Kilometer-sized ancient burial alleys found on the Arabian Peninsula

(ORDO NEWS) — Thousands of graves are located along the paths that connected the oases and pastures.

An international team of archaeologists led by Matthew Dalton of the University of Western Australia has explored Neolithic-Chalcolithic (New Stone Age and Copper Age) burials in northwest Arabia.

They analyzed satellite images, aerial photography and combined them with data obtained during the excavations. The results of the study are presented in an article for The Holocene magazine .

The researchers found almost 18 thousand burials of an unusual shape. The authors of the work call them “suspended”, but not in the meaning of “suspended, hanging”, but in the meaning of “in the form of a pendant, pendant”.

Such a burial consists of a pyramid made of stones, up to two meters high, from which stone fences diverge in the form of a triangle (not always completely executed).

Kilometer sized ancient burial alleys found on the Arabian Peninsula 3

But it is not the shape of the burials that is of the greatest interest. It turned out that 11,000 such graves are located in such a way that they form funeral alleys. They are distributed over an area of ​​at least 160,000 square kilometers. Moreover, burials were arranged both on the plains covered with basalt fragments and on mountain passes.

And if you look where these “alleys” lead, it turns out that they connect ancient oases and pastures. The burial structures were dated by the radiocarbon method, which gave a rather interesting result.

Initially, they were built between 2600 and 2000 BC, then they were left, and after a short period of time they began to be reused (buried), and this ended only about a thousand years BC.

The area on which the archaeologists worked is generally very unusual. The ancestors of modern humans lived there 200,000 years ago. During the Neolithic-Chalcolithic era, the oases of Al-Ula and Khaybar were quite densely populated.

The maximum density of burials just corresponds to these oases (around Khaibar there is one of the densest burial landscapes in the world), and this is quite understandable. But why was it necessary to arrange burials along the roads connecting oases and pastures?

The question is so complicated that initially there was even an assumption that these were cenotaphs, and not real burials. Studies of graves, finds of human remains have shown that this hypothesis is incorrect.

Kilometer sized ancient burial alleys found on the Arabian Peninsula 2

Scientists suggest that such arrangement of burials indicates complex socio-economic ties between the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula – and this is certainly true.

Perhaps their connections were not as developed as those of the inhabitants of the “fertile crescent.” But, you see, it is impossible to directly compare the deserts of Arabia and Mesopotamia (although in the latter it is also not smeared with honey in places).

The early kingdoms of Arabia did not appear out of nowhere – they were preceded by a long and complex history of societies in the 3rd-1st millennia BC. In Al-Ula are the ruins of the ancient city of Madain Salih, the construction of which dates back to around the turn of our era.

Once it was called Hegra and was the center of the Nabataean kingdom , as well as a key point for caravan trade. In Hegre itself, a complex of 111 rock burials was excavated, as well as rather complex hydraulic structures.

Caravan trade through Arabia is primarily the Way of incense (or incense way). Evidence of the use of incense in the states of Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean dates back to the 2nd millennium BC.

But the problem was that the sources of incense (aromatic resins) were quite far from these places. The main producer of much-needed raw materials then was Socotra, this is indicated by ancient sources, primarily Diodorus Siculus .

The main transport artery for the delivery of goods to the places of its final consumption ran just through the Arabian Peninsula, specifically through the oases of Al-Ula and Khaibar. Partially, the Way of Incense coincides with the roads marked by rows of burials.

This may be a coincidence – just the most convenient places to move around. And, perhaps, the secondary use of burial complexes, which we mentioned above, is connected precisely with trade: people who died during the journey were buried in old tombs.


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