A large number of ancient stone monuments that dot the landscape of Saudi Arabia may actually be some of the oldest stone structures in the entire world, Live Science reports.
According to the media outlet, the structures in question, called “mustatils” - “the Arabic word for 'rectangle'” - number in the hundreds, and their size can surpass that of an “NFL football field”.
And while the discovery of the structures was originally reported back in 2017, a new study now suggests that they were used for rituals, while radiocarbon dating of charcoal found within one of them indicates that these structures were built around 5,000 BC.
2.Mustatils are large (up to > 600 metres long) rectangular stone structures, only occurring in Northwest Saudi Arabia. They were previously studied from satellite images, particularly by David Kennedy, in the Khaybar area. More than 500 are known. pic.twitter.com/JWtcsoEyTZ— Huw Groucutt (@huw_groucutt) August 17, 2020
"The mustatil phenomenon represents a remarkable development of monumental architecture, as hundreds of these structures were built in northwest Arabia," the researchers note in their study. "This 'monumental landscape' represents one of the earliest large-scale forms of monumental stone structure construction anywhere in the world."
The structures are comprised of low stone walls that form a shape often resembling a “field gate” if viewed from above, with the largest being about 616 meters long.
As study lead author Huw Groucutt, leader of the Extreme Events Group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany, reportedly remarked, it "is quite possible that these structures would have been visually spectacular, and perhaps quite extensively painted".
The research team also noted that the "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".
However, if the sites in question were indeed used to conduct rituals, the exact nature of said ritual remains as yet unclear, the media outlet points out.