Hundreds of stone monuments in northwest Saudi Arabia are possibly the oldest known ritual site on earth.
Researchers studying Mustatils, courtyards made of sandstone blocks, date them to around 7,000 years, making them thousands of years older than Stonehenge or the pyramids of Giza.
The team surveyed the region by helicopter and found over 1,000 mustaches, more than twice as many as previously estimated.
The theory is that the structures were used during the ritual by members of a cattle cult who sacrificed cows, goats, and sheep to their unknown god.
A group of three mustaches photographed from a helicopter. The chambers are between 65 feet and nearly 2,000 feet in size
The Mustatils, named after the Arabic word for rectangle, received little attention when they were discovered in the 1970s.
More recently, archaeologists from the University of Western Australia in Perth have explored the mysterious structures and have helicoptered over 77,000 square kilometers of AlUla and Khaybar.
They found more than 1,000 mustaches – more than twice as many as previously thought.
The structures range from 65 feet to nearly 2,000 feet in length, with some sandstone blocks being used to make them weigh half a ton.
Archaeologists found more than 1,000 rectangular chambers, so-called mustatils, in northwestern Saudi Arabia
Typically, a Mustatil had long walls of sandstone blocks around a central courtyard, with an entrance at one end and a debris platform or “head” at the other. They can also contain an upright stone in a central chamber (above).
Typically, a Mustatil had long walls around a central courtyard, with an entrance at one end and a debris platform or “head” at the other.
They can also contain an orthostat or an erect stone in a central chamber.
Some entrances were blocked with debris, suggesting that the structures would eventually be shut down.
Mustatils were usually grouped in groups of 2 to 20, and because of their monumental size, large groups of people would have had to work together to build them.
Mustatils were usually grouped in groups of 2 to 20, and because of their monumental size, large groups of people would have had to work together to build them
Previous studies speculated that the structures were used as stables for farm animals, but the Mustatils’ walls were too low to contain animals.
In a report published this week in Antiquity magazine, researchers believe the strange courtyards were used for religious rites.
“It’s not meant to keep anything, but to demarcate the space, which is clearly an area that needs to be isolated,” lead author Hugh Thomas told New Scientist.
Fragments of cow, sheep, goat, and gazelle horns and skulls found on a mustatil suggest that the society that built them used animal sacrifices in their rituals.
Many of the original features still stood even after wearing the items for thousands of years
The discovery of cow, sheep and goat horns and bones at the sites testifies to a cattle cult, say the researchers
The structures were located in AlUla and Khaybar in northwest Saudi Arabia, about 600 miles from Riyadh
The latest excavations reveal “the earliest evidence of a cattle cult in the Arabian Peninsula,” the team said. “As such, Mustatils are among the earliest stone monuments in Arabia and among the oldest monumental building traditions that have been identified so far.”
A procession may have been associated with the ritual, as the Mustatils’ “narrow entrances” indicate that the structures in a single file were accessed, “the team wrote.
Common features are A) an internal niche in the head of a Mustatil, B) a blocked entrance in the base, CD) cells and standing plates, and E) a stone column made of stacked stones
Radiocarbon from the remains of the animal dated the mustaches between 5300 and 5000 BC. BC And lies more than 2,500 years before Stonehenge
Aerial view of a Mustatil base with a cell, standing panel, and blocked entrances
By radiocarbon dating the skulls, Thomas and his colleagues dated the Mustatil to 5300-5000 BC. Author Melissa Kennedy, Deputy Director of the Air Archeology Project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (AAKSA).
The rock art from the same period showed “scenes of both ranching and hunting,” the team wrote, adding credibility to the cattle cult theory.
Kennedy told Art Newspaper that the “widespread distribution, size, and uniformity” of the structures suggest that during the late Neolithic, much of northwestern Arabia shared a common religious belief, a feature unique in the world.