Archaeologists using satellite image surveys announced this week that they have discovered at least 400 stone structures — dubbed “gates” for their resemblance to field gates when viewed from above — of unknown origin in remote Saudi Arabia. Located at the edges of dormant volcanoes, researchers are estimating that the formations are thousands of years old. But what has been found most intriguing is the mystery surrounding the stone structures’ function.
And they are man-made.
LiveScience has reported that archaeologists, using mainly satellite images, have discovered nearly 400 of the ancient stone “gates” in what used to be an active volcano field in Saudi Arabia. The imagery shows the gates to be of various sizes (ranging from 43 feet (13 meters) to 1,699 feet (518 meters) in length). Many of the stone structures include multiple walls which form rectangular formations, while others, which scientists have begun calling “I” gates, appear as one lone wall with mounds of stones at each end.
Research led by Professor David Kennedy of the University of Western Australia revealed in a paper — to be published by the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy— that the stone gates were “stone-built, the walls roughly made and low,” and that they “appear to be the oldest man-made structures in the landscape” where “no obvious explanation of their purpose can be discerned.”
Kennedy noted that the ancient stone gates were “almost exclusively” discovered in what is considered “inhospitable” lava fields in remote Saudi Arabia, an area known as Harrat Khaybar that is characterized as being far more accepting of human habitation thousands of years ago. He wrote that other types of structures — “kites,” which were used in hunting game, and “wheels,” named for their shape — have also been discovered in the area, but the stone gates invariably seem to be located beneath them, suggesting to researchers that the gates predate the other man-made structures. Additionally, some of the gates were found to be buried beneath some lava flows, indicating, of course, that the stone formations were older than the flows themselves.
To date, no actual fieldwork has been conducted on the ancient structures. However, LiveScience reported that the Harrat Khaybar region itself was mapped some thirty years ago by volcanologists Vic Camp and John Roobol. Camp told LiveScience that the Harrat Khaybar area includes a lava dome, long gone dormant, that seems particularly crowded with the ancient formations. He noted that basaltic lava covers some of the stone gates and other structures and that some of the gates might be at least 7,000 years old.
Professor Kennedy wrote that more fieldwork is necessary to determine not only what purpose the stone gates served but just how old they actually are.
The Middle East, which was home to several ancient civilizations, contains some of the world’s most mysterious artifacts and structures. For example, back in 2014, the Daily Mail reported that archaeologists from the University of Western Australia documented 12 of Jordan and Syria’s “Big Circles,” man-made stone designs erected in gigantic circular patterns that scientists believe were once geometrically precise. First discovered through aerial photos in the 1930s, the purpose of the “circles,” like Saudi Arabia’s stone gates, remain a mystery.
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