Ancient tombs reveal secrets of a 4,500-year-old road network in the Arabian Peninsula


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The Royal Commission for AlUla Governorate, in partnership with the University of Western Australia, revealed that the people who lived in the ancient northwest of the Arabian Peninsula built long “funeral corridors”, which are main paths surrounded by thousands of funerary monuments that connected between oases and pastures, and reflects a high degree of Social and economic interdependence among the population of the region in the third millennium BC.

The publication of the findings in The Holocene is the culmination of a year of tremendous progress made by the University of Western Australia team, working under the supervision of the Royal Commission for AlUla, to shed light on the lives of the ancient inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula.

Funerary passages indicate the existence of a sophisticated social network 4,500 years ago that extended across vast areas of the Arabian Peninsula. The discovery also adds to the steady progress of archaeologists working in partnership with the Royal Commission for Al-Ula Governorate in understanding the mysteries of human existence and the former societies that lived in northern Arabia.

The work of the University of Western Australia team is part of a broader effort of 13 specialized teams whose members participated from around the world and are working on the Archeology and Conservation Project in cooperation with Saudi experts in Al-Ula and the Khyber Governorate.

About this discovery, Amr bin Saleh Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula Governorate, commented: “The more we know about the ancient inhabitants of the northwest region of the Arabian Peninsula, the more inspired we are in our mission to reveal the way they were thinking, they lived in harmony with nature. Honoring their ancestors and interacting with the wider world, the work done by our archaeological teams in 2021 reflects the Kingdom’s leadership as a home for advanced science, and of course we look forward to having more research teams join this year 2022.”

On her part, said Dr. Rebecca Foot, Director of Archaeological Research and Cultural Heritage at the Royal Commission for Al-Ula: “The projects that were launched in Al-Ula and Khyber more than three years ago, including field surveys carried out by specialized teams such as the University of Western Australia, have begun to publish their results.

It is interesting to see what her data analyzes reflect on many aspects of life in the Neolithic to Bronze Age period in northwestern Arabia, and this article is just the beginning of many research that will enrich our knowledge of the history extending from prehistoric times to the modern era, which of course It will have a significant impact on the region in general.”

The new article is the fourth publication of the University of Western Australia team in less than a year in a scientific peer-reviewed journal specialized in archaeological research in AlUla and Khyber, where the following were previously published:

• In August in “Arabian Archeology and Epigraphy”, the team dated the pendant-shaped stone burials in the Khaybar Oasis to the third millennium BC, the first radiocarbon-based evidence published to date the tombs. It was also the first article in a refereed journal about the Bronze Age in Khaybar, and the archaeological excavation of the secrets of Khaybar is still in its infancy.

• In April, the team indicated in the “Antiquity” magazine that the archaeological structures known as the rectangles are much older than previously thought, dating back to 5200 BC, and it seems that they had a funerary function related to the rituals of the inhabitants of the region

• In March, the team published in the “Journal of Field Archeology” their discovery of the remains of one of the oldest domesticated dogs in the Arabian Peninsula.

In its latest research, the University of Western Australia team used Dr. Matthew Dalton as Principal Investigator, Satellite Imagery Analysis, Aerial Photography, Land Surveying and Excavations, to identify and analyze burial passages across an area of ​​at least 160,000 square kilometers in northwestern Arabia.

The team recorded more than 17,800 stone burials in the shape of a necklace within their primary study areas in the provinces of Al-Ula and Khaybar, about 11,000 of which form part of the funerary corridors.

Whether in the basalt plains or mountain passes, the densest assemblages of funeral facilities in these paths were concentrated near permanent water sources, and the direction of the paths indicates that many of them were relied upon to move between the main oases, including Khaybar, Al-Ula and Tayma, while the paths fade away. Others cross the landscape surrounding the oases, suggesting that they were used to transport herds of domestic animals to nearby pastures during periods of rain.

About that, Dr. explained. Project Director Hugh Thomas said: “The research conducted by the UWA team and fellow researchers from the Royal Commission in AlUla and Khyber shows how important the archeology of this region is to advancing our understanding of how its inhabitants lived in the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods throughout the Middle East.

Our findings show that these facilities connected many inhabited oases located within a vast area, and that the funerary passages were established about 4,500 years ago, and these passages are particularly concentrated around Khaybar, and constitute one of the most visually dense funerary landscapes compared to their peers around the world. .

The Royal Commission for Al-Ula Governorate has launched a 15-year master plan entitled “A Journey Through Time” that aims to develop Al-Ula and parts of Khyber as a leading global destination for cultural and natural heritage.

For its part, archaeological research in the governorates of Al-Ula and Khaybar, carried out by local and international teams, is working to deepen and clarify the path of the people’s journey through time in the region, and to provide data for the Kingdoms Institute, which is a world-class center for archeology and conservation research, with a focus on discovering details of a history that extends to 200,000 years of human history in AlUla.

The pioneering institution, which now operates as a research organization, will open its doors to the public as a permanent tourist facility in AlUla by 2030. Its most prominent buildings will be built in the Red Sandstone Mountains opposite the archaeological site of Dadan, with designs inspired by the Dadan civilization that flourished during the heyday of the frankincense trade in the first millennium B.C. birth.

On the next steps, Jose Ignacio Gallego Revilla, Executive Director of the Department of Archeology, Heritage Research and Conservation at the Royal Commission for AlUla, said: “More awaits us in 2022 and the coming years, when we will reveal the depth and richness of heritage in the region, which for decades has been shrouded in mystery, to achieve Our goals in the scientific strategy at the Kingdoms Institute.

About the Royal Commission for AlUla
The Royal Commission for Al-Ula Governorate was established by royal decree in July 2017 with the aim of preserving and developing Al-Ula, which is an area of ​​outstanding natural and cultural importance in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

The Royal Commission for AlUlas plan establishes a responsible, sustainable, and long-term approach to urban and economic development, preserving the region’s natural and historical heritage, while creating the AlUla region as an attractive location to live, work and visit.

These efforts include a wide range of initiatives in the fields of antiquities, tourism, culture, education and the arts, reflecting a high commitment to promoting economic diversification, supporting the local community, and supporting heritage preservation priorities, within the program of Saudi Arabias Vision 2030.


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