David Kennedy, professor of archaeology at the University of Oxford, discovered around 400 stone walls that could be more than 9,000 years old in the western Harrat Khaybar region of the country.
These walls are similar in structure to others found around the Middle East that have been dubbed “gates”, due to their resemblance to barred gates when seen from above.
Although their purpose is unknown, gates are known to the Bedouin as “Works of the Old Men”.
But the structures found by Mr Kennedy are unlike any before them. Varying greatly in size, the longest measures more than half a kilometre, while the shortest is just 13 metres. And the space between gates varies from miles apart to “almost touching”.
Other structures built by the “Old Men” include “kites”, which archaeologists say are stone structures used to catch migratory birds. These are often found on top of gates found in other areas of the Middle East.
“It is impossible at the moment to date these gates except relatively. I have argued in the article that they are the earliest of the so-called ‘Works of the Old Men’, the stone-built structures found widely in Arabia from northern Syria to Yemen, but especially common in the lava fields,” Mr Kennedy told Newsweek.
“The works known as Kites, which are certainly animal traps, may be as old as 9,000 years before present in some cases and there is one example of a kite overlying a gate. So Gates may be up to or more than 9,000 years old, which takes one back to the Neolithic.”
Many of the gates found by Mr Kennedy are sat on ancient lava domes – the hardened remains of lava flows. Although the volcanoes are inactive, some gates bear traces of lava, providing another potential way of dating them.
The study will appear in the upcoming issue of Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.
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