A professor of archaeology at the University of Oxford discovered around 400 mysterious stone structures on and around volcanoes in Saudi Arabia.
David Kennedy found the structures, using Google Maps, in the western Harrat Khaybar region. The walls could be more than 9,000 years old—which would make them older than the famous Peruvian Nazca lines—according to The Independent. People have started calling the structures “gates” because of their appearance from satellite imagery.
Many of the gates sit atop ancient lava domes—dried mounds of lava found near volcanoes. Scientists think they can get a more accurate idea of the age of the gates by analyzing the lava. Traces of lava are on the gates themselves. The volcanoes in the region are currently inactive.
“Gates are found almost exclusively in bleak, inhospitable lava fields with scant water or vegetation, places seemingly amongst the most unwelcoming to our species,” said Kennedy, via Express.
According to The Independent, the gates are known to the Bedouin people as “Works of the Old Men.” This isn’t the only region where structures like these have been discovered in the Middle East, but is the most unique. Part of the reason is the difference in size of the various gates and their positions to each other. The longest one is 1,699 feet while the shortest is about 43 feet. Some of the gates are miles apart in distance while others are nearly touching.
Kennedy said, via the Express, that they “appear to be the oldest man-made structures in the landscape,” and that “no obvious explanation of their purpose can be discerned.”
They “occur throughout the entire Arabia region, from Syria across Jordan and Saudi Arabia to Yemen,” wrote researchers in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “The most startling thing about the ‘Works’ is that they are difficult to identify from the ground. This stands in contrast to their apparent visibility from the air.”
Other structures in the Middle East believed to be built by “Old Men” include structures known as “kites.” They are thought to be ancient stone traps for migrating birds. They are often found on top of the gates, which suggest they are not as old. “Wheels” are another structure found on top of the gates and scientists believe they are around 8,500 years old, Live Science reported.
The studies of structures like these in the Middle East have occurred almost exclusively through satellite imagery. Actual field study is needed to further unravel the mystery, but a remote, inhospitable environment ensures archaeologists have their work cut out for them.