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A vast 4,500-year-old network of ‘burial avenues’ lined with well-preserved Bronze Age tombs has been discovered in Saudi Arabia.

In a new paper, researchers detail the layout of around 18,000 graves, spanning thousands of kilometers in Saudi Arabia’s Al-‘Ula and Khaybar counties.

They consist of small stone piles arranged in elaborate shapes, marking the spot where individual individuals or small groups were buried, experts say.

The burials are described as ‘hanging’ graves because they resemble circular pieces of jewelery attached to a chain or ‘tail’.

Archaeologists from the University of Western Australia describe ancient roads in their new paper. Pictured is a dense burial avenue with “wedge tail” pendants and filled ringed burial mounds, emanating from the Khaybar Oasis in Saudi Arabia.

The graves are described as

The tombs are described as “pendants” because they resemble circular pieces of jewelry, or “heads,” attached to a chain or “tail.”

Small stone piles arranged in elaborate shapes (pictured) mark where individual individuals or small groups were buried

Small stone piles arranged in elaborate shapes (pictured) mark where individual individuals or small groups were buried

WHAT ARE THE FUNERAL AVENUES?

Funerary avenues are long-distance ‘corridors’ linking oases and pastures.

They get their name because they are lined with thousands of elaborate funerary monuments.

Funeral avenues in AlUla and Khaybar counties in Saudi Arabia have been detailed in a new study.

Hanging tombs are already known to have yielded human remains dating back to the mid-third millennium BC, during the Bronze Age.

In all, experts have observed around 18,000 graves along ‘burial avenues’ – long-distance ‘corridors’ linking oases and pastures bordered by burials – only 80 of which have been sampled or excavated.

It is believed that the tombs may have been built as monuments (‘cenotaphs’) or for other symbolic or ritual purposes not yet clear.

Dr. Matthew Dalton, from the School of Humanities at the University of Western Australia, is the lead author of the findings.

He and his team used satellite imagery, aerial photography from helicopters, ground surveys, and excavations to locate and analyze the burial avenues.

“People living in these areas have known about them for thousands of years,” said Dr. Dalton. CNN.

“But I think it wasn’t really known until we got satellite images of how widespread they are.”

The desert regions of the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant are known to be traversed by countless roads, flanked by stone monuments, the vast majority of which are ancient tombs.

Thousands of miles of these pathways and monuments, known collectively as “burial avenues,” can be traced across the landscape, especially around and between major perennial water sources.

The Bronze Age era tombs span vast distances in Al-'Ula and Khaybar, two counties in northwestern Saudi Arabia, in western Asia.

The Bronze Age era tombs span vast distances in Al-‘Ula and Khaybar, two counties in northwestern Saudi Arabia, in western Asia.

Funeral avenues were the major road networks of their day, according to Dr. Dalton.

Its current existence shows that the populations living on the Arabian Peninsula 4,500 years ago were more socially and economically connected to each other than previously thought.

The researchers found that the highest concentrations of funerary monuments on these avenues were located near permanent water sources.

The direction of the avenues indicated that the populations used them to travel between the main oases, including Khaybar, Al-‘Ula and Tayma.

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

The researchers used satellite images, aerial photographs from helicopters, ground surveys and excavations to locate and analyze the burial avenues.

The researchers used satellite images, aerial photographs from helicopters, ground surveys and excavations to locate and analyze the burial avenues.

A funerary avenue with pendants and burial mounds.  Here the avenue descends from Harrat 'Uwayrid towards Saq, a spring near Al-'Ula, Saudi Arabia.

A funerary avenue with pendants and burial mounds. Here the avenue descends from Harrat ‘Uwayrid towards Saq, a spring near Al-‘Ula, Saudi Arabia.

“These oases, especially Khaybar, exhibit some of the densest concentrations of funerary monuments known anywhere in the world,” said Dr Dalton.

“The large number of Bronze Age tombs built around it suggests that populations had already begun to settle more permanently in these favorable locations at this time.”

Continued excavation and analysis of the human remains within these monuments will be essential in the future, according to the researchers.

“Primary burials, when identifiable and properly preserved, can reveal the demographics of those for whom the avenue monuments were originally built, allowing for a better reconstruction of these societies and their burial practices,” they state.

The findings have been published in the journal the Holocene.

MYSTERIOUS STONE STRUCTURES IN SAUDI ARABIA OLDER THAN EGYPT’S PYRAMIDS WERE USED 7,000 YEARS AGO BY A NEOLITHIC CATTLE CULT TO SACRIFICE ANIMALS TO AN ‘UNKNOWN’ GOD

Hundreds of stone monuments scattered across northwestern Saudi Arabia may represent the oldest known ritual site on Earth.

Researchers at the University of Western Australia studying the mustatils, courtyards made from blocks of sandstone, date them to around 7,000 years old, making them millennia older than Stonehenge or the Giza pyramids.

Surveying the region by helicopter, the team found more than 1,000 mustatils, more than double previous estimates.

The theory is that the structures were used during the ritual by members of a cattle cult, who sacrificed cows, goats and sheep to their unknown god.

A mustatil typically had long walls around a central court, with an entrance at one end and a rubble platform, or “head,” at the other.

They may also include an orthostat, or vertical stone, in a central chamber.

Some entrances were blocked with debris, suggesting that the structures were dismantled at some point.

Read More: 7,000-Year-Old Structures May Be Part of Neolithic Cattle Cult


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