Ancient highways discovered in Arabia

Funerary avenues!


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Using satellite imagery, helicopter-based aerial photography, ground survey, and excavation, 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.’ These Funerary avenues were the major highway networks of their day.

The findings show that the populations living in the Arabian Peninsula 4,500 years ago were far more socially and economically connected than we previously thought.

Scientists located these highways over an area of 160,000 square km. They have 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.

Dr. Matthew Dalton, from UWA’s School of Humanities, said, “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.”

“These oases, especially Khaybar, exhibit some of the densest concentrations of funerary monuments known worldwide.”

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

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.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Matthew Dalton et al. The Middle Holocene’ funerary avenues’ of north-west Arabia. DOI: 10.1177/09596836211060497