A massive 4,000-year-old monolith split with laser-like precision
Al Naslaa may look like nothing more than a massive rock to some, yet it is one of the most fascinating geological formations in history. The captivating formation is located far inside the Tayma Oasis in Saudi Arabia, where it has puzzled and entranced historians, geologists, and tourists for years. The formation features a huge piece of sandstone (with unique shaping on both sides) balanced on a naturally-formed pedestal. What makes the formation so unique? It’s split!
What makes the Al Naslaa formation famous
Al Naslaa is unique not only because of its shape, location, and age but also due to the precise break that separates one half of the formation from the other. While it may look like a simple crack in the foundation of the sandstone, the break is so exact and straight that it looks as if though someone took a laser to the rock to split it apart. In addition, the two remarkably heavy sides of the formation seem to balance on nothing more than thin pieces of rock, appearing to nearly gravitate in thin air.
In order to assess the nature of how the famed formation came to be, it’s important to recognize its history. The formation has existed since ancient times and has taken centuries to acquire its shape. Al Naslaa is only one of many rocks in the Tayma Oasis that features a unique appearance, as the limestone, shale, and sandstone there have spent centuries culturing into fantastic formations (with the help of a little rain and wind, of course).
Before these formations even developed into the stunning shapes they occupy today, the Tayma Oasis was occupied by everyone from Babylonian royalty to everyday traders on their route. They interacted with the landscapes in various ways, including writing and drawing on the rocks. In addition to its famed formation, Al Naslaa is fortunate enough to feature one of these petroglyphs on its surface: the figure of a horse.
Thanks to the ancient people who interacted with Al Naslaa (in addition to its geological history), we can tell that Al Naslaa has been a primary part of the Tayma Oasis for as long as the landscape has existed. But what does its shape—along with its iconic split—tell us about how the rock formation came into existence?
The scientific theories behind the formation
Across the years, historians have tried to understand the features that set Al Naslaa apart from the thousands of similar sandstone formations in the Saudi Arabian oasis. In addition to its split, one thing that is unique about Al Naslaa is the smoothness of the front of the rock, despite the round/jagged shaping on either side.
If you were to look at the rock from the side rather than the front, the smoothed-out surface concealing the famous crack might make it look as if though someone sanded the front-facing portion of the formation down. And technically, the elements have.
“The standing stones of Al Naslaa truly are a big mystery. Two stones split in half have created confusion among experts ever since their discovery.”
– Charismatic Planet, YouTube
Considering the nature of sandstone, the flat shaping on the front is unsurprising, as wind and rain have beaten away at the smooth sections of rock. However, natural elements can not explain the thin crack separating either side of the massive rock, or how they have managed to stay perfectly balanced on either of their thin platforms. What have scientists theorized about how the great divide came to be?
The likely cause of the split
According to geologists, the likely cause for the split is tectonic motion. The most likely natural cause of the formation is that the ground shifted ever-so-slightly beneath the supporting beam of one half of the rock, and it caused the rock to split into two. This is the most widely supported theory in the scientific world, though others have speculated at other natural (and unnatural) causes for the rock’s separation.
Other scientists theorize that the split is, in fact, a fault line, as the material surrounding faults tends to be weaker and erode more easily at the will of the elements. If this is the case, then the wind is likely what tore away at the weak material of the fault, leaving behind the near-solid remaining halves of the rock.
In addition, there is potential that the split is the result of a joint (fractures formed at weak points in rock formations) that may have been formed by a type of erosion, such as wind, water or ice.
“This rock formation is called Al Naslaa. The uniform slit between the two standing stones and the flat faces are completely natural. Most likely the ground shifted slightly underneath one of the two supports and the rock split. Could be from a volcanic dike of some weaker mineral that solidified there before everything was exhumed.”
– Hashem Al-Ghaili
However, there are still more theorists who believe that the formation is not a natural occurrence at all. Although scientific evidence backs up the idea that Al Naslaa was not man-made, the conflicting opinions of its formation—in addition to its perfect split—have caused some to turn to other sources of explanation…including the supernatural.
The rumours behind the ancient rock
In addition to the potential natural causes of Al Naslaa, many people—from scientists to conspiracy theorists—have other ideas about how the rock gained its unusual shape. One such theory? Aliens. Considering the formation looks as if though it was cut apart by a well-aimed laser, some believe that a U.F.O. descended into the Tayma Oasis and zapped the rock apart with advanced technology not available to humans at its formation.
While this is a more bizarre theory, plenty of people have put their chips into it, believing that the break between the two halves of the rock is too perfect to have been produced by erosion. In addition, there are others who feel that there is a potential that the ancient settlers of the civilization that first came into contact with Al Naslaa were the ones who managed to split the rock apart. Still, their theories about how they pulled this off might be even tougher to believe than the theory about aliens.
Those who feel that ancient civilizations pulled the rock apart don’t believe they did it by sheer man-power, a giant wire, or by tying either end of the rock to a camel carriage. Rather, they feel that there is the potential that advanced humans lived in the Tayma Oasis who were able to successfully craft, aim, and fire a laser to split the rock apart. Considering the precise nature of the crack, it’s understandable why people might feel that there is no way that nature is responsible for the break.
If the Flinstones met the Jetsons, the laser-theory may have been possible, yet most geologists and historians are highly doubtful that this possibility is well-founded. There is no charted technology of that caliber in ancient civilizations. However, with no one there to view the rock’s formation and discredit the more outlandish theories, the chance that the formation was created by superhumans, aliens, or robots remains up for debate.
The current life of Al Naslaa
Today, Al Naslaa is not only a marvel in the scientific community, but is beloved by those who come to visit the formation. People travel from around the world to witness the fascinating and mysterious bit of landscape. Fortunately, the historical rock is open for all to see, touch, and photograph. Reaching the landmark by car on the dirt road is the best route, though some choose to park further back and walk partially through the desert-land to explore other elements of the landscape.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to take a moment out of your day to gaze at an inexplicable petroglyph located in Tayma – about an eight-hour drive out of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Take a little time to take in two rocks poised on insubstantial plinths, separated by a thin, perfectly vertical gap.
Appreciate the empty divide. Perfect, as if the rock were geologic Gruyère de Comté to which the [A]lmighty took a wire cheese slicer.”
– smith journal
Al Naslaa is not only relevant in historical and scientific circles, but remains a love of many tourists, photographers, and conspiracy theorists worldwide. The photogenic rock that seems to defy all logic continues to mystify those in academic/scientific circles and those beyond it, all of whom are fascinated by the shape, structure, and appearance of the iconic stone.
While we may never know the true root of the formation’s centuries-long shaping—and the rock is still being shaped in real-time by erosion—the debate doesn’t influence the fact that the fascination and intrigue surrounding the formation will never die down.