David Kennedy is an archeologist at the University of Western Australia. For twenty years, he’s flown planes above Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries, spotting ancient, human-made stone structures that sprawl across the country’s lava field, known as the harrat. These structures, mostly referred to as “kites,” were built somewhere between 2,000 and 9,000 years ago, most likely by the ancestors of modern day Bedouins. The kites were probably hunting tools, areas where animals like gazelles could be herded to make them easier to kill.
For Kennedy, flying over neighboring countries has not always been as easy. Saudi Arabia in particular would never approve his missions, but the harrat from Jordan extends into the region. Thus, the ancient structures in Saudi Arabia remained a mystery to scientists until the advent of Google Earth, when satellites began photographing the landscape.
Around that time, Dr. Abdullah Al-Saeed, an amateur Saudi Arabian archeologist, began examining three foot high rock walls in the Harrat Khaybar lava field. When he saw them from the air on Google Earth, he realized something he couldn’t see from the ground.
“When I saw the updated images of Harrat Khaybar from Google Earth, I was literally stunned and could not sleep that night,” Dr. Al-Saeed told the New York Times. “Flying like a bird all over the Harrat from one enigmatic structure to another! How come we passed by these structures without appreciating their design?” The images taken by Dr. Al-Saeed eventually made their way back to Kennedy.
The structures, which are being called “gates” due to their shape, don’t have an obvious use or purpose. They range from several hundred feet long to over a thousand feet long, and some of the end sections are thirty feet thick. Kennedy and other archeologists are still stumped as to why ancient cultures may have built the gates.
“They don’t look like funerary, for disposing of dead bodies. They don’t look like structures where people lived, and they don’t look like animal traps,” Kennedy told the Times. “I don’t know what they are.”
In the last decade, Kennedy has cataloged 400 of these structures. His next goal is to date them, and he believes they may be even older than the kites. He hopes that public interest in the structures will help his team locate more of them in satellite imagery.
“There are many other features that have only recently been understood as forming classes of prehistoric ‘geoglyphs’ that were widespread in an area thought to be very barren and devoid of human impact,” Stephan Kempe, a former professor of physical geology at Germany’s Technische Universität Darmstadt, told the Times.
Though the area is bleak and deserted today, its possible that at the time of the gates’ building the climate was very different. It’s hard to know why people so long ago would have constructed structures like these, but seeing them is the first step to figuring it out.
Source: The New York Times