Saudi Arabia has uncovered 4,500-year-old pathways dotted with ancient graves

18th January, 2022.      //   General Interest  // 

In Saudi Arabia, archaeologists unearthed a 4,500-year-old highway network dotted with well-preserved ancient graves.
Over the last year, researchers from the University of Western Australia undertook a wide-ranging investigation that included helicopter aerial surveys, ground surveys and excavations, and satellite imaging analysis.
They stated the “funerary avenues” spanning enormous distances in the northern Arabian counties of Al-‘Ula and Khaybar had gotten little scrutiny until very recently, according to results published in the Holocene magazine in December.

Matthew Dalton, a researcher, told CNN, “People who live in these locations have known about them for thousands of years.” “However, I don’t think it was fully understood until we obtained satellite imagery how ubiquitous they are.” In Egypt, archaeologists have discovered a 4,500-year-old sun temple that had been lost.
From a helicopter, Dalton claimed the burial lanes ran for hundreds, “maybe even thousands of kilometers,” and that the same routes were frequently traveled by individuals traveling along today’s main roads.

The main roads, he continued, “often follow the same courses as avenues because they’re usually the shortest route between the two areas they’re traveling to.” Indeed, the graves themselves are so numerous in some cases that you can’t help but go down the ancient road because you’re hemmed in by the tombs.”
The majority of the graves are either pendant-shaped or ring burials. Pendant tombs have “beautiful tails,” whereas ring tombs feature a cairn encircled by a wall of up to two meters in height.
The researchers discovered that a concentrated group of materials dated back to between 2600 and 2000 BC using radiocarbon dating, despite the fact that the tombs were reused until roughly 1,000 years ago.

“These tombs are 4,500 years old, and they’re still standing to their original height, which is really unheard of,” researcher Melissa Kennedy told CNN. “So I think that’s what particularly marks Saudi Arabia out from the rest of the region — just the level of preservation is unbelievable.” Kennedy believes either single individuals or small groups were buried in the tombs, and the team have observed around 18,000 tombs along the funerary avenues while 80 of those have been sampled or excavated for research.

The researchers think the use of the routes long preceded the tombs, and are still not sure exactly why the tombs were built along the route — although Kennedy pointed to similar customs linked to land ownership in Greece and Rome in later history. “A way of showing ownership perhaps, could be one reason the tombs were built,” Dalton said. “And there may be an element of, you bury your nearest and dearest alongside the route, because you’ll be passing them frequently, and you have a place to remember them.”
Before assessing their results, the crew will conduct more radiocarbon dating and return to the field. More discoveries are likely to follow, with Dalton stating that the pathways could potentially extend into Yemen, given that comparable tombs have been discovered in both Yemen and northern Syria.
As Kennedy put it, “the third century is such a crucial period of time.” “It’s when the Pyramids are built, and it’s when a lot of different civilizations mix for the first time on a large scale. So seeing this enormous funeral environment emerge during this period is incredibly interesting, and there are a lot of new paths of inquiry to follow.”

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