Google Earth image of manmade stone structures in Saudi Arabia

Mysterious Manmade Stone Structures Detected in the Remote Landscape of Saudi Arabia

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Deep in the heart of Saudi Arabia, 400 peculiar stone structures have been found, dating back thousands of years ago. These stone features were discovered by archaeologists with the use of satellite imagery, identifying what they call stone "gates" in an extremely unwelcome and harsh area of the Arabian Peninsula.

Archaeologists Discover Previously Unknown Stone Structures

As Newsweek reported , a team of archaeologists has discovered about 400 stone walls that could be more than 9,000 years old in the western Harrat Khaybar region of the country. The scientists are not entirely sure yet about the purpose of the structures – nicknamed "gates" due to their resemblance of field gates from satellite images – but some of them were found to be draped over lava domes, a mound shaped area where lava has dried near volcanoes.

Gate-shaped structures are also visible on lava domes. (Image: Google Earth)

Gate-shaped structures are also visible on lava domes. (Image: Google Earth)

Despite their purpose being unknown for now, gates are known to the Bedouin as “Works of the Old Men.” However, the structures discovered by Dr. David Kennedy from the University of Western Australia, are nothing like experts or locals have seen before. “They are stone-built, the walls roughly made and low. They appear to be the oldest man-made structures in the landscape, …no obvious explanation of their purpose can be discerned,” Dr. Kennedy said as Newsweek reports .

Modern Technology and Google Earth’s Role in the Discovery

Dr. Kennedy’s interest in such unwelcoming areas of the Middle East goes back to the late 1960s, when he traveled through those lands for the first time. Ten years later, he set up the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East, an initiative to map the area that now has more than 140,000 aerial images. With the advance of Google Earth and Bing Maps, Dr. Kennedy was able to expand this database and, in his most recent research, he fully used it to discover the previously unknown stone structures.

Map showing the locations of some of the Gates. (Image: Wiley/Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy/Douglas Kennedy)

Map showing the locations of some of the Gates. (Image: Wiley/Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy/Douglas Kennedy)

Size of the “Gates” Varies Greatly – Dating them Accurately is a Problem

One of the very first things the archaeologists noticed is how the size of the gates varies immensely, with the smallest being 43 feet (13m) and the largest stretching to 1,699 feet (518m). Another problem, according to the archaeologists, is in accurately determining the exact age of the gates, “It is impossible at the moment to date these gates except relatively. I have argued in the article that they are the earliest of the so-called ‘Works of the Old Men’, the stone-built structures found widely in Arabia from northern Syria to Yemen, but especially common in the lava fields,” Dr. Kennedy told Newsweek .

He added, “The works known as Kites, which are certainly animal traps, may be as old as 9,000 years before present in some cases and there is one example of a kite overlying a gate. So ‘Gates’ may be up to or more than 9,000 years old, which takes one back to the Neolithic.”

Satellite image showing Asian ‘kite’ earthworks, Kazakstan

Satellite image showing Asian ‘kite’ earthworks, Kazakstan (Image: perdurabo10)

Need for Further Fieldwork

Interestingly, before these gates were discovered, volcanologists Vic Camp and John Roobol mapped an area of the Harrat Khaybar region which also had gates and stone structures. These gates, Mr. Camp estimated, were built some 7,000 years ago. However, it is likely that Mr. Camp’s gates are older than the recently discovered ones as some of them are covered in lava flow. "We see several areas where the younger lavas are devoid of such [stone] structures, although surrounded by several [stone structures],” Mr. Camp told Live Science .

A study detailing the findings, authored by Professor David Kennedy, will be published in the November issue of the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy . The next step for the researchers is to conduct archaeological fieldwork, as Dr. Kennedy pointed out that further archaeological fieldwork is needed in order to determine what the gates are and when, exactly, they date to.

Top image: Google Earth image of manmade stone structures in Saudi Arabia (Image: Google Earth)

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