(Updated)– While Saudi Arabia is often regarded as mostly a barren wasteland, the country holds some of the world’s most impressive archaeological sites. Now, aerial images have revealed several hundred ancient structures, built between 2,000 and 9,000 years ago.
With the help of Google Earth, a single researcher from the University of Western Australia has identified 400 previously undocumented stone “gates” in the Kingdom.
Professor Kennedy, a researcher in Classics and Ancient History, calls the structures “gates,” for the lack of a better name.
“I refer to them as gates because when you view them from above they look like a simple field gate lying flat, two upright posts on the sides, connected by one or more long bars,” the professor said in a news release. “They don’t look like structures where people would have lived nor do they look like animal traps or for disposing of dead bodies. It’s a mystery as to what their purpose would have been.”
The interesting thing is that these structures aren’t even visible at ground level. This is actually the case for surprisingly many large-scale archaeological features. You could be right beside them or even on top and not realize it without some aerial perspective is needed. Rather ironically, Kennedy hasn’t even visited Saudi Arabia once in his life, but he was able to locate almost 400 of these features. Shapes range from giant circles of stone that may be 400m across.
Kennedy detailed the 400 newly identified gates in a scientific paper published next month in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.
“You can’t see them in any intelligible way at the ground level but once you get up a few hundred feet, or with a satellite even higher, they stand out beautifully,” he said.
Kennedy has previously spent time surveying ancient stone structures in Jordan from the perspective of a helicopter. During flyovers above Jordan’s lava fields, Kennedy has documented a variety of manmade structures. The stone structures are named for their shape and purpose.
“Kites” are structures that were used to trap animals, while “pendants” describe funerary monuments. Other shapes, like “wheels,” don’t have a known function.
The architects of the ancient gates and similar structures are believed to be the ancestors of modern day Beduins, but little is known about the ancient residents of these harsh landscapes. The stone structures were erected between 2,000 and 9,000 years ago.