke et al, 1997)

Throughout the 1990’s, cave exploration and surveying was carried on by small groups of speleologists and cavers living in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran, mainly centered on the Summan karst. Most notable is the survey of Surprise Cave which began in 1995 and is still far from finished. To date, 12 individuals from Saudi Arabia and five other countries have participated in the ongoing survey of this labyrinthine cave. (Pint, 2003).

Beginning in the year 2000, the Saudi Geological Survey formed a Cave Unit and began the exploration and mapping of limestone caves on the Summan Plateau and in the northern regions as well as surveys of lava caves in Harrats Kishb, Khaybar, Ithnayn and Buqum-Nawasif. During this period, measurements of temperature, humidity, radon gas content, etc. were carried out in many caves as well as carbon dating of human and animal skulls and bones, uranium-thorium dating of stalagmites and OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) dating of loess on cave floors. Analysis of speleothem samples for hosted cave minerals was also initiated, using a powder diffractometer and/or a Gandolfi camera. Many of the maps in this collection were produced during this period. Meanwhile, geologists in the Eastern Province mapped several caves in that area, most notably Dahl Sabsab and Ain Hit, two well-known caves which have had many visitors but—to the compiler’s knowledge—had never been properly surveyed.

Perhaps the most important Saudi cave studied in recent times is Ghar Al Hibashi, a lava tube located in Harrat Nawasif-Buqum and surveyed by the SGS Cave Unit. The map of Hibashi Cave indicates the locations where 19 cave minerals—many very rare—were found, along with the age of a human skull found in the cave and of samples taken from the thick carpet of loess covering the floor. In 2004 Hibashi Cave was named one of the ten most important lava caves in the world, for its mineral content and is presently being used by NASA contractors as a model for the lava tubes of Mars (Pint et al, 2005).

Mohammed Moheisen with Suunto on the mound-covered floor of Umm Jirsan Lava Cave in Harrat Khaybar.


The Challenge of Surveying Caves in Saudi Arabia


Mapping desert caves exposes the surveyor to certain difficulties and dangers peculiar to the underground environment. Simply entering the cave may require a rappel into a black void of considerable depth or a climb down a swinging cable ladder only centimeters away from a delicately balanced, ten-ton boulder which could shift at any moment. Darkness awaits the surveyor at the bottom, forcing him or her to squint through the sights in his or her instruments at a torch-lit target shrouded in inky blackness. In Saudi caves, a temperature of 25° and humidity as high as 97% might add to the difficulty of taking accurate measurements. Extremely dry caves, on the other hand, may have over a meter of loess or very fine powder covering the floor, producing choking clouds of dust at every step...  

...To make matters worse, a walking passageway may eventually turn into a low crawlway which will require a separate station every time it twists left or right. The surveyor must take notes and measurements while belly-crawling through mud, sand, desiccated hyena scat, water, bat guano, bat urine or a combination of all six. On top of that, in the caves of northern and western Saudi Arabia there is a distinct possibility that he or she will find a hungry wolf waiting at the end of the crawlway.

...and if the wolf doesn't get you, wait until you step out of the cool cave into the 120 °F heat of a sizzling day in June! John Pint roasting outside Collapse Entrance 3 to Umm Jirsan Cave. Photo by M. Al-Shanti.

For all of the above reasons, as compiler of this data file, I wish to thank the dedicated surveyors who toiled in the darkness to make this collection possible and whose names duly appear on each individual map.


John Pint




Al-Sayari, S.S. and Zötl, J.G., editors, 1978, Quaternary Period in Saudi Arabia. Springer-Verlag, Wein, Austria.

Barger, T., 2003, personal communication of Tim Barger to John Pint.

Benischke, R., Fuchs, G. Weissensteiner, V., 1997, Speleological Investigations in Saudi Arabia, Proceedings of the 12th International Congress of Speleology, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, pp. 10-17, VIII, 1997, Natural History Museum, City of Geneva, Switzerland, Swiss Speleological Society (SSS/SGH), Symposium 8: Karst Geomorphology, 425-428.

Davis, B., 1983, Voids Between the Dunes, NSS News, November: National Speleological Society, p. 278-284.

Gregory, A., 2001, “DGS Caving Field Trip," The Oil Drop, Vol. 13, Issue 7, Sept. 2001: Dhahran Geoscience Society, p. 3-4.

Peters, D., Pint, J. and Kremla, N., 1990, Karst Landforms in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, NSS Bulletin, June 1990: National Speleological Society, pp. 21-32

Pint, J., 2003, The Desert Caves of Saudi Arabia: Stacey International, London, 120 p.

Pint, J.J., Al-Shanti, M.A., Al-Juaid, A.J., Al-Amoudi, S.A., and Forti, P., 2005, Ghar al Hibashi Harrat Nawasif/Al Buqum, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with the collaboration of R. Akbar, P. Vincent, S. Kempe, P. Boston, F. Kattan, E. Galli, A. Rossi and S. Pint: Saudi Geological Survey Open-File Report SGS-OF-2004-12, 68 p., 43 figs, 1 table, 2 app., 1 plate.

Rashid, M., 2002, Personal Communication to J. Pint.