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4,500-year-old ancient highways lined with tombs discovered in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, archaeologists unearthed a 4,500-year-old roadway network dotted with well preserved ancient tombs. Over the last year, researchers from the University of Western Australia have undertaken a wide-ranging inquiry that included helicopter aerial surveys, ground survey and excavation, and satellite imaging analysis.

They stated the funerary avenues covering significant distances in the northern Arabian counties of Al-‘Ula and Khaybar had gotten little scrutiny until recently, according to results published in the Holocene magazine in December.

‘The people who live in these areas have known about them for thousands of years. But I think it wasn’t really known until we got satellite imagery that just how widespread they are’, researcher Matthew Dalton said.

Dalton said that the burial lanes he saw from a helicopter went for hundreds of kilometres and the same pathways were often followed by individuals going along today’s main roadways.

The tombs are primarily pendant-shaped or ring-shaped graves. Pendant tombs feature beautiful tails, whereas ring tombs have a cairn encircled by a two-meter-high wall. The researchers employed radiocarbon dating to discover a concentrated set of samples dated between 2600 and 2000 BC, despite the tombs being reused until around 1,000 years ago.

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‘These tombs are 4,500 years old, and they’re still standing to their original height, which is really unheard of’, researcher Melissa Kennedy said.

The team has discovered roughly 18,000 tombs along the funerary avenues, with 80 of them being sampled or excavated for research. Kennedy believes that single people or small groups were buried in the tombs. The researchers believe that the paths were used long before the tombs were created, and they are still unsure why the tombs were placed along with them — however, Kennedy attributed it to comparable rituals associated with land ownership in Greece and Rome later in history.

The team’s next step will be to do further radiocarbon dating and return to the field before reviewing their findings. More finds are expected, with Dalton speculating that the pathways may possibly continue into Yemen, given the discovery of comparable tombs in both that nation and northern Syria.


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