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Archaeologists discover ancient highways in Arabia


Archaeologists from The University of Western Australia have discovered people who lived in north-west Arabia in the Early to Middle Bronze Age built 'funerary avenues'—long-distance corridors linking oases and pastures, bordered by thousands of elaborate burial monuments.


Archaeologists discover ancient highways in Arabia
A dense ‘funerary avenue’ flanked by Bronze Age tombs, leading out of al Wadi Oasis near
Khaybar in north-west Saudi Arabia [Credit: Royal Commission for AlUla]

Dr. Matthew Dalton, from UWA's School of Humanities, is lead author of the findings published in the journal The Holocene.




"Funerary avenues were the major highway networks of their day, and show that the populations living in the Arabian Peninsula 4,500 years ago were far more socially and economically connected to one another than we previously thought," Dr. Dalton said.


Archaeologists discover ancient highways in Arabia
A dense ‘funerary avenue’ flanked by Bronze Age tombs, leading
 out of Khaybar Oasis in north-west Saudi Arabia
[Credit: Royal Commission for AlUla]

The UWA team, working under the Royal Commission for AlUla, used satellite imagery, helicopter-based aerial photography, ground survey and excavation to locate and analyze the funerary avenues.


The team located avenues over an area of 160,000 square km, with more than 17,800 tailed 'pendant' tombs recorded in their primary study areas of AlUla and Khaybar counties in Saudi Arabia, of which around 11,000 formed part of funerary avenues.


Archaeologists discover ancient highways in Arabia
A dense ‘funerary avenue’ flanked by Bronze Age tombs, leading
out of Khaybar Oasis in north-west Saudi Arabia
[Credit: Royal Commission for AlUla]

They found the highest concentrations of funerary monuments on these avenues were located near permanent water sources, with the direction of the avenues indicating that populations used them to travel between major oases, including those of Khaybar, AlUla and Tayma.




Lesser avenues fade into the landscapes surrounding oases, suggesting the routes were also used to move herds of domestic animals into nearby pastures during periods of rain.


Archaeologists discover ancient highways in Arabia
A 3rd millennium BCE infilled ringed cairn from the Khaybar Oasis in north-west Saudi Arabia
 [Credit: Royal Commission for AlUla]

"These oases, especially Khaybar, exhibit some of the densest concentrations of funerary monuments known worldwide," Dr. Dalton said.


"The sheer number of Bronze Age tombs built around them suggests that populations had already begun to settle more permanently in these favourable locations at this time."


Archaeologists discover ancient highways in Arabia
A 3rd millennium BC pendant burial on the southern edge of the Khaybar Oasis in north-west
Saudi Arabia [Credit: Royal Commission for AlUla]

Project Director Dr. Hugh Thomas, also from UWA's School of Humanities, said the research caps a tremendous year for the project.


"The papers published in 2021 have helped demonstrate that in ancient times AlUla and Khaybar were characterized by a rich and dynamic occupational landscape," Dr. Thomas said.


"The archaeological finds coming out of these regions have the potential to profoundly change our understanding of the early history of the Middle East."


Source: University of Western Australia [January 14, 2022]



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