A mysterious cult that predates Stonehenge

When McMahon arrived, she explained that the circle of rocks next to me were the remains of a house occupied during the Neolithic era (6000-4500 BCE) and that this area was once dotted with thriving settlements. Until recently, the prevailing wisdom was that this region had little human activity until the Bronze Age after 4000 BCE. But the work of McMahon and his colleagues unearthed a very different story: Neolithic Saudi Arabia was a dynamic, intensely populated and complex landscape spread over a vast area.

Around me there were over 30 dwellings and tombs, and that was only a tiny fraction of the remains here. I tried to imagine the landscape as it might have looked thousands of years ago: green, lush, and teeming with people moving noisily, herding goats, and calling out to each other.

“Saudi Arabia’s climate and inert landscape means that most of the archeology is fairly well preserved on the surface from 5,000 to 8,000 years ago. So exactly as you see it, it’s like it was all that time ago,” McMahon said, explaining that understanding. more about the lives of these early peoples could also shed light on how the large and dense settlements of Hegra and Dedan developed, and how cultural and technological changes in the region, such as irrigated agriculture, metalworking and written texts, occurred in subsequent years. millennia.

“The cultural changes that took place after the Neolithic are huge, but we don’t know much about how these changes happened,” she said.

However, even in the hands of such experienced archaeologists, a find from AlUla continued to elude explanation. Spread over a staggering 300,000 km2 and built to a fairly consistent type, are 1,600 monumental rectangular stone structures that also date from the Neolithic period. Originally named “gates” because of their airy appearance, the structures were later renamed “mustatil,” which translates to “rectangle” in Arabic.

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