Thursday, November 16, 2017

Aerial Archaeology in the Saudi Desert

The deserts of the Middle East are dotted with archaeological sites. Because the spaces are so vast and the sites so widely dispersed, little was known about the history of these areas until quite recently. In the 1920s pilots flying over the desert began to report vast stone shapes, and archaeologists even poked into a few in Syria and Jordan.

The shapes includes these "kites," which are thought to be corrals for hunting antelope.

But real progress in surveying the desert was only made after satellite imagery became available starting in 1995. It is now estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of these structures in the deserts of Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudia Arabia.

One common form is the "gate." These are often found in lava fields and other totally inhospitable environments, so it is hard to believe they were ever much use. These range in length from 150 to 1600 feet (40 to 500 meters).

In western Saudi several are draped across this old lava dome. Lava on some indicated that they are at least 6,000 years old. This area (Harrat Khaybar) also contains hundreds of rock-cut tombs.

Awareness of these structures spread widely after Livescience ran a story on the work of David Kennedy, an archaeologist from the University of Western Australia who has documented thousands of structures using Google Earth. He wrote,‘Gates are found almost exclusively in bleak, inhospitable lava fields with scant water or vegetation, places seemingly amongst the most unwelcoming to our species.’

Hundreds of these "keyhole pendants" have been documented. These look like they might be houses attached to animal pens, but there is no evidence that they were ever lived in.

These are called "wheelhouses" but again there is no evidence that they were lived in. The bedouin call all of these structures "the works of the old men." And right now archaeological science can't do much better than that.

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