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.


Army splits with West Point grad who touted communist revolt

In this May 2016 photo provided by Spenser Rapone, Rapone displays a shirt bearing the image of socialist icon Che Guevara under his uniform, after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. (AP)
Updated 18 min 27 sec ago
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Army splits with West Point grad who touted communist revolt

  • "I would encourage all soldiers who have a conscience to lay down their arms and join me and so many others who are willing to stop serving the agents of imperialism and join us in a revolutionary movement"
  • Less than a year after Rapone's images drew a firestorm of vitriol and even death threats, the second lieutenant who became known as the "commie cadet" is officially out of the US Army with an other-than-honorable discharge

WATERTOWN, N.Y.: The images Spenser Rapone posted on Twitter from his West Point graduation were intentionally shocking: In one, the cadet opens his dress uniform to expose a T-shirt with a blood-red image of socialist icon Che Guevara. In another, he raises his fist and flips his cap to reveal the message: "Communism will win."
Less than a year after Rapone's images drew a firestorm of vitriol and even death threats, the second lieutenant who became known as the "commie cadet" is officially out of the US Army with an other-than-honorable discharge.
Top brass at Fort Drum accepted Rapone's resignation Monday after an earlier reprimand for "conduct unbecoming of an officer." Rapone said an investigation found he went online to advocate for a socialist revolution and disparage high-ranking officers. Officially, the Army said in a statement only that it conducted a full investigation and "appropriate action was taken."
An unrepentant Rapone summed up the fallout in yet another tweet Monday that showed him extending a middle finger at a sign at the entrance to Fort Drum, accompanied by the words, "One final salute."
"I consider myself a revolutionary socialist," the 26-year-old Rapone told The Associated Press. "I would encourage all soldiers who have a conscience to lay down their arms and join me and so many others who are willing to stop serving the agents of imperialism and join us in a revolutionary movement."
Rapone said his journey to communism grew out of his experiences as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan before he was accepted into the U.S. Military Academy. And those views only hardened during his studies of history as one of the academy's "Long Gray Line."
He explained that he took the offending selfies at his May 2016 West Point graduation ceremony and kept them to himself until last September, when he tweeted them in solidarity with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was taking heat for kneeling for the national anthem to raise awareness of racism. Many other military personnel also tweeted in favor of Kaepernick, although most were supporting free speech, not communism.
West Point released a statement after Rapone posted the photos, saying his actions "in no way reflect the values of the U.S. Military Academy or the U.S. Army." And U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, called on the secretary of the Army to remove Rapone from the officer ranks.
"While in uniform, Spenser Rapone advocated for communism and political violence, and expressed support and sympathy for enemies of the United States," Rubio said Monday, adding "I'm glad to see that they have given him an 'other-than-honorable' discharge."
One of six children growing up in New Castle, Pennsylvania, Rapone said he applied to West Point, which is tuition-free, because he couldn't afford college. He was nominated out of high school by then-U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire in 2010.
"He was an honors student, an athlete, a model citizen who volunteered in the community," recalled Altmire, a Democrat. "During the interview, he expressed patriotism and looked just like a top-notch candidate. There were no red flags of any kind."
But he wasn't accepted to West Point, so Rapone enlisted in the Army. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and was assigned as an assistant machine gunner in Khost Province.
"We were bullies in one of the poorest countries on Earth," Rapone said. "We have one of the most technologically advanced militaries of all time and all we were doing is brutalizing and invading and terrorizing a population that had nothing to do with what the United States claimed was a threat."
Toward the end of his deployment, he learned West Point fulfills a certain quota of enlisted soldiers every year. Despite his growing disillusionment about the military, he applied and got in.
"I was still idealistic," he said." I figured maybe I could change things from inside."
In addition to classic socialist theorists such as Karl Marx, Rapone says he found inspiration in the writings of Stan Goff, a retired Special Forces master sergeant who became a socialist anti-war activist.
Even while still a cadet, Rapone's online postings alarmed a West Point history professor, who wrote Rapone up, saying his online postings were "red flags that cannot be ignored." Rapone was disciplined but still allowed to graduate.
Greg Rinckey, an attorney specializing in military law, said it's rare for an officer out of West Point to receive an other-than-honorable discharge. He added that it's possible the military academy could seek repayment of the cost of Rapone's education because he didn't serve the full five-year service obligation required upon graduation.
"I knew there could be repercussions," said Rapone, who is scheduled to speak at a socialism conference in Chicago next month. "Of course my military career is dead in the water. On the other hand, many people reached out and showed me support. There are a lot of veterans both active duty and not that feel like I do."