Archaeologists have identified three undiscovered Roman fortified camps across northern Arabia.
The University of Oxford School of Archaeology made the discovery in a remote sensing survey, using satellite imagery.
It said it could be evidence of an “undocumented military campaign” across southeast Jordan into Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Michael Fradley, who led the research, said: “We are almost certain they were built by the Roman army.”
In the report, published in the journal Antiquity, he explained his conclusion was based on the “typical playing card shape of the enclosures with opposing entrances along each side”.
Dr. Fradley added that the westernmost camp was significantly larger than the two camps to the east.
The research team believes they may have been part of a previously undiscovered Roman military campaign “linked to the Roman takeover of the Nabataean Kingdom in 106 AD, a civilization centered on the world-famous city of Petra, located in Jordan”.
The university’s Dr. Mike Bishop, an expert on the Roman military, said the camps were a “spectacular new find” and an important new insight into Roman campaigning in Arabia.
“Roman forts and fortresses show how Rome held a province but temporary camps reveal how they acquired it in the first place,” he explained.
Dr. Fradley added that the preservation of the camps was “remarkable”, particularly as they may have only been used for a matter of days or weeks.
Archaeologists still need to confirm the date of the camps through investigation on the ground, the researchers said.
The camps were identified by the university’s Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa project and were later photographed by the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project.
A Rare Inscription in an Ancient Arabian Script Was Uncovered by Archaeologists in Saudi Arabia
Archaeologists in Saudi Arabia have discovered one of the longest-known plaques baring Musnad, or the pre-Islamic southern Arabian script, at the Al Ukhdud excavation site in the country’s Najran region.
Other artifacts, including three gold rings and a bronze bull’s head, were also uncovered.
The country’s heritage commission announced the finding of these pre-Islamic artifacts on Twitter, stating that the discoveries “shed a unique light on the ancient culture” that was present in southern Saudi Arabia. The commission called the discovery “exciting” and the finds “rare.”
Measuring seven-and-a-half feet long and one-and-a-half feet wide, the ancient inscription is the longest of its kind ever discovered at the site. It originally belonged to Wahib Eil bin Magan, who lived locally and worked as a water carrier, whose biography is detailed in the carving.
The term Musnad originated in early Islamic times to describe inscriptions written in the ancient script’s characters. Some of the earliest examples date back to the first half of the first millennium BCE.
The three rings each have a delicate golden butterfly-shaped lobe at the top and a small lock on the side connecting the ends of the circles. Other pieces found at the site include several ceramic jars and a ceramic pot believed to be from the third century BCE.
The bull’s head was commonly depicted in art across the pre-Islamic kingdoms of southern Arabia, as it symbolized power, fertility, and reproduction, as well as wisdom and divinity.
The artifact at Al Ukhdud has traces of oxidation and is currently being restored.
Saudi Arabia unveils reconstructed face of a 2000-year-old Nabataean woman
Saudi Arabia is unveiling a reconstruction of the face of an ancient Nabataean woman after several years of work by historians and archaeologists.
The reconstruction, which is the first of its kind, is modeled on the remains of Hinat, a Nabataean woman who was discovered in 2015 in a 2,000-year-old tomb in Hegra, an archaeological site located in the ancient oasis city AlUla, northwestern Saudi Arabia.
Funded by the Royal Commission for AlUla, the reconstruction of Hinat began in the United Kingdom in 2019.
A multidisciplinary team of experts rebuilt bone fragments found in the tomb to reconstruct an image of her appearance using anthropological and archaeological data. A sculptor then used a 3D printer to bring her face to life.
The Nabataeans were an ancient Arab civilization that inhabited northern Arabia and the Levant over 2,000 years ago. The ancient Jordanian city of Petra was the capital of their kingdom, which became a vibrant and commercial international trading hub for spices, medicine and fabric, facilitated by the Nabataeans.
Starting Monday, history buffs will have the opportunity to meet Hinat on display at the Hegra welcome center in AlUla.
Once a thriving hub for international trade and home to the Nabataeans, Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was opened in 2020 as a tourist site.
The Nabataean civilization didn’t leave significant historical texts, and information about it comes from inscriptions on tombs and on rocks throughout the Middle East, or from archaeological discoveries.
“The Nabataeans are a bit of a mystery: We know a lot, but at the same time we know very little because they didn’t leave any literary texts or records,” Lebanese-French archeologist Laila Nehme, the director of the project, told National Geographic. “Excavating this tomb was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about their idea of the afterlife.”
According to Nehme, the Nabataeans’ alphabet evolved into modern-day Arabic.
“This tomb has a very nice inscription carved on its facade, which says it belonged to a woman called Hinat,” added Nehme.
But not everyone believes this historical breakthrough is necessarily an accurate representation of the ancient Nabataeans.
Laurence Hapiot, an archaeologist at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, tweeted that “there is still some non-scientific interpretation in face reconstruction.”
The AlUla Royal Commission didn’t respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Hima, a rock art site in Saudi Arabia, added to the UNESCO World Heritage List
The rock art site Hima in Najran has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, becoming the sixth registered site in Saudi Arabia.
The site is located in southwestern Saudi Arabia and has one of the largest rock art complexes in the world.
Saudi Arabia’s rock art has gained popularity in recent years and is considered to be one of the richest in the world, in addition to other rock paintings in Australia, India, and South Africa.
Hima was a conduit for caravans on the Hajj and trade routes going to and from the southern parts of Arabia, to the ancient world markets of Arabia, Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Egypt.
People who passed through the area between prehistoric and post-historic times have left behind a substantial collection of rock art depicting hunting, wildlife, plants, symbols, and tools used at the time, as well as thousands of written inscriptions in various ancient writings including Musnad, Thamudic, Nabataean, and the early Arabic.
Dr. Jasir Alherbish, CEO of the Heritage Commission, stated, “The region has great global significance, providing us with numerous lessons regarding the evolution of human civilization and life in ancient times.” (Saudi Gazette)
“We are thrilled to have this exceptional ancient site recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
“We are working to preserve the area and conduct research to further understand the rock inscriptions, and are looking forward to welcoming more local and international visitors to come and see this historic cultural site for themselves.”
The Kingdom’s 2030 Vision prioritizes the preservation and protection of the Kingdom’s cultural and natural assets.
A slew of fresh finds, overseen by the Heritage Commission, has reinforced the country’s status as a go-to destination for archaeologists, historians, and scientists interested in regional human history.
The Kingdom has also taken significant steps to safeguard national and international cultural assets.
The Ministry of Culture signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UNESCO in 2019, agreeing to donate $25 million to the organization’s global heritage protection plan.
Hundreds of Monumental “Kites” Spotted in the Arabian Desert
Archaeologists at the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology have used satellite imagery to identify and map over 350 monumental hunting structures known as ‘kites’ across northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq – most of which had never been previously documented.
Led by Dr Michael Fradley, a team of researchers in the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project used a range of open-source satellite imagery to carefully study the region around the eastern Nafud desert, an area little studied in the past. The surprising results, published in the journal The Holocene, have the potential to change our understanding of prehistoric connections and climate change across the Middle East.
Termed kites by early aircraft pilots, these structures consist of low stone walls making up a head enclosure and a number of guiding walls, sometimes kilometres long. They are believed to have been used to guide games such as gazelles into an area where they could be captured or killed. There is evidence that these structures may date back as far as 8,000 BCE in the Neolithic period.
Kites cannot be observed easily from the ground, however, the advent of commercial satellite imagery and platforms such as Google Earth have enabled recent discoveries of new distributions.
While these structures were already well-known from eastern Jordan and adjoining areas in southern Syria, these latest results take the known distribution over 400km further east across northern Saudi Arabia, with some also identified in southern Iraq for the first time.
Dr Fradley said: ‘The structures we found displayed evidence of complex, careful design. In terms of size, the ‘heads’ of the kites can be over 100 metres wide, but the guiding walls (the ’strings’ of the kite) which we currently think gazelle and other games would follow to the kite heads can be incredibly long. In some of these new examples, the surviving portion of walls run in almost straight lines for over 4 kilometres, often over very varied topography. This shows an incredible level of ability in how these structures were designed and built.’
Evidence suggests considerable resources would have had to be coordinated to build, maintain, and rebuild the kites over generations, combined with hunting and returning butchered remains to settlements or camps for further preservation.
The researchers suggest that their exaggerated scale and form may be an expression of status, identity and territoriality. Appearances of the kites in rock art found in Jordan suggest they had an important place within the symbolic and ritual spheres of Neolithic peoples in the region.
Desert kite research is a very active field just now – Michael and colleagues explore a significant extension to their distribution pattern, which has major implications for our understanding of the relationship of the kite builders with new mobile pastoralists and the occupation of the region.
Bill Finlayson, Director of EAMENA and Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Oxford
From the design of the kite heads to the careful runs of guiding walls over long distances, these structures contrast markedly in scale with any other evidence of architecture from the early Holocene period.
The researchers suggest that the builders of these kites dwelt in temporary structures made from organic materials that have left no trace visible on current satellite imagery data.
These new sites suggest a previously unknown level of connection right across northern Arabia at the time they were built. They raise exciting questions about who built these structures, who the hunted game was intended to feed, and how the people were able to not only survive but also invest in these monumental structures.
In the context of this new connectedness, the distribution of the star-shaped kites now provides the first direct evidence of contact through, rather than around, the Nafud desert. This underlines the important of areas that are now desert under more favourable climatic conditions in enabling the movement of humans and wildlife. It is thought the kites were built during a wetter, greener climatic period known as the Holocene Humid Period (between around 9000 and 4000 BCE).
The largest number of kites were built on the Al Labbah plateau in the Nafud desert, where the absence of later Bronze Age burial monuments suggests that a shift into a drier period meant some of these areas became too marginal to support the communities once using these landscapes, with game species also potentially displaced by climate change.
Whether the patterns of kite construction over space and time represent the movement of ideas or people, or even the direction of that movement, remain questions to be answered.
The project, supported by the Arcadia Fund, is now extending its survey work across these now arid zones to further develop our understanding of these landscapes and the effect of climate change.
The study Following the herds? A new distribution of hunting kites in Southwest Asia is published in The Holocene.
8,000-Year-Old Neolithic Temple Discovered at Saudi Port Town
The Saudi Heritage Commission has unveiled the archaeological discoveries made by a Saudi-international scientific team at the site of Al-Faw, located on the edge of Al-Rub’ Al-Khali (the Empty Quarter), south-west of Riyadh.
A Saudi-led multinational team of archaeologists conducted a comprehensive survey of the site using state-of-the-art technology.
The study leveraged high-quality aerial photography; guided drone footage utilizing ground control points; a topographic survey; remote sensing, ground-penetrating radar; laser scanning; and geophysical survey, as well as extensive walkover surveys and sondages throughout the site, reported Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
The survey has yielded several discoveries, the most significant of which are the remains of a stone temple and parts of an altar, where the locals of Al-Faw would have practised their rituals and ceremonies.
The rock-cut temple sits on the edge of Mount Tuwaiq, known as Khashem Qaryah, east of Al-Faw.
Moreover, the remains of 8,000-year-old Neolithic human settlements have been discovered along with 2,807 graves of different periods dotted throughout the site, which have been documented and classified into six groups.
Several devotional inscriptions were found throughout the grounds, enriching our understanding of the religious belief system of the community that inhabited the site. Among these is the inscription in the Jabal Lahaq sanctuary addressed to the god Kahal, the deity of Al-Faw.
The significance of the inscription lies in its attribution to a family from the city of Al-Jarha and referring to the ancient name of the place where the sanctuary was built (Mount Tuwaiq).
The inscription indicates a relationship between the cities of Al-Faw and Al-Jarha – most likely commercial considering Al-Faw’s location on the ancient trade route. It may also imply either religious tolerance between residents of the two cities, or the worship of Al-Faw’s deity, Kahal, by some of the residents of Al-Jarha.
Though Al-Jarha was known for its wealth and economic power, its location has not yet been definitively identified, and several scholars associate it with the site of Thaj.
The discovery offers valuable data regarding the geographical distribution of Al-Faw’s sanctuaries, as well as revealing the foundations of four monumental buildings, some with corner towers. Their architecture, internal plans, and open-air courtyards suggest their use as resting places for trade caravans.
The archaeological study further uncovered a complex irrigation system, including canals, water cisterns, and hundreds of pits, dug by the residents of Al-Faw to bring rainwater to the agricultural areas. This may explain how the inhabitants of these lands overcame and adapted to the arid climate and minimal rainfall of one of the world’s harshest desert environments.
Extensive surveys and remote-sensing images have revealed several agricultural fields used to grow various crops to sustain residents.
Discoveries include a series of rock art and inscriptions carved on the face of Mount Tuwaiq, narrating the story of a man named Madhekar bin Muneim, and illustrating daily scenes of hunting, travel, and battle.
Fieldwork at Al-Faw had first been initiated by King Saud University in the 1970s in a study supervised by Prof. Abdulrahman Al-Ansari, lasting for over 40 years. The study uncovered many cultural aspects of the site, notably the residential and market areas, temples, and tombs. The results of these archaeological activities were later published in seven book volumes.
The new findings are a result of the Heritage Commission’s ongoing efforts to study, protect and preserve the nation’s cultural heritage sites. Research at the site will continue to build a greater understanding of the cultural landscape of Al-Faw archaeological area.
Inscription of last Babylonian king found in Saudi Arabia, ‘special’ message written in 26 lines?
A 2,550-year-old inscription, written in the name of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, has been discovered carved on basalt stone in northern Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage recently announced.
An engraving at the top of the inscription shows King Nabonidus holding a sceptre alongside four other images that include a snake, a flower and a depiction of the moon, the commission said in a statement, noting that these symbols likely have a religious meaning.
These engravings are followed beneath by about 26 lines of cuneiform text that experts with the commission are currently deciphering. This is the longest cuneiform inscription ever found in Saudi Arabia, the commission said in the statement.
The inscription was found in Al Hait in the Hail Region of northern Saudi Arabia. Known as Fadak in ancient times, Al Hait holds numerous ancient sites, including the remains of fortresses, rock art and water installations, the commission said. “[It] has great historical significance from the first millennium [B.C.] until the early Islamic era.”
It remains to be seen what new information this inscription will provide on King Nabonidus (reign 555–539 B.C.).
The Babylonian Empire stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, and at the start of Nabonidus’ reign, he conquered part of what is now Saudi Arabia and ultimately chose to live at Tayma, a city in what is now Saudi Arabia, until around 543 B.C.
Why Nabonidus chose to live in what is now Saudi Arabia for an extended period of time is a matter of debate among historians, with some experts saying that conflicts between Nabonidus and Babylon’s priests and officials are a likely reason.
At the end of Nabonidus’ reign, the Babylonian Empire came under attack by the Persian Empire, which was led by King Cyrus the Great;
Babylon itself was captured by the Persians in 539 B.C. and the Babylonian empire collapsed. The fate of Nabonidus after the collapse is unclear.
4,500-year-old avenues lined with ancient tombs discovered in Saudi Arabia
A vast 4,500-year-old network of ‘funerary avenues’ lined with well-preserved Bronze Age tombs has been uncovered in Saudi Arabia. In a new paper, researchers detail the arrangement of around 18,000 tombs, spanning thousands of miles in the Saudi Arabian counties of Al-‘Ula and Khaybar.
They consist of small piles of stone arranged in elaborate shapes, marking the spot where either single individuals or small groups were buried, experts say.
The burials are described as ‘pendant’ tombs because they resemble circular pieces of jewellery attached to a chain, or ‘tail’.
Pendant tombs are already known to have yielded human remains dating to as early as the mid-third millennium BC, during the Bronze Age.
In total, the experts have observed around 18,000 tombs along ‘funerary avenues’ – long-distance ‘corridors’ linking oases and pastures lined by burials – only 80 of which have been sampled or excavated.
It’s thought that the tombs may have been built as memorials (‘cenotaphs’) or for other, as yet unclear symbolic or ritual purposes.
Dr Matthew Dalton, from the University of Western Australia’s School of Humanities, is the lead author of the findings. He and his team used satellite imagery, helicopter-based aerial photography, ground survey and excavation to locate and analyse the funerary avenues.
‘The people who live in these areas have known about them for thousands of years,’ Dr Dalton told CNN.
‘But I think it wasn’t really known until we got satellite imagery that just how widespread they are.’
Desert regions of the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant are known to be criss-crossed by innumerable pathways, flanked by stone monuments, the vast majority of which are ancient tombs. Thousands of miles of these paths and monument features, collectively known as ‘funerary avenues’, can be traced across the landscape, especially around and between major perennial water sources.
Funerary avenues were the major highway networks of their day, according to Dr Dalton. Their existence today shows that the populations living in the Arabian Peninsula 4,500 years ago were more socially and economically connected to one another than previously thought.
Researchers found that the highest concentrations of funerary monuments on these avenues were located near permanent water sources.
The direction of the avenues indicated that populations used them to travel between major oases, including those of Khaybar, Al-‘Ula and Tayma.
Lesser avenues fade into the landscapes surrounding oases, suggesting the routes were also used to move herds of domestic animals into nearby pastures during periods of rain.
‘These oases, especially Khaybar, exhibit some of the densest concentrations of funerary monuments known worldwide,’ Dr Dalton said.
‘The sheer number of Bronze Age tombs built around them suggests that populations had already begun to settle more permanently in these favourable locations at this time.’
Continued excavation and analysis of human remains within these monuments will be essential going forward, according to the researchers.
‘Primary inhumations, where identifiable and suitably preserved, may reveal the demographics of those for whom avenue monuments were originally constructed, allowing better reconstructions of these societies and their funerary practices,’ they say.
The findings have been published in the journal The Holocene.