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.


Tribal truckers, praying paramedics: mixed bag on last Daesh front

Updated 15 February 2019
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Tribal truckers, praying paramedics: mixed bag on last Daesh front

NEAR BAGHOUZ: As destitute civilians stumble out of the Daesh group’s last enclave in east Syria, a mixed bag of unlikely characters are pitching in to help get them to safety.
They include a team of medics led by an American veteran and his children as well as a group of truckers from a remote Syrian town.
Close to 40,000 have fled Daesh’s last Euphrates Valley bastions into territory held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, in pitiful conditions after weeks of bombardment and food shortages.
Citing security concerns, global aid agencies have kept their distance from the town of Baghouz where the jihadists are making a last stand and the SDF’s limited humanitarian capacities cannot cope with the influx.
Enter the Free Burma Rangers (FBR).
Led by a US veteran and passionate Christian, David Eubank, the team of around 25 volunteers — including his wife and three children — is camped out on a plateau overlooking Baghouz that serves as the first stop for fleeing civilians.
“We’re not qualified to be here. I asked God, what would I do here?” Eubank told AFP, dressed in military fatigues and a fishing hat, a pistol holstered on his hip.
“I felt God say: ‘Give up your own way. Just come help,’” he said.
In the distance, about two dozen civilians could be seen shuffling toward the plateau from Baghouz.
Eubank and another volunteer were the first to descend the sandy bank to meet them, hoisting displaced women’s overstuffed bags over their shoulders and helping children scramble up.


One bearded volunteer tended to a thin boy’s chest wound, shouting for antibiotics in English as the child stared at him in confusion.
Eubank established the FBR in Burma in 1997, with a slogan drawn from a Bible verse calling on people to “preach good news to the poor” and “release the oppressed.”
After Daesh swept across the region in 2014, the FBR expanded to Iraq, where Eubank, his wife and their three children became local celebrities for rescuing a young Iraqi girl after her mother was killed in fighting in Mosul.
What brought them to Syria? Another message from God, said Eubank’s eldest daughter, Sahale.
“We feel like God sent us here, otherwise we wouldn’t have wanted to come,” said the 18-year-old blonde, who usually drives wounded people to the main civilian point further on but was using a quiet afternoon to study Thai in the shade of an armored personnel carrier.
When they’re not treating civilians, the rest of the team spends their spare time jogging through the Syrian plain, praying, and doing “camp stuff,” said 24-year-old volunteer Tyler Sheen.
Sheen, from Colorado, said he felt he was in the right place to witness the end of IS.
“It’s the scourge, the most talked about evil in the world so I think it’s a great place to be right now,” he told AFP.
The volunteers inevitably strike an odd figure in the Syrian plain, surrounded by gruff Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters with whom they can only communicate through translators.
When the SDF’s spokesman visited their outpost recently, Eubank grabbed his hands to lead him in prayer as a translator stood between them, as if presiding over a marriage ceremony.


But if the Eubanks are inspired by goodwill, the truckers who form another key link in the evacuation of civilians from Baghouz are motivated by financial rewards.
Once displaced families are taken to a larger collection point further away, they are screened and guided onto the backs of cargo trucks to be driven about six hours north to the Al-Hol displacement camp.
Their 11 drivers are tribesmen from the town of Al-Shuhayl, hired by the SDF at a rate of 75,000 Syrian pounds ($150) for each round-trip, which usually takes two days.
“Wherever there’s a trip we can earn from, we do it,” said one driver in his forties, Farhan Al-Ali.
Some truckers said they rely on pills to stay awake through the 600-kilometer (380-mile) round trip.
“Sometimes we get to Al-Hol at two or three in the morning, then we drive all the way back to Shuhayl,” said Abu Hamud, a 54-year-old driver with a red-and-white scarf draped over his head.
They are used to shuttling cattle or farming equipment, so the dozens of veiled women and children are an unusual — and fragile — load.
The International Rescue Committee, which works in world crisis zones, said Wednesday that 51 people, mostly newborn children, had died after arriving at Al-Hol or during the “precarious journey.”
The United Nations has called on authorities to provide more suitable transportation like buses.
“My heart aches for the kids. They’re tiny and hungry,” said Abu Hamud. “I had a 20-day-old baby die in my truck.”