Mystery of the Monuments found in Saudi Arabia

Archaeologists have discovered new instances of ancient stone structures, called “mustatils” (meaning “rectangles” in Arabic), in Al Nafud Al Kabir, a large desert in Northern Saudi Arabia. These findings shed some much needed light on the function of these structures.

Mustatils are characteristically rectangular, featuring a very clearly defined perimeter of rocks, which were a common and freely available building material for ancient Arabian peoples. These new discoveries cement the age of these structures as as being built and used around 5000 B.C, making them approximately 7,000 years old.

Satellite imagery showing off some mustatils. Image Credit: Google Earth

The builders of these mustatils would have inhabited a “Green Arabia” period, named for it’s unusually high levels of rain which would have transformed the desert we know today into a much greener, probably unrecognizable landscape. This of course, would have made the region much more attractive to people looking to settle into a place with a more hospitable climate.

A mustatil in Al Nafud Al Kabir. Image credit: Huw Groucutt.

There is still uncertainty regarding the usage of mustatils. Thanks to the morphology and positions of these structures, archaeologists have ruled out the possibility of mustatils being used to house animals or water for agriculture. In fact, painted decorative patterns on rocks, large caches of animal bones, as well as charcoal remains have been found in mustatils, leading scientists to postulate that these structures could have been sacrificial altars and monuments made in honor of the many ancient gods of the Pre-Islamic Arabs. Other scientists speculate that these sites could have been places of social gathering, where people would have partaken in feasts and conversation.

A geometric decorative pattern painted on a rock belonging to a mustatil. Image Credit: The Holocene.

  • Huw S. Groucutt¬†et al. Monumental landscapes of the Holocene humid period in Northern Arabia: The mustatil phenomenon.¬†The Holocene, published online August 17, 2020; doi: 10.1177/0959683620950449

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