Google Earth helps researchers identify 400 ancient stone gates in Saudi Arabia

"You can't see them in any intelligible way at the ground level but once you get up a few hundred feet, or with a satellite even higher, they stand out beautifully," researcher David Kennedy said.
By Brooks Hays  |  Oct. 23, 2017 at 3:39 PM
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Oct. 23 (UPI) -- With the help of Google Earth, a single researcher from the University of Western Australia has identified 400 previously undocumented stone "gates" in Saudi Arabia.

"I refer to them as gates because when you view them from above they look like a simple field gate lying flat, two upright posts on the sides, connected by one or more long bars," David Kennedy, a professor of classics and ancient history, said in a news release. "They don't look like structures where people would have lived nor do they look like animal traps or for disposing of dead bodies. It's a mystery as to what their purpose would have been."

The barren deserts and rugged mountains of Saudi Arabia are mostly thought of as harsh landscapes devoid of archaeological value, but Kennedy's discoveries are a reminder that ancient humans can leave their mark in the unlikeliest of places.

Kennedy detailed the 400 newly identified gates in a scientific paper published next month in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.

"You can't see them in any intelligible way at the ground level but once you get up a few hundred feet, or with a satellite even higher, they stand out beautifully," he said.

Kennedy has previously spent time surveying ancient stone structures in Jordan from the perspective of a helicopter. During flyovers above Jordan's lava fields, Kennedy has documented a variety of manmade structures. The stone structures are named for their shape and purpose.

"Kites" are structures that were used to trap animals, while "pendants" describe funerary monuments. Other shapes, like "wheels," don't have a known function.

The architects of the ancient gates and similar structures are believed to be the ancestors of modern day Beduins, but little is known about the ancient residents of these harsh landscapes. The stone structures were erected between 2,000 and 9,000 years ago.

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