Google Earth reveals ancient stone gates in Saudi Arabia

October 23, 2017 by Jess Reid  , University of Western Australia
Google Earth reveals ancient stone gates in Saudi Arabia
Credit: University of Western Australia

A researcher at The University of Western Australia has used Google Earth imagery to identify almost 400 previously undocumented stone structures known as 'Gates' in Saudi Arabia. 

Professor David Kennedy, a researcher in Classics and Ancient History, said while we tended to think of Saudi Arabia as largely barren mountains and desert, it was also home to an immense number of archaeological sites that were yet to be identified, recorded and mapped.

"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," Professor Kennedy said.

His findings are described in a research paper to be published next month in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.

Professor Kennedy said he was baffled when he first saw this particular site type on the satellite images – despite some 40 years working on the of 'Arabia', they were unlike anything he had seen before. 

"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," he said.

"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."

Since 1997, Professor Kennedy has flown in helicopters over Saudi Arabia's neighbour Jordan, photographing tens of thousands of stone-built structures scattered over its lava field or 'harrat'. Shapes range from giant circles of stone that may be 400m across to Kites (animal traps), Pendants (funerary monuments), Wheels (unknown) and many more."

Not much is known about the people who built the edifices, but they are thought to have constructed them 2,000 to 9,000 years ago, according to Professor Kennedy. They are believed to be the ancestors of the modern-day Beduin in the region who describe them collectively as 'The Works of Old Men'. 

Thanks to a succession of generous grants from The Packard Humanities Institute (2008-2017), Professor Kennedy's team has recorded thousands of archaeological sites in Jordan and the Middle East. The Oxford-educated academic specialises in the Near East and aerial archaeology. He established the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME) in 1978, and has jointly directed the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan (AAJ) project since 1997.

Professor Kennedy was founding director (with Oxford colleagues Robert Bewley and Andrew Wilson) of the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project.The EAMENA team is working to record a heritage that has been threatened over many years by development and is now in the firing line of civil and foreign wars and the victim of looters.

Explore further: Official launch of public database of 'at risk' archaeological sites

More information: Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journa … 1111/(ISSN)1600-0471

Related Stories

Jordan's airborne monuments men discover, protect sites

October 12, 2016

The helicopter door opens and Robert Bewley leans out hundreds of feet above the Hisban Roman ruins outside Amman, Jordan. Feet on the struts, the Oxford University archaeologist begins snapping photos as the chopper circles ...

How aerial thermal imagery is revolutionizing archaeology

September 24, 2017

A Dartmouth-led study has demonstrated how the latest aerial thermal imagery is transforming archaeology due to advancements in technology. Today's thermal cameras, commercial drones and photogrammetric software has introduced ...

Recommended for you

Excavators find tombs buried in Bolivia 500 years ago

November 17, 2018

Archaeologists say they found tombs at a Bolivian quarry containing remains from more than 500 years ago that give an insight into the interaction of various peoples with the expanding Inca empire.

Preventing chemical weapons as sciences converge

November 15, 2018

Alarming examples of the dangers from chemical weapons have been seen recently in the use of industrial chemicals and the nerve agent sarin against civilians in Syria, and in the targeted assassination operations using VX ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rrwillsj
1.7 / 5 (3) Oct 24, 2017
Pity this research was publicized.

The Saudi-Wahhabist mal-administration of the religious sites and artifacts of the Arabian Peninsula (and anywhere else they have military domination) is intent at extinguishing their pre-Islamic history.

Openly destroying Shiite shrines and other material evidence contradicting the Wahhabist pinhole vision of dominionist triumphalism.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.