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

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.


Man eats $120,000 piece of art — a banana taped to wall

Updated 08 December 2019

Man eats $120,000 piece of art — a banana taped to wall

MIAMI: The move was bananas ... or maybe the work was just too appealing.
A performance artist shook up the crowd at the Art Basel show in Miami Beach on Saturday when he grabbed a banana that had been duct-taped to a gallery wall and ate it.
The banana was, in fact, a work of art by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan titled “Comedian” and sold to a French collector for $120,000.
In a video posted on his Instagram account, David Datuna, who describes himself as a Georgian-born American artist living in New York, walks up to the banana and pulls it off the wall with the duct tape attached.
“Art performance ... hungry artist,” he said, as he peeled the fruit and took a bite. “Thank you, very good.”
A few bystanders could be heard giggling before a flustered gallery official whisked him to an adjoining space for questioning.
But the kerfuffle was resolved without a food fight.
“He did not destroy the art work. The banana is the idea,” Lucien Terras, director of museum relations for Galerie Perrotin, told the Miami Herald.
As it turns out, the value of the work is in the certificate of authenticity, the newspaper said. The banana is meant to be replaced.
A replacement banana was taped to the wall about 15 minutes after Datuna’s stunt.
“This has brought a lot of tension and attention to the booth and we’re not into spectacles,” Terras said. “But the response has been great. It brings a smile to a lot of people’s faces.”
Cattelan is perhaps best known for his 18-carat, fully functioning gold toilet called “America” that he had once offered on loan to US President Donald Trump.
The toilet, valued at around $5 to $6 million, was in the news again in September when it was stolen from Britain’s Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of wartime leader Winston Churchill, where it had been on display.