Mystery stone ‘gates’ discovered in remote Saudi Arabian desert

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Nearly 400 stone structures, nicknamed “gates” because they resembled field gates from satellite images discovered in the volcanic region of Harrat Khaybar in Saudi Arabia. (Google Earth)
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Above, a volcanic mound in Saudi Arabia. (Google Earth)
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Above, a ground view of Samhah Gate 31. (Grant Scroggie / The New York Times)
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Above, a ground view of Samhah Gate 31. (Grant Scroggie / The New York Times)
Updated 21 October 2017
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Mystery stone ‘gates’ discovered in remote Saudi Arabian desert

DUBAI: Archaeologists have discovered mystery stone structures dating back thousands of years in the Arabian desert, which they believe have been built by nomadic tribes.
The nearly 400 stone structures, nicknamed “gates” because they resembled field gates from satellite images, were clustered around the volcanic region of Harrat Khaybar in Saudi Arabia.
And researchers were perplexed as to what these structures were used for and who built them, or if they were the earliest “Works of the Old Men,” pertaining to ancient geoglyphs that stretch from Syria to Saudi Arabia.
“We tend to think of Saudi Arabia as desert, but in practice there’s a huge archaeological treasure trove out there and it needs to be identified and mapped,” said Dr. David Kennedy, an archaeology professor at the University of Western Australia, in an article from The New York Times.
“You can’t see them very well from the ground level, but once you get up a few hundred feet, or with a satellite even higher, they stand out beautifully.”
A paper authored Dr. Kennedy is set to appear in the November issue of the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.
Dr. Kennedy has been studying the angular and wheel-like structures scattered over Jordan’s lava field, or harrat, since 1997 but did not have the opportunity to look more closely at the ancient structures in neighboring Saudi Arabia because of access restrictions.
“We would have loved to fly across into Saudi Arabia to take images. But you never get the permission,” Dr. Kennedy said. “And then along comes Google Earth.”
The mystery of the stone structures started in 2004 when Dr. Abdullah Al-Saeed, a neurologist and founder of the Desert Team, a group of amateur archaeologists in Saudi Arabia, explored the lava fields of Harrat Khaybar. He saw walls of stones stacked about three feet high, but said that he did not appreciate their unique design at that time.
Then the break came in 2008 when Dr. Al-Saaed went back to the same spot using Google Earth.
“When I saw the updated images of Harrat Khaybar from Google Earth, I was literally stunned and could not sleep that night,” Dr. Al-Saeed said. “Flying like a bird all over the Harrat from one enigmatic structure to another! How come we passed by these structures without appreciating their design?”
Further investigation and some Google images sent to archaeologists such Dr. Kennedy received bewildering feedbacks.
“Absolute bafflement.”
That’s what Dr. Kennedy said he felt when he first saw the satellite images, as was confronted with structures quite different from anything he had ever seen before.
Varying in size, the longest gate measures more than half a kilometer, while the shortest is just 13 meters and the spaces between them differing from miles apart to “almost touching.”
Dr. Kennedy has spent almost a decade cataloging nearly 400 gates and hoped his next step would be to lead a research team that would collect samples to carbon age the lava fields, and even the stone walls to determine the timing of their construction.
“More will be found as more people get involved in scouring the landscape from satellite imagery,” he said.


One million species risk extinction due to humans: draft UN report

Updated 23 April 2019
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One million species risk extinction due to humans: draft UN report

  • Biodiversity loss and global warming are closely linked, according to the 44-page Summary for Policy Makers
  • Delegates from 130 nations meeting in Paris from April 29 will vet the executive summary line-by-line

PARIS: Up to one million species face extinction due to human influence, according to a draft UN report obtained by AFP that painstakingly catalogues how humanity has undermined the natural resources upon which its very survival depends.
The accelerating loss of clean air, drinkable water, CO2-absorbing forests, pollinating insects, protein-rich fish and storm-blocking mangroves — to name but a few of the dwindling services rendered by Nature — poses no less of a threat than climate change, says the report, set to be unveiled May 6.
Indeed, biodiversity loss and global warming are closely linked, according to the 44-page Summary for Policy Makers, which distills a 1,800-page UN assessment of scientific literature on the state of Nature.
Delegates from 130 nations meeting in Paris from April 29 will vet the executive summary line-by-line. Wording may change, but figures lifted from the underlying report cannot be altered.
“We need to recognize that climate change and loss of Nature are equally important, not just for the environment, but as development and economic issues as well,” Robert Watson, chair of the UN-mandated body that compiled the report, said, without divulging its findings.
“The way we produce our food and energy is undermining the regulating services that we get from Nature,” he said, adding that only “transformative change” can stem the damage.
Deforestation and agriculture, including livestock production, account for about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, and have wreaked havoc on natural ecosystems as well.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report warns of “an imminent rapid acceleration in the global rate of species extinction.”
The pace of loss “is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has been, on average, over the last 10 million years,” it notes.
“Half-a-million to a million species are projected to be threatened with extinction, many within decades.”
Many experts think a so-called “mass extinction event” — only the sixth in the last half-billion years — is already under way.
The most recent saw the end of the Cretaceous period some 66 million years ago, when a 10-kilometer-wide asteroid strike wiped out most lifeforms.
Scientists estimate that Earth is today home to some eight million distinct species, a majority of them insects.
A quarter of catalogued animal and plant species are already being crowded, eaten or poisoned out of existence.
The drop in sheer numbers is even more dramatic, with wild mammal biomass — their collective weight — down by 82 percent.
Humans and livestock account for more than 95 percent of mammal biomass.
“If we’re going to have a sustainable planet that provides services to communities around the world, we need to change this trajectory in the next ten years, just as we need to do that with climate,” noted WWF chief scientist Rebecca Shaw, formerly a member of the UN scientific bodies for both climate and biodiversity.
The direct causes of species loss, in order of importance, are shrinking habitat and land-use change, hunting for food or illicit trade in body parts, climate change, pollution, and alien species such as rats, mosquitoes and snakes that hitch rides on ships or planes, the report finds.
“There are also two big indirect drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change — the number of people in the world and their growing ability to consume,” said Watson.
Once seen as primarily a future threat to animal and plant life, the disruptive impact of global warming has accelerated.
Shifts in the distribution of species, for example, will likely double if average temperature go up a notch from 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) to 2C.
So far, the global thermometer has risen 1C compared with mid-19th century levels.
The 2015 Paris Agreement enjoins nations to cap the rise to “well below” 2C. But a landmark UN climate report in October said that would still be enough to boost the intensity and frequency of deadly heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms.
Other findings in the report include:
- Three-quarters of land surfaces, 40 percent of the marine environment, and 50 percent of inland waterways across the globe have been “severely altered.”
- Many of the areas where Nature’s contribution to human wellbeing will be most severely compromised are home to indigenous peoples and the world’s poorest communities that are also vulnerable to climate change.
- More than two billion people rely on wood fuel for energy, four billion rely on natural medicines, and more than 75 percent of global food crops require animal pollination.
- Nearly half of land and marine ecosystems have been profoundly compromised by human interference in the last 50 years.
- Subsidies to fisheries, industrial agriculture, livestock raising, forestry, mining and the production of biofuel or fossil fuel energy encourage waste, inefficiency and over-consumption.
The report cautioned against climate change solutions that may inadvertently harm Nature.
The use, for example, of biofuels combined with “carbon capture and storage” — the sequestration of CO2 released when biofuels are burned — is widely seen as key in the transition to green energy on a global scale.
But the land needed to grow all those biofuel crops may wind up cutting into food production, the expansion of protected areas or reforestation efforts.