According to a recent study, hundreds of stone structures found in Saudi Arabia could be some of the oldest monuments on the entire planet. The structures were first reported back in 2017, but recent tests and radiocarbon dating of the charcoal that was found inside one of the structures led archaeologists to reveal that they were constructed around 5000 BC.
The nearly 400 stone structures were mostly found by satellite images and some were even located on the slope of a volcano. Additionally, other stone structures called “kites” that were used for hunting were also found and may possibly be even older than the stone structures although their age is currently unconfirmed.
At first, these stone structures, which were believed to have been used for rituals (the type of rituals are unclear), were called “gates” because when looked at from above, they appeared similar to field gates. However, they are now called “mustatils” which means “rectangle” in Arabic.
In their paper, the researchers wrote in part, “The mustatil phenomenon represents a remarkable development of monumental architecture, as hundreds of these structures were built in northwest Arabia.” “This ‘monumental landscape’ represents one of the earliest large-scale forms of monumental stone structure construction anywhere in the world.”
The structures varied in size from less than 49 feet to approximately 2,021 feet in length. They had a platform located at each end with one of them containing a painting with geometric designs that “is not currently known from other rock art contexts”. “[It] is quite possible that these structures would have been visually spectacular, and perhaps quite extensively painted,” Huw Groucutt, who is the leader of the Extreme Events Group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany and the lead author of the study, explained to Live Science. Pictures can be seen here.
Based on the limited amount of artifacts that were discovered at the structures, they probably weren’t used on a permanent basis because “the long walls [of the mustatils] are very low and typically lack obvious entry points, and therefore do not seem to be obviously functional as something like animal corrals.”
The structures may have been used by the locals to mark their territory. Between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago, the Arabian Peninsula was much wetter than it is today and those living in that area would have depended on domesticated and wild animals for food, therefore, the mustatils may have been constructed in order for them to mark their territory.