The art and act of piling stones
The act and art of moving stones, large and small, have been human activities for millennia; often the purpose has been obvious while on other occasions the rationale has been unclear. This paper discusses some of the common reasons for piling stones, possible explanations why individuals would pile stones, and details of stone piling in different locations in the United Arab Emirates.
Stone piles can serve as markers for travelers, as tributes for individuals or reminders of events, an eternal home for the deceased, and for other purposes and functions, some still not understood or appreciated.
One practice of piling stones can be considered an art form where the moving and placing of stones create a design. In other cases, the stone pile is purely functional. The assumption here is that humans move and pile stones for a reason.
Wind, water, and earthquakes can cause stones to be moved from a position of rest to a new position but seldom does nature manage to lift and place one stone on top of another, let alone lift and place dozens or hundreds of stones in a single location. In the northern hemisphere, much of the landscape has been shaped by glaciers that were responsible for moving staggering quantities of soil and rock. There is, however, no evidence of glaciations in the Oman peninsula.
In the Gulf region, as elsewhere in the world, individuals have been piling stones for millennia, some of the activity understood, some not. This paper discusses investigations of two areas where the purpose and function of the stone piling, some of which may be interpreted as geoglyphs, remains unclear.
The two areas discussed are located on two gravel plains, one immediately east of Jebel Hafit, located in Al Ain, in Abu Dhabi emirate of the United Arab Emirates, the second in the vicinity of the two communities of Showkah and Khadrah in Ras al Khaimah emirate.
Rocks and stones often represent the most abundant materials available for individuals who may wish to construct or arrange items to convey a message or idea or emotion. The design created by the act of moving rocks and stones by individuals is known as a geoglyph which, as Wikipedia notes, is
“. . . a large design or motif (generally longer than 4 meters) produced on the ground and typically formed by clastic rocks or similarly durable elements of the landscape, such as stones, stone fragments, gravel, or earth. A positive geoglyph is formed by the arrangement and alignment of materials on the ground in a manner akin to petroforms, while a negative geoglyph is formed by removing patinated clasts to expose unpatinated ground in a manner akin to petroglyphs.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoglyph]
“The ‘Works of the Old Men’ in Arabia, ‘stone-built structures that are far more numerous than (the) Nasca Lines, far more extensive in the area that they cover, and far older,” have been described as geoglyphs by Amelia Sparavigna, a physics professor at Politecnico di Torino in Italy. The use of this term to describe these features is probably inaccurate, as recent research has shown that most were not constructed primarily as art, but were rather built to serve a range of purposes including burial sites and funerary customs, aiding in the trapping of migratory animals, and as cleared areas for camps, houses and animal enclosures.’”
The ‘kites’ of Jordan appear to have been constructed with a specific, practical purpose in mind and are not intended as art or spiritual. The kites are elaborate constructions including walls and one-or-more corrals used more than 2000 years ago for the trapping and slaughter of wild animals, including gazelles and ibexes, and the collection of feral donkeys [http://news.discovery.com/history/desert-lines-hunting-tool-kites.html]. (More illustrations of Jordanian kites are included in the Appendices and Galleries section of this report.)
The kites of Jordan, as well as other constructions from Syria to Saudi Arabia, are positive geoglyphs or other practical constructions; that is, the surface stones are collected and piled to form the walls and cairns and other constructions, some of which may be art or spiritual representations. Archaeologists and others studying these constructions believe they understand the function and purpose of some, notably the kites of Jordan, while the purpose and function of others, including circular structures – “wheels” – observed in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, remain uncertain. (Illustrations of some of the “wheels” of Saudia Arabia are included in the Appendices and Galleries section of this report.)
Some of the most famous geoglyphs in the world are the Nasca lines of Peru [http://www.world-mysteries.com/mpl_1.htm]. The Nasca designs are negative geoglyphs; that is, the surface stones have been removed to create the pattern. The construction of negative geoglyphs seems to have been a part of many ancient cultures including those in ancient China and the United Kingdom. While the item represented in many of these negative geoglyphs is obvious – bird, human, geometric design – the function and purpose remain uncertain.
The availability of Google Earth software has meant individuals and professionals now can search the landscape for these structures; before the availability of the software, the constructions were observed and noted by aircrews. Investigators are still studying how individuals were meant to observe some geoglyphs, notably the Nasca lines, which can only be appreciated and recognized from the air.
Piles of stones
Throughout the mountains and countryside around the world, there are many individual piles of stones – cairns – that, observation suggests, are often practical and functional in nature. These piles of stones, occasionally topped with one or more white stones along trails observed in the Hajar Mountains, are located on tracks and are used to advise or warn the traveler that the track direction will change or to re-affirm that the traveler is on the correct course. The construction of a cairn at the highest point of a mountain or hill is likewise common around the world.
Cairns have been constructed in many cultures:
Such cairns are often placed at junctions or in places where the trail direction is not obvious, and may also be used to indicate an obscured danger, such as a sudden drop, or a noteworthy point such as the summit of a mountain. Most trail cairns are small, a foot or less in height, but may be built taller so as to protrude through a layer of snow. Hikers passing by often add a stone, as a small bit of maintenance to counteract the erosive effects of severe weather. North American trail marks are sometimes called “ducks” or “duckies”, because they sometimes have a “beak” pointing in the direction of the route. The expression “two rocks do not make a duck” reminds hikers that just one rock resting upon another could be the result of accident or nature rather than intentional trail marking. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairn].
This practice of trail marking eventually led to the trail and road markers that informed travelers of the distance to the next destination [http://www.greenwichlibrary.org/blog/historically_speaking/2011/06/marking-the-trail.html].
Figure 5: Cairns, such as these on a summit on a popular hiking trail in Oman, are often used to mark the summit while, en route, a cairn would affirm that the hiker is on the correct path. (http://billdan.blogspot.ca/2007/02/stone-cairns-wadi-sidr-hajar-mountains.html)
The piling of stones to form tumuli has also been a part of many cultures, including historic cultures in the Gulf states. Along the western slopes of the Hajar Mountains, beehive tombs constructed many hundreds of years ago were used as the final resting places for individuals. The Danish and French archaeological teams working in the Al Ain (UAE) area recorded hundreds of what are now recognized as Jebel Hafit tombs. This beehive-shaped tomb was often constructed on ridges and mountain tops using available and undressed stones and rocks.
Tumuli in the Oman peninsula, notably the dome-shaped ‘Jebel Hafit’ tombs, are located along the Hajar Mountains of the UAE and Oman. “There are about 600 cairn tombs on the eastern side of Jebel Hafit South of Al Ain on the Eastern border of the UAE to Oman, dating to between 3200–2800 BCE. Only about 100 of these ‘Beehive’ type tombs have been excavated and partially reconstructed. The rest lie in rubble. Painted grave offering pottery found suggests trading links between the local inhabitants and the Sumerian civilization of Mesopotami.” [http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=14976]
On the Oman peninsula, not all ancient stone constructions are understood. While the purpose and function of tumuli are generally known, the purpose and function of arranged stones, known as triliths, are not as well understood.
Details – purpose, function, builders, date – of the construction of triliths [http://www.arabian-archaeology.com/research1triliths.htm] remain a mystery. A trilith is an arrangement of three stones, standing vertically in a triangular shape, often with a fourth stone laid horizontally across the top. Often triliths are found in lines several meters in length. The stones of each trilith are socketed and there are reports of some writing on the stone placed on top [http://www.arabian-archaeology.com/research1triliths.htm]. While the specific purpose of these stone arrangements is unclear, some believe the stones are associated with burial systems.
In summary, individuals have moved stones to create a pattern or motif in the space/area where the stones were located (Nasca) or moved stones to create useful, practical, or significant structures, notably cairns (trail markers, summit markers), tumuli (Hafit tombs), and practical structures (kites of Jordan, walls, buildings).
Stone piles and geoglyphs in the UAE
Some stone piling still unexplained includes the small piles of stones located at two locations in the UAE (Abu Dhabi emirate and Ras al Khaimah emirate). Small areas of similar stone piling have been observed on at least one of the offshore islands of Abu Dhabi emirate and further investigation may reveal other areas of similar examples of stone piling in the region.
These stone piles differ from cairns, tumuli, and triliths as they number in the hundreds (perhaps thousands) and cover huge areas (several hectares).
Whether the concentrations of stone piles represent geoglyphs or just a cultural activity remains to be determined. All of the stone piles observed are considered to be positive – as opposed to “negative” or activity to expose the material between the stone piles and beneath surface material – though it is likely the individual piles of stones are not geoglyphs as they do not, it appears, represent an image or motif.
(In the course of this study of the stone piles at Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah, the author contacted a professor at an American university who had been studying the Nasca lines for more than five years. After sharing some photographs of stone piles at Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah, the professor replied with an email with a photograph showing piles of stones almost identical to those in the UAE. The individual joked that the purpose and function of the stone piles at Nasca are, it seems, as unclear as piles of stones in the UAE; while there are many theories about the purpose and function of the lines and shapes at Nasca, the professor and his team had no explanation for the piles of stones at Nasca.)
While individual piles of stones, notably cairns, appear to exist around the world, the practice of constructing hundreds of individual piles of stones in a concentration is not as common. In addition to the Nasca site, perhaps some of the most widely known are in Iceland.
The two concentrations observed and discussed in this report are:
— gravel plain east of Jebel Hafit, Abu Dhabi emirate
— gravel plain in the vicinity of Showkah and Khadrah, Ras al Khaimah emirate.
Both areas are visible using Google Earth software.
Jebel Hafit concentration
The stone piles in the vicinity of Jebel Hafit are arranged in several concentrations stretching along the gravel plain immediately east of Jebel Hafit, not more than a few hundred meters from the base of the mountain in areas between the truck road (to the north) and the Oman border (to the south).
(Whether there were similar stone piles north of the truck road is unknown. If stone piles had existed, they are likely no longer visible as the area has been used as a military base for several decades.)
The stone piles were first noticed by this author several years ago in the course of driving to and from the restored Jebel Hafit tombs located immediately adjacent to the base of the mountain at 24° 2’41.60″N 55°47’59.93″E.
Interest in the stone piles by archaeological teams has evidently been diminished by the published comments of Serge Cleuziou who, discussing the activities of the French archaeological team during the 1977 season, reported that the Hafit-style cairns may have been degraded as a result of local residents hoping to earn some income by collecting stones to be sold to crushers. This activity was assumed to have taken place during the initial rush of construction activity in the 1970’s when aggregate was in high demand for road building and other construction. No mention is made of the stone piles or stone arranging in either reports by the French archaeological team after seasons 1976-77 (Archaeology in the United Arab Emirates Vol. I) or 1978-79 (Archaeology in the United Arab Emirates Vol. II-III).
“As no settlement has been located, they [the Hafit tombs] are now the only remains of the culture of the peninsula during this period available for study. Almost all of them have been plundered at different times and their destruction was recently accelerated by the collection of stones for gravel-crushing needed by the growing modern city. The Department of Archaeology has taken steps to stop this destruction. Anyway, the archaeologist often has to deal with poor remains. The re-uses of the cairns do not help in the making of a chronological scheme, as frequently, their material has been mixed with the original content by the robbers. We shall come back to it after the analysis of the results in our 1977 excavation.” (Page 13, Archaeology in the United Arab Emirates Vol. I (1976-77) Serge Cleuziou, Director of the French Archaeological Mission in the United Arab Emirates)
There do not appear to be any drawings, photographs or written descriptions of the individual small piles of stones, the individual piles of larger stones, or the patterns constructed of small stones in either of these reports by the French team. It does seem that the reference to the collection of stones and degradation of the tombs has been extended to the stone piles without justification.
The stone piles at Jebel Hafit vary:
— the most numerous are small (about a half-meter in diameter), low profile piles consisting of more than a hundred fist-sized stones (number estimated);
— the most dramatic stone piling consists of areas where the stones have been arranged in patterns and designs including rectangles, curves bands, crescents, parallel lines, and other geometric shapes; and
— there are a few areas of stone piles composed of larger stones (up to 20 or 30 centimeters in diameter); these are located in a few areas of the gravel plain close to the base of the mountain where the surface stones are considerably larger in size.
All of these areas are visible using Google Earth software.
In the immediate vicinity of the stone piles – within 200 meters – are several tumuli of the Jebel Hafit period. There is no evidence of any connection between the stone piles/patterns and the tumuli other than physical proximity.
Although the entire area was not searched exhaustively, there was no evidence of any other human activity; that is, there were no bones, charcoal, pottery, or jewelry (beads, glass) in areas where stone piles and designs exist. A single shell was observed and recorded; it appears to be a fossil.
Several of the areas of stone piles east of Jebel Hafit have been degraded by human activity. For several decades, livestock farms were located along the gravel plain; most of the farms were distant from the stone piles but a few were located in or near some areas where stone piles were constructed. Vehicular damage to the stone piles continues to the present; some is associated with the farming activity (now almost entirely halted), some the result of visitors in search of the Hafit tombs, some the result of the military and police patrols.
The area where the stone piles are located is inside the boundaries of a proposed national park at Jebel Hafit.
The reconstructed Hafit tombs are located approximately 200 meters from one of the areas of stone piles.
(The author published a collection of photographs of the Hafit stones at [http://www.enhg.org/Home/Resources/AlAinBuraimi/StonePatterns.aspx]
An exhaustive investigation of older local residents was not carried out but a few individuals living in Mezyad were asked about the stone piles. None of the residents made any mention of the arranging of stones to sell to crushers. The residents did indicate that they believed the stone piles and patterns had been there a very long time. Not all were aware of the stone piles. These details are purely anecdotal.
Figure 15 is a screen capture using Google Earth software of one of the areas of stone patterns immediately east of the mountain. The approximate center of the image is at 24° 2’40.02″N 55°48’39.85″E.
In the upper right hand corner of the image is a small dome; a vehicle track is located immediately south of the dome and continues in a northwesterly direction along the edge of the area. Vehicles have destroyed numerous small piles along the track.
Small piles of stones are visible immediately west of the dome; these appear in Google Earth imagery as small dark-gray dots. The black dots in Figure 15 are acacia bushes. The small individual piles of stones continue immediately south of the area of stone patterns.
In the area are several interesting shapes. The patterns are constructed, it appears, in the same manner as the individual piles; that is, surface stones, generally fist-sized or smaller, are gathered and piled or, in the case of the patterns, arranged.
In the bottom right (south, southwest of the dome) of Figure 15 are more than a dozen parallel lines with several hundred small piles immediately east of the first line. The first few lines are gently curving while those near the west limit of parallel line construction are almost straight.
Elsewhere in the area, the stones are arranged in lines in various directions, some curved. Not obvious in the Google Earth image are curved shapes.
The three areas in Figure 15 where the surface appears almost white in color are indications of recent activity. These appear to be old burrow locations for spiny-tailed lizards (dhubs Uromastyx leptieni). Whenever the surface is disturbed, surface material with even a light coat of desert varnish appears lighter; areas appear very light if the area is covered with subsoil as happens when dhubs excavate their burrows.
The stones at Jebel Hafit were the subject of an article in The National newspaper (http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/jebel-hafeets-riddle-written-in-stones) in January 2010 when reporter Rym Ghazal interviewed United Arab Emirates University history professor Dr. Hasan al Naboodah about the site.
“No one knows how or why the rocks were grouped in this way, says Hasan al Naboodah, a history professor at UAE University as he picks his way across the rough terrain to reach the rocks in his four-by-four. “This mountain and the areas around it carry many stories, most of them untold and lost, like the story of these piles of rocks,” he says. Over an area of approximately 10,000 square metres there are dozens of piles, each made from fist-sized stones.
“Some are grouped together to form low, circular pyramids, positioned at almost equal distance from each other. Others are arranged into parallel rectangular shapes. In addition to stones, some of the piles have pieces of coral. Seen from a height, the overall effect is of a geometric floral design. “There are many theories about these piles, some more mystical, and others less romantic,” says Prof al Naboodah.
“ ‘Given their careful design and wide span of the terrain, they could have been aligned with the stars, as the stars were used by our ancestral tribes for geographical landmarks and for marking down the seasons.’ Indeed, it is tempting to read the patterns as constellations reproduced in stone by human hands on the desert floor. Similar formations of rock piles can be seen in the Al Madam area, south of Al Dhaid in Sharjah, a wide plain where the remains of a major Iron Age mud-brick settlement were discovered in the 1980s.” (http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/jebel-hafeets-riddle-written-in-stones)
The stone piles of Showkah/Khadrah were first noted in a small concentration of “molehills” observed by Peter Hellyer and Christian Welde in the course of their environmental impact assessment relating to a pipeline construction project. The “molehills” numbered a few dozen and were located in the vicinity of a larger archaeological site that included Islamic period copper smelters, a copper mine, and numerous remains of associated structures. (Also observed and noted later were several Islamic-style graves located between the “molehills” reported and the copper smelting site.)
The gravel plain where the stone piles are located appears to be the result of ancient geological activity when debris was washed from the Hajar Mountains (generally east to west flow). The material was not segregated as it was deposited; road cuts near different sites indicate the material, to a depth of several meters, is a mix of silt, fine gravel, fist-sized stones, and larger stones.
All of the stones observed and recorded showed evidence of being part of an alluvial deposit as all stones had smooth edges though not rounded as classic wadi stones (oval and smooth).
The stone piles of Showkah/Khadrah extend over a very large area, several square kilometers in total. The piles vary in concentration from dense to sparse with some of the areas degraded; in some locations the piles appear to have sunk into the gravel plain and are visible now as shadows on the surface.
The stone piles near Showkah and Khadrah are arranged in concentrations, some large in area, some small. The smaller areas feature a dozen or fewer piles of stones; the larger areas number several hundred piles of stones.
Like the areas east of Jebel Hafit, the stone piles appear to be concentrated in areas where the surface stones were relatively small in size. The average size of the original surface stones would be similar to the size of a clenched fist; there are no piles of stones in areas where the surface stones are larger.
In the Showkah/Khadrah area, the stones were almost exclusively piled into piles of a uniform size. Spacing does not appear to conform to any plan and is generally irregular unlike the stone piling near Jebel Hafit where some of the stones were arranged into shapes. In Study Area One at Showkah/Khadrah, several piles of stones were constructed using very small stones only a few centimeters in size.
Study Area One
Study Area One (above) is surrounded on three sides by a wide wadi bed. A vehicle track is located on the south side of the site. Just beyond the eastern limits of the site is a wide, substantial track that was likely constructed and used during the construction of the high-voltage electrical towers located nearby.
In Figure 22, a yellow line indicates the path of a vehicle track that cuts through the site, roughly parallel to the wadi bed. As a result of the activity several of the stone piles were degraded significantly.
The individual stone piles were mapped and are represented in Figure 23, a scan of one of the sheets of graph paper used in the field. In constructing the grid, the intent was to include all areas where clearing and piling activity was evident. Given the irregular shapes of the areas studied, it was inevitable that some of the squares would not include any stone piles but would include the ‘boundary’ of the area.
Viewed in this format, the stones do not appear to represent any recognizable pattern, design, or motif.
A total of 127 piles of stones were recorded in Study Area One. The total number of squares constructed in the grid is 131. With each square covering an area of nine (9) square meters, the total area of the grid was (131 X 9) 1179 square meters. There were 11 squares on the perimeter of the grid without any evidence of stone piles though the clearing activity extended into these squares. Along the south side of the grid (the top of the image in Figure 22), there are seven (7) squares without any evidence of stone piles and there were squares in the area where no piles were recorded; as noted, the grid was constructed so that the perimeter of the grid extended far enough to include all of the cleared area.
The total area represents more accurately the area cleared of stones; that is, although there were no discernible piles in the 11 grid squares on the perimeter without stones, some or all of the area inside the square had been cleared of surface stones used to construct piles nearby.
The approximate concentration of stone piles for the total area is one pile for each 9.3 square meters.
Table 1: Study Area One
Row number Number of squares Column letter Number of squares
1 (8 empty) 12 T (3 empty) 3
2 (1 empty) 12 U (2 empty) 3
3 (1 empty) 16 V (0 empty) 5
4 (5 empty) 19 W (1 empty) 7
5 (5 empty) 18 X (3 empty) 8
6 (3 empty) 17 Y (3 empty) 8
7 (3 empty) 15 Z (3 empty) 8
8 (1 empty) 14 A (2 empty) 8
9 (1 empty) 5 B (0 empty) 8
10 (3 empty) 3 C (3 empty) 8
D (1 empty) 8
E (1 empty) 9
F (1 empty) 8
G (1 empty) 8
H (4 empty) 8
I (2 empty) 8
J (1 empty) 7
K (0 empty) 5
L (0 empty) 4
9 (31 empty) 131 19 (31 empty) 131
(Summary: 131 grid addresses, 127 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)
Table 2: Study Area One concentration
Number Area Stone piles Concentration
of squares (one square = 9 square meters) (square meters per pile)
Total area 131 1179 127 9.28
Table 3: Study Area One grid summary: distribution of the 127 piles of stones among the 131 grid squares
Grid Number of Grid Number of Grid Number of Grid Number of
address stone piles address stone piles address stone piles address stone piles
01/A 0 02/E 1 02/I 3 08/V 2
02/A 0 03/E 1 03/I 1 03/W 2
03/A 3 04/E 1 04/I 1 04/W 1
04/A 0 05/E 2 05/I 2 05/W 1
05/A 3 06/E 1 06/I 1 06/W 1
06/A 1 07/E 1 07/I 0 07/W 1
07/A 1 08/E 1 08/I 1 08/W 1
08/A 0 09/E 1 01/J 0 09/W 0
01/B 1 01/F 0 02/J 1 03/X 2
02/B 1 02/F 2 03/J 1 04/X 0
03/B 1 03/F 1 04/J 2 05/X 1
04/B 1 04/F 2 05/J 2 06/X 1
05/B 2 05/F 1 06/J 1 07/X 0
06/B 1 06/F 1 07/J 1 08/X 1
07/B 1 07/F 1 01/K 2 09/X 1
08/B 0 08/F 1 02/K 3 10/X 0
01/C 0 01/G 0 03/K 1 03/Y 0
02/C 3 02/G 2 04/K 1 04/Y 2
03/C 1 03/G 1 05/K 2 05/Y 0
04/C 2 04/G 1 01/L 1 06/Y 1
05/C 0 05/G 1 02/L 1 07/Y 1
06/C 0 06/G 1 03/L 2 08/Y 2
07/C 1 07/G 1 04/L 1 09/Y 1
08/C 1 08/G 1 04/T 0 10/Y 0
01/D 1 01/H 0 05/T 0 03/Z 1
02/D 1 02/H 1 06/T 0 04/Z 0
03/D 1 03/H 2 04/U 0 05/Z 1
04/D 1 04/H 0 05/U 0 06/Z 0
05/D 2 05/H 0 06/U 1 07/Z 1
06/D 1 06/H 1 04/V 1 08/Z 2
07/D 1 07/H 0 05/V 1 09/Z 1
08/D 0 08/H 1 06/V 1 10/Z 0
01/E 0 01/I 0 07/V 1
33 32 33 31 33 36 32 28
(Summary: 131 grid addresses,127 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)
Three stone piles that were located slightly apart from the main collection of stone piles are noted in Figure 24. These three stone piles are located (respectively) on the north, south, and east sides of the concentration of stone piles. (There did not appear to be a pile of stones at the western edge of the concentration that was apart from the others or would line up with the other piles which may have been aligned with the cardinal compass points.)
When the grid was being constructed, no notice was taken of the cardinal points; instead, the grid was designed to be the most compact for the cleared area. As it developed, the grid lines ran close to N-S and E-W though the result was unintended and unplanned.
The fact the three piles were arguably apart or distant from the concentration may, in fact, be purely coincidental; there is no evidence the stone piles have anything to do with information that may be related to or relevant to direction.
As noted in Figures 25 and 26, a few stone piles were degraded when a bulldozer operator scooped some of the surface material, leaving a cut. The material was evidently dumped nearby.
Study Area Two
Study Area Two Grid
The grid constructed at Area Two at Showkah-Khadrah was another three-meter gird constructed in the same way as in Study Area One.
The general state of the stone piles in Area Two was very similar to that in Area One; that is, individuals had collected all stones larger than three or four centimeters in diameter and arranged them in small piles that appear to be spaced randomly, likely a function of the number of available stones.
The grid consisted of ten rows (generally in an east-west direction) and twenty columns. As the area was irregularly shaped, the number of squares in each row (or column) varied. The grid was constructed to include all of the area cleared; as the perimeter of the cleared area is irregular, the perimeter of the cleared area transects the squares around the perimeter of the grid.
The total number of squares in the grid was 111. There were no piles of stones in 44 of the squares. There is no specific significance to this, it seems; the distribution pattern appeared to be random. There were a total of 16 squares around the perimeter of the grid that did not have any piles of stones. In some instances this was the result of the fact that the area that had been cleared was only a part of the square.
Table 3: Study Area Two Grid Details
Row number Number of squares Column letter Number of squares
1 16 (7 empty) A 3 (3 empty)
2 16 (11 empty) B 4 (2 empty)
3 16 (4 empty) C 5 (2 empty)
4 15 (6 empty) D 6 (4 empty)
5 15 (6 empty) E 6 (4 empty)
6 16 (4 empty) F 6 (3 empty)
7 8 (3 empty) G 6 (1 empty)
8 6 (2 empty) H 6 (2 empty)
9 3 (1 empty) I 6 (3 empty)
J 9 (3 empty)
K 9 (2 empty)
L 9 (3 empty)
M 8 (2 empty)
N 8 (3 empty)
O 8 (3 empty)
P 7 (2 empty)
Q 3 (2 empty)
R 1 (0 empty)
S 1 (0 empty)
Totals: 9 111 (44 empty) 19 111 (44 empty)
(Summary: 111 grid addresses, 77 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)
Table 4: Study Area Two concentration
Number Area Stone piles Concentration
of squares (one square = 9 square meters) (square meters per pile)
111 999 77 12.97
Table 5: Study Area Two grid summary: distribution of the 77 piles of stones among the 111 grid squares
Grid Number of Grid Number of Grid Number of Grid Number of
address stone piles address stone piles address stone piles address stone piles
01/A 0 05/F 0 09/J 1 02/N 0
02/A 0 06/F 0 01/K 1 03/N 1
03/A 0 01/G 1 02/K 0 04/N 0
01/B 0 02/G 0 03/K 2 05/N 1
02/B 0 03/G 1 04/K 1 06/N 1
03/B 1 04/G 0 05/K 0 07/N 0
04/B 3* 05/G 1 06/K 1 08/N 1
01/C 0 06/G 1 07/K 1 01/O 1
02/C 0 01/H 1 08/K 3 02/O 0
03/C 2 02/H 0 09/K 1 03/O 0
04/C 1 03/H 1 01/L 0 04/O 2
05/C 1 04/H 0 02/L 1 05/O 0
01/D 0 05/H 1 03/L 1 06/O 1
02/D 0 06/H 1 04/L 1 07/O 1
03/D 1 01/I 1 05/L 1 08/O 1
04/D 1 02/I 0 06/L 1 01/P 0
05/D 0 03/I 1 07/L 2 02/P 1
06/D 0 04/I 0 08/L 0 03/P 1
01/E 0 05/I 0 09/L 0 04/P 1
02/E 1 06/I 1 01/M 2 05/P 0
03/E 0 01/J 1 02/M 0 06/P 1
04/E 0 02/J 0 03/M 2 07/P 1
05/E 1 03/J 0 04/M 1 05/Q 1
06/E 0 04/J 2 05/M 1 06/Q 0
01/F 1 05/J 1 06/M 1 07/Q 0
02/F 1 06/J 1 07/M 1 06/R 1
03/F 1 07/J 0 08/M 0 06/S 1
04/F 0 08/J 1 01/N 1
28 15 28 17 28 27 27 18
*Note: Grid square 04/B is the location of the ‘Three Stones’ as discussed in the text.
(Summary: 111 grid addresses, 77 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)
Figure 29 illustrates how the perimeter of the cleared area fit inside the grid. In one part of the grid, the cleared area extends beyond the grid (M9) and the equivalent of two squares could have been added (extend columns M and N). Elsewhere in the grid area, occasionally the cleared area extends beyond the grid, in other areas the grid was constructed beyond the cleared area. In summary, a precise calculation of density is not practical.
There were at least three other areas where stone piling had been carried out within a few meters of Area Two. While each area had some unique aspects – in one location stone piles appeared to form straight lines, in another piles were arranged in lines which intersected at right angles. However, given the incredible number of stone piles and the number of combinations of arrangements, any number of patterns may be imagined; the fact that any observed pattern was not apparently repeated in other areas of stone piling suggested a single example was unintended.
In Study Area One, there were few large stones imbedded in the surface; instead, several large stones had been moved to be amalgamated with smaller stones in piles. In Study Area Two, only three large stones appeared to have been moved into position while several large stones had been left in the ground.
The Three Stones
The most curious placement of stones in Area Two consisted of three stones located in grid square B3 in the extreme western end of the area and near the perimeter of the cleared area.
At the Area Two site, three large stones were located on the edge of the concentration. The arrangement of the stones was striking though there was no direct evidence the placement of the stones had any significance. However, since the placement of the stones was striking and since the placement of small stones on only one side of each stone was exceptional, special attention was paid to the stones in grid square B3.
Considerable time was spent observing and mapping these stones as they were unlike anything observed at Jebel Hafit or elsewhere at Showkah/Khadrah. Two of the three large stones had a small concentration of small stones on the outside edge of the stones.
Information recorded for the three stones included:
— angle of each line of the three stones (northwest, southwest, north)
— distance between the stones
— arrangement of the three stones in respect to nearby piles of stones
The angles were noted and compared to the location of the sunrise and sunset on both the summer and winter solstice (see table).
Table 6: Estimate of angle of sunset for winter solstice.
Winter Solstice sunset location
Location One 26.0 degrees
Location Two 23.0 degrees
Location Three 25.0 degrees
Location Four 25.0 degrees
One of the theories tested was whether the stones, in combination, pointed to the spot on the horizon of the sunrise or sunset on the summer and/or winter solstice. While the angles were reasonably close to the angles for the sunrise locations, the error was considerable.
A second theory tested was whether two of the stones (on the eastern side of the pattern) pointed to the northern star. Again, while the angle was in the general direction of the northern star, the error was considerable.
A third theory tested was whether the arrangement of the three stones was an attempt to mimic the arrangement of the three stars of the ‘summer triangle’ [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_Triangle ]. The three stars, Altair, Deneb, and Vega, are the brightest stars of the constellations Aquila, Cygnus, and Lyra.
In the classic “New Handbook of the Heavens,” (McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1941), authors Hubert J. Bernhard, Dorothy A. Bennett and Hugh S. Rice do speak of Vega, Altair and Deneb as a “brilliant triangle composed of three of the 20 brightest stars in the heavens.”
But in a twist, the triangle is designated not as a summer star pattern, but rather, is described under the chapter “Autumn and Winter Stars,” since, as the authors point out, the “big triangle” passes overhead on September evenings. That is indeed the case, although it is only during the summer months of June and July that the Triangle is visible for the entire night, from dusk till dawn. [http://www.space.com/1206-doorstep-astronomy-summer-triangle.html]
The designation “Summer Triangle” is evidently very recent (mid-20th century) though astronomers have noted for centuries that the three stars are among the brightest in the night sky and are a highlight of the summer months. The stars aid those who are in need of some assistance to locate other constellations, as the constellation Orion is for those searching the winter night sky.
The interest in the three stones and the ‘Summer Triangle’ was to investigate some association of the stone piles and astronomy. No association was obvious or evident.
One of the suppositions considered was that the individuals who had constructed the stone piles had some reason to appreciate the significance of the coming and going of what is now popularly known as the “Summer Triangle”. In other cultures, elaborate constructions like Stonehenge were used to calculate the changing of the seasons, something ancient residents of the Oman peninsula would have been interested in given the ferocious heat of summer and the seasonal rains. It is reasonable to assume that ancient residents of the Oman peninsula had a sophisticated understanding of the regular movements of the sun and moon as well as the planets and prominent stars. The three stones in Area Two may have served as a teaching aid to pass on information from one generation to another, for example.
The argument that the three stones are placed as they are for three individuals to sit and talk may be discounted by the fact that small stones were placed on only one side of two of the three stones.
While it is understandably dangerous to read too much into the placement of three large stones the situation seems too exceptional to have no significance.
The ‘Dots’ area
The third area of small piles of stones mapped was a small concentration located more than seven (7) kilometers from Areas A and B. The area was chosen after the piles were observed using Google Earth.
The collection is a small concentration of stone piles on the gravel plain which has several expanses of stone piling. However, owing to the soil conditions, many of the stone piles are barely visible as the piles have settled into the soil and are recognizable as shadows on the surface.
(A ‘chevron’ of stones was observed near the concentration referred to as ‘Dots’. Initially, it was unclear whether there was a connection between the chevron and ‘Dots’. On a subsequent visit, it was observed that small piles of stones extended from one arm of the chevron, the small piles equally spaced and in a straight line. Further examination resulted in the location of three other ‘chevrons’, each of which marked the corners of a runway. Individuals who were piloting planes in the mid-20th century confirmed that there was a runway for use by officials based in Showkah though the author was unable to locate any pilot who had used the runway. Further discussion of the landing strip appears later in this report.)
The ‘Dots’ area was mapped with a grid similar to that constructed for Area A and Area B; that is, a grid of three-meter squares was constructed using flour to outline the grid squares.
A total of 21 squares were constructed in the grid which consisted of four horizontal lines and a total of eight vertical lines. The longest line of squares was six units long and the area was an irregular shape. The total area mapped was 189 square meters.
A total of 49 piles of stones were counted in the area mapped.
The concentration of stone piles per square meter was one stone pile for each 3.86 square meters.
One of the features of the ‘Dots’ was that several of the stone piles appeared to be arranged in straight lines running in an east-west direction; however less than half of the stone piles could be considered to have been constructed in lines.
Of the 49 stone piles, only two appeared to have been constructed apart from the other piles of stones. These were located on the eastern edge of the concentration. These two piles of stones were at least three meters from all other stone piles but there was no obvious explanation.
Like Area One and Area Two, the ‘Dots’ collection of piles of stones did not include any charcoal, pottery, glass, or bone. Like other areas, the surface consisted of fist-sized stones. Unlike Area One and Area Two, the ‘Dots’ collection did not include any large stones either placed on the surface or partially embedded in the gravel plain.
Table 7: Study Area ‘Dots’ Grid Details
Row number Number of squares Column letter Number of squares
1 6 (0 empty) A 1 (0 empty)
2 5 (0 empty) B 2 (0 empty)
3 5 (1 empty) C 3 (0 empty)
4 5 (0 empty) D 4 (0 empty)
E 4 (1 empty)
F 4 (0 empty)
G 2 (0 empty)
H 1 (0 empty)
4 21 (1 empty) 8 21 (1 empty)
(Summary: 21 grid addresses, 49 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)
Table 8: Dots Area summary
Number Area Stone piles Concentration
of squares (one square = 9 square meters) (square meters per pile)
21 189 49 3.86
Table 9: Study Area ‘Dots’ grid summary: distribution of the 49 piles of stones among the 21 grid squares
Grid Number of Grid Number of Grid Number of Grid Number of
address stone piles address stone piles address stone piles address stone piles
01/A 1 02/B 3 03/C 1 04/D 4
01/B 1 02/C 2 03/D 2 04/E 4
01/C 1 02/D 5 03/E 4 04/F 4
01/D 1 02/E 4 03/F 0 04/G 5
01/E 1 02/F 1 03/G 2 04/H 2
6 6 5 15 5 9 5 19
(Summary: 21 grid addresses, 49 piles of stones. Since some stone piles straddled the arbitrary grid lines, assignment of a stone pile to a grid square is arbitrary.)
No objects of any kind were observed in the area of the grid constructed at the Dots site. However, approximately 10 meters north of the grid two fragments of bone were collected. It is not uncommon to find remains of bones in the desert and on the gravel plains; the bones may be the remains of a deceased animal (camel, donkey, dhub, goat, chicken etc) or refuse from a camping site where individuals may have consumed any of the above and left the bones as refuse.
However, these two bone fragments were located on their own; there were no other bones or bone fragments in the vicinity. Nor were there any signs within a reasonable distance (several hundred meters) of any camping activity. The only evidence of human activity in the general vicinity was the landing strip and the hundreds of piles of stones, including those in the concentration identified here as the Dots area.
For this observer, the two bone fragments appear to be considerably weathered. The shape, the observer believes, is not normal; that is, it is unlikely there are bones from any of the animals (mammals, reptiles, birds etc) normally found in the region that would have a bone similar to these. No othere material – pottery, shells, bone, etc – was found in the vicinty of the ‘Dots’ area.
The pointed end on each bone fragment and the palm-sized proportion of each piece of bone suggest to this observer that the bone fragments may have been rudimentary awls. However others with more experience with such material doubt that conclusion.
Piles of stones have been observed and recorded on islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi emirate and along the coastline. There is also one report of small piles of stones observed in a wadi in Oman.
During the course of an environment impact assessment for a proposed development on Han Island (Abu Dhabi emirate coastline), stone piles were observed on a narrow spit of land above the high-water mark.
The site (Stone Pattern) in the western corner of the island appeared to be of recent construction and consisted of piles of large stones used to construct what appeared to be a temporary structure. Most interesting was the collection of sites and material along the northern edge of the island on a narrow spit of land and a small island accessible at low tide.
Small piles of stones, similar in appearance, size, and spacing compared to those in photographs taken of stone piles on other Abu Dhabi islands, were noted on the small island immediately north of Han Island and at the western edge of a series of features. Two pottery scatters were observed, one a single pot shard, the other several pieces of a large storage pot (both appeared to be late Islamic). Three structures that resembled mosques were also noted. These consisted of an outline, in small stones, of the mihrab with a small area nearby that had been cleared of stones. There was also a circle of large stones that appeared to be similar to the stone pattern in the western corner of the island; that is the structure appeared to be an impromptu shelter constructed recently.
Given the proximity of the spit (and island) to the open water – Han Island is separated from the open water by mangroves and sand bars – the site may have been more accessible in the past and used as a shelter by fishermen and sailors. The presence of Islamic features could be considered evidence connecting the piles of stones to the Islamic period. (Likewise, the presence of Hafit-style tombs near stone piles at Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah could suggest a connection. The practice of piling stones in both pre-Islamic and Islamic times is discussed later in this report.)
The stone piles in the photograph shared by Dr. Mark Beech (Figure 48) of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority appear similar in concentration and construction to those observed at Jebel Hafit and in the Showkah/Khadrah areas. The small stones, darker in color due in part to ‘desert varnish’ staining, appear clearly against the lighter colored surface. No explanation was offered for the construction of these piles of stones.
Peter Hellyer, of the former Abu Dhabi Island Archaeology Survey (ADIAS) also shared photographs of small piles of stones observed on islands studied by ADIAS over the years (Figures 49 through 54).
Those who have spent much time in the desert and mountains of the Oman peninsula know that the region is populated with evidence of human activity over the estimated 7000 years of human presence, notably along the gravel plains and mountains where activity is not hidden by moving sand.
At both Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah, there was no evidence of human activity other than the piles of stones. No pottery, no shells, no charcoal, no bones, and no decoration (beads, glass etc) were observed other than the single shell and two bone fragments noted above. Any of these would have allowed for an estimation of age.
Officials in Abu Dhabi emirate declined a request to map an area of the stones on the gravel plain at Jebel Hafit but officials in Ras al Khaimah did not object to a request.
The mapping was carried out on three areas of stone piles that were not contiguous to other stone piling activity. The first area chosen was a small concentration located on a flat piece of ground on a plateau lower than most of the surrounding area with a deep, wide wadi curving around the site; a vehicle track arched across the site with vehicular traffic having flattened a number of the stone piles. The second area was on a piece of ground on a higher level than all surrounding land with no sign of any disturbance; immediately west of the site was a collection of debris from the nearby quarry but there was no indication any vehicles dumping the material had crossed or degraded the site. (Elsewhere in the area of the second site mapped, tracks of a bulldozer were observed crossing the stone piles.) The third area mapped is a small area of stone piles located several kilometers from Areas One and Two and is referred to in this report as Area ‘Dots’ as the concentration appears as an isolated, small collection of dots on the gravel plain when viewed using Google Earth.
The mapping was carried out for two specific reasons: to record the number of stone piles and to record the relative positioning of each pile viz a viz other stone piles.
The purpose of the first objective was to collect sufficient data to be able to more accurately estimate the total number of stone piles in each area. The mapping resulted in a per-square-meter count that could be applied to any of the areas of the Showkah/Khadrah concentrations. (The density could not be applied to the Jebel Hafit site since it is a combination of stone piles like those at Showkah/Khadrah, shapes (designs), and piles of larger stones.)
The purpose of the second objective was to be able to compare the map of the stone piles to other known patterns to see if there was some obvious or apparent correlation. For example, one of the suppositions was that the stone piles were an attempt to map or record some information, such as a celestial map of stars. Once the area was represented by dots on a piece of paper, and cardinal directions were noted, perhaps the pattern would represent some information.
Materials used included half-meter-long pieces of small-diameter re-enforcing bar (re-bar) which had been dipped in white paint to highlight one end. The lengths of re-bar were hammered into the ground three meters apart to set up a grid of three-meter-by-three-meter squares. (The decision to make the squares three meters in each direction was arbitrary but based on the fact that each stone pile was approximately half a meter in diameter and it seemed a manageable grid size.)
Each site was surveyed in general taking note of the area cleared. Each of the three sites at Showkah/Khadrah had one side that was almost a straight line, so it was decided to place the first corner post at one end of this length and begin construction of the grid. Once the first re-bar was hammered into the ground, a length of nylon string/rope was stretched along the edge of the area. With the string still in place, a tape measure was attached to the first post and extended along the edge. Posts were hammered in at three-meter intervals.
Constructing a grid of lines at right angles was achieved using Pythagoras geometry. Once the second post was in place (90 degrees opposite to the first line of posts), construction of the remainder of the grid was relatively easy using two long measuring tapes and lengths of plastic string.
It was decided to use wheat flour to mark the grid lines. Initially, a mixture of water and flour was tried but the process was messy and impractical as the mixture dried a light shade of beige, difficult to see, especially in the glare of the summer sun. The most practical solution was to use large plastic drinking water bottles with the tops removed. These bottles were filled with dry flour from 20-kilogram bags of the most inexpensive flour available. The flour was carefully tipped out of the bottles to cover the nylon string looped between all the re-bar stakes. It was a challenging procedure given the heat and lengths of the grid lines. (It was also challenging as feral donkeys in the area would visit the site and eat the flour, as would desert larks.)
The flour lasted about one month before it was consumed or blown away; at the end of the mapping operations, the grid lines were not visible at all.
Once the grid had been overlaid, each square was photographed and the location of the stone piles was recorded. This allowed for a precise mapping of each stone pile in the area as well as an accurate count of the stone piles. (Copies of all photographs are available to the public online via Picasa.)
Each grid was mapped onto sheets of standard graph paper which were subsequently scanned and the sheets combined using basic computer software to produce a composite map of each area.
(The procedure evidently provided some amusement for the shopkeeper of the grocery in Showkah who had, it is safe to assume, never sold so many bags of flour to western expatriates. Likewise, the operators of the gravel trucks entering and exiting the quarry nearby were evidently amused with the antics of western expatriates bent over the gravel plain scattering flour!)
Discussion, Results of the Mapping
The mapping provided a reasonably precise representation of three areas of geoglyphs (stone piles) in the Showkah/Khadrah area where, as opposed to the Jebel Hafit site, the stone piling involved only the creation of thousands of small piles of stones; at Jebel Hafit, though there are stone piles very similar to those at Showkah/Khadrah, there are also areas of patterns and designs as well as areas with piles of larger stones.
The mapping activity also established, the author concluded, that the original explanation for the stone piles at Jebel Hafit was very unlikely i.e. that local residents had made the small piles of stones in anticipation of selling the stones to crusher companies trying to meet the sudden, large demand for aggregate when development hit the region in the 1970’s and 1980’s. (This published explanation does not support anecdotal evidence from local residents of Mezyad who simply said that the piles of stones had been there at Jebel Hafit for as long as anyone could recall.)
What remains to understand is the when, why, what, where, who, and how of the stone piles.
When were the piles constructed?
Given the lack of any evidence of the age of the geoglyphs, an observer could consider the construction of so many piles of stones for three general time periods: recent past; the period from the arrival of Europeans to the recent past; and the time period before Europeans arrived.
If the stone piles were constructed during the first period, it seems logical to assume that someone would have some recollection of the stone piles being constructed and a reason for the construction. While the anecdotal evidence collected was not exhaustive, and the search of the literature was limited to published materials available in the UAE and online, it seems reasonable to conclude that the stone piles were not constructed in the last 50 or 60 years. If so many stone piles had been constructed, it seems reasonable to assume someone would have some recollection or the activity would have become part of a communal collective memory.
If the stone piles had been constructed during the middle period, that is late Islamic period after the arrival of the Portuguese in the region and the introduction of non-traditional materials and foodstuffs and construction, it seems likely that the activity of constructing such large areas of geoglyphs would have been recorded by the Europeans. At Jebel Hafit, with the historical significance of the collective of the Buraimi Oases and the traffic along the north-south and east-west caravan routes, it seems a reasonable assumption that such activity would have been noted. During this period, there were individuals with a history of writing and recording in the region, a population that had not been in the region before given the lack of a literate society that recorded any information in writing.
(The number of individuals able to read and write even after the embrace of Islam, based on the literature available and the field evidence published, was evidently very small; while the members of the society had language skills, communication was almost exclusively oral. The only evidence of writing and recording appears to be rock art, notably the considerable rock art on the western slopes of the Hajar Mountains, and a very few examples of any other written language, the most publicized being the rock-art writing recorded on rocks in Wadi Hatta.)
If the stone piles had been constructed during the earliest period, it seems illogical for a population to invest so much time and effort in an exercise for which no obvious practical explanation yet presents itself. The consensus is that life from the Iron Age until just a few hundred years ago was extremely challenging. Populations would have had to invest considerable time in water management (construction and maintenance of falaj systems), crop management, livestock management, and food gathering and hunting. (The challenge to have enough food to survive is not something relegated to the distant past given some anecdotal evidence collected by the author. At one mountain oasis community, the author asked an older resident of the oasis about a large cave located near the modern houses. The gentleman explained that he can recall the residents of the oasis community hiding in the cave when residents of a nearby oasis raided their community in search of food. The gentleman was in his 50’s or 60’s when he was recounting an episode from his youth suggesting the search for food to survive continued well into the 20th century for some communities.)
Individuals familiar with the gravel plains west of the Hajar Mountains are aware of the ‘desert varnish’ that colors the ‘desert armor’. At Jebel Hafit, there is very little varnish on any of the material in the area, perhaps the result of run-off from the eastern flank of Jebel Hafit or the chemical nature of the aggregate. At Showkah/Khadrah, however, the gravel plain does feature varnish on the surface stones to the extent that an experienced observer can note where a vehicle or camel has crossed relatively recently as a sufficient number of stones are disturbed to leave a visible track. At Showkah/Khadrah, the desert varnish on the stones in the stone piles and that exposed surface in the cleared areas seems to be very similar and is much more recent than the surrounding areas that are undisturbed. That is there are three ranges of color: dark varnish on the undisturbed areas, mid-range varnish on the stone piles and area between the piles, and very light appearance – and evidently no varnish – on areas stripped of surface stones recently or areas where subsoil has been deposited on the surface, as noted at Jebel Hafit where dhubs had excavated burrows.
Imagery from Google Earth makes it relatively easy to spot concentrations of stone piling; the disturbed areas are lightly varnished while the undisturbed areas have the common dark-red, maroon varnish. In each individual stone pile, the surface varnish can be observed on the individual stones. One can observe how an individual stone, once part of the extensive gravel plain’s ‘desert armor’, was relocated and placed in a different position so that some of the entire varnish portion of the stone is not exposed. In summary, the undisturbed material (‘desert armor’) is covered with a dark-maroon varnish, the exposed area where stone piling has taken place has a very light covering of desert varnish, and the recently exposed surface (and subsoil material exposed) is a very light color. In the Showkah/Khadrah area, as can be seen on Google Earth imagery, the three variations are visible and evident.
Considering the factors associated with each of these time frames, it seems there is no obvious clue as to the time when the stone piles may have been constructed. That is:
— the stone piles were arguably not constructed within the last 60 years as the activity would have been observed and be known;
— the stone piles were arguably not constructed after the arrival of the Europeans as that activity would have been observed and reported by the Europeans who were observing and recording details; and
— the stone piles were arguably not constructed prior to the arrival of the Europeans as the small populations had more important things to do to survive in the harsh conditions.
Who constructed the stone piles?
The matter of who constructed the stone piles seems to indicate that local residents were responsible for constructing the piles. It was an activity that any member of the community could have carried out as there do not appear to be any special skills required to pile the stones (all piles observed indicated a random stacking of the stones).
Where are the stone piles constructed?
Where the stone piles are located may be considered in terms of other constructions or highlights nearby. The two areas (Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah) are on the eastern flank of the Hajar Mountains. Both are located in the vicinity of Hafit-style tombs (in the case of Jebel Hafit, several hundred tombs; in the case of Showkah/Khadrah, three recorded). Both are on significant routes: Jebel Hafit stone piles are within sight of the north-south route along the western edge of the Hajar Mountains (Nizwa to Hatta) and the east-west corridor created by Wadi Jizzi; the Showkah/Khadrah site is near the entrance to the Hajar Mountains for caravans entering the mountains at Showkah to connect with Wadi Hilo, the top end of which can be reached with only one ridge crossing. The Showkah/Khadrah site is on the eastern edge of arguably the largest gravel plain in the Oman peninsula stretching from Madam to Manama along the mountains and west to the edge of the coastal dunes; numerous significant archaeological sites have been recorded in and around the Madam Plain, notably at Mileiha. While both sites are located near historically significant routes, there is no obvious connection between the stone piles and the routes.
Another consideration was the location of wadis (and seasonal water) near the two sites (Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah). At both locations rainfall and subsequent run-off has eroded the gravel plain leaving large and small wadis near all of the areas of stone piling observed. It was noted that none of the smaller individual areas of stone piling has been eroded by run-off at either location. (The only damage to the stone piles has been in the past 40 or 50 years as a result of motor vehicles; Area One at Showkah/Khadrah has a substantial vehicle track swerving through the area east-west while at Jebel Hafit, the stone piles have been severely disturbed by large numbers of vehicles, some associated with farming activity, some no doubt the result of visitors in search of Hafit burial tombs, and others evidently recreational. At Jebel Hafit, the stone piles are also being degraded by the daily patrols of military evidently patrolling the area.) It does seem reasonable to conclude that the individuals who organized the construction of the stone piles – and the stone arrangements at Jebel Hafit – did not construct piles that would be in danger of being eroded or damaged by run-off.
Some archaeologists who have worked in the region maintain that the key to understanding ancient activity requires a study of water as water was essential for life given the climate and geology. The stone piling west of Jebel Hafit is within site of the Buraimi oases where, it is believed, oasis cultivation has been taking place continuously for 5000 years or more. At Showkah, there are several wadis that would have seasonal water supplies but there are also strong springs which would likely have provided a significant supply of water over a period of centuries if not millennia. (It would be interesting if evidence of stone piling could be recorded nearby other known ancient settlements along the western slopes of the Hajar Mountains.) There does not seem to be any connection between the stone piles and the production, preservation, movement, or transportation of water.
Why construct hundreds (thousands) of piles of small stones?
Why a community would invest so much time to construct stone piles remains a mystery. One possibility considered was with regard to the recording and storage of information. Given the evidence that the cultures of the past in this region lacked any written language skills and no means to record information other than the rock art noted, perhaps the stone piles were intended to record and pass on some information. Another consideration was that the stone piles were meant to communicate something to a visitor to the area, a consideration discounted given that, if geoglyphs were intended to warn or inform visitors and passers-by, some indication of that may have been passed on in folklore and other recorded history.
Other explanations suggested included preparation for agriculture (unlikely given the fact the piles remained in place and there is no evidence of falaj system to provide water), quarrying (unlikely given the fact there is no evidence of any stone being removed, only surface stones moved into piles or arrangements), and some spiritual or artistic activity (unlikely as a. there was likely little time for this in the distant past and b. there would have been some recording of the activity if it took place more recently).
Another factor complicating many of the suggestions to explain why the stone piles were constructed is that stone piles appear to have all been constructed on the surface; that is, there was no evidence of any disturbance of the surface below the pile of stones nor the area between the piles.
Given the commonly held belief in jinn among the populations of the Oman peninsula, the most logical explanation may be that the piling of stones is related in some way to the beliefs held about the power of the jinn.
A cursory investigation of the belief in jinn (The Religion of Islam website [www.islamreligion.com] discusses some of the Muslim beliefs in jinn in articles at http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/669/ and http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/674/. ) There are reported to be archaeological sites and objects which indicate the belief in jinn and their powers pre-dates Islam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinn) but the Wikipedia article makes no specific mention of a site or author. Many sites and articles discuss the reference to jinn in the Quran and common practices taken to avoid any harm from jinn; none of the practices mentioned includes any reference to piling of stones. The only references to stones in articles surveyed were:
— an individual, alone in the desert or deserted place, may hear the sound of a thrown stone, or indeed be hit by a thrown stone, and, seeing no other person, belief that jinn were responsible for throwing the stone; and
— the wearing of some semi-precious or precious stones to protect oneself from the jinn, similar to the belief that the wearing of an amulet or stone could protect an individual from the ‘evil eye’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil_eye).
The connection between piles of stones and superstition is not restricted to the Oman peninsula or Islam or other modern religions based on the practice of piling stones elsewhere in the world, notably Iceland (http://www.rock-on-rock-on.com/iceland.html).
One of the arguments put forward by my friend Rachel Chapman, who assisted in the construction of the grids and joined me for many hours on site, was that the site could be interpreted by considering the stones as the only remaining evidence of some activity that had taken place in the past, that other things or features or objects that had been there when the stone piles were constructed are no longer there. In the excerpt below there is a description of a custom that could result in small piles of stones where a tree or bush may have been.
One of the practices in antiquity, as reported by Charles Montagu Doughty (Travels in Arabia Deserta et al) and others (http://answering-islam.org/Books/Zwemer/Animism/chapt11.htm), was the accumulation of small piles of stones around the base of trees.
“In Islam the same beliefs and practices exist and go back to Arabian paganism or were adopted by Moslems in their local or national environment and Islamized. The subject was treated by Goldziher in a brief paper translated for the Moslem World (July, 1911, p. 302). Other facts have since come to our notice and all travelers in the Near East witness to the wide prevalence of this superstition. Special veneration to holy trees is offered in Syria, Palestine, and all North Africa. The Bedouins inhabiting the tracts of land traversed by Doughty look upon certain trees and shrubs as manhals, or abodes of angels and demons. To injure such trees or shrubs, to lop their branches, is held dangerous. Misfortune overtakes him who has the foolhardiness to perpetrate such an outrage, and as may be imagined, the Arabs have many delectable stories calculated to win over the skeptic. The holy tree is hung with a variety of buntings and like ornaments. The diseased and maimed of the desert resort to it, offer it a sheep or goat, and besprinkle it with the blood of the sacrificed animal. The flesh is cooked and distributed among the friends present, a portion being left suspended from a branch of the magic tree; and the patient returns tranquil in the faith that the angel will appear in a dream and instruct him with a view to his cure. But again it is the patient only who may sleep in the shades of the sacred tree; to a healthy man the attempt would involve ruin. Professor Sachu’s attention was arrested in the rocky land Jabal-ul-Amiri, southeast of Aleppo, by a stunted desiccated thorny tree of a man’s height which he beheld hung on all sides with variegated rags. “Stones were heaped around its stem, and all manner of stones, large and small, were placed in the branches. Such a tree, called zarur, is the altar of the desert. When a woman yearns for a child, when a peasant longs for rain, or when he yearns for the restoration to health of his horse or camel he takes a stone and deposits it at the foot of the zarur, or fixes it somewhere between its two branches.”
Later in the same article is a reporting of another incident of stones piled around or on a tree: “near Harpout is a thorn-bush nearly buried in stones which cures fever”.
However, none of the stone piles observed in the course of mapping the three areas, nor during any survey activity at Jebel Hafit or Showkah/Khadrah, was there any evidence that trees or bushes may have been growing at any of the locations where stone piles exist today. That is there was no evidence of wood, regardless of condition, or spacing to suggest a bush or tree may have been present. In addition, had the number of trees and bushes been that large at some time in the past, why were the trees and bushes only growing in certain areas, some areas only a few meters apart? When one of the stone piles was dis-assembled, there was no evidence of any tree or bush having been growing in that location as the surface beneath the stones showed no indication of ever having been disturbed.
The same article makes reference to the construction of piles of stones – cairns – associated with travel.
“Another form of stone-worship very common throughout the Moslem world is that of raising up stone heaps on sacred places: “In Syria it is a common practice with pious Moslems when they first come in sight of a very sacred place, such as Hebron or the tomb of Moses, to make a little heap of stones or to add a stone to a heap which has been already made. Hence every here and there the traveler passes a whole series of such heaps by the side of the track. In Northern Africa the usage is similar. Cairns are commonly erected on spots from which the devout pilgrim first discerns the shrine of a saint afar off; hence they are generally to be seen on the top of passes. For example, in Morocco, at the point of the road from Casablanca to Azemmour, where you first come in sight of the white city of the saint gleaming in the distance, there rises an enormous cairn of stones shaped like a pyramid several hundreds of feet high, and beyond it on both sides of the road there is a sort of avalanche of stones, either standing singly or arranged in little pyramids. Every pious Mohammedan whose eyes are gladdened by the blessed sight of the sacred towns adds his stone to one of the piles or builds a little pile for himself”.4[Frazer’s “The Scapegoat,” pp.21, 22.] The custom of passers-by putting stone on a heap is a form of fetish worship. This is clear from what we read concerning the practice in West Africa.
“All day we kept passing trees or rocks,” writes Nassau, “on which were placed little heaps of stones or bits of wood; in passing these, each of my men added a new stone or bit of wood, or even a tuft of grass. This is a tribute to the spirits, the general precaution to insure a safe return. These people have a vague sort of Supreme Being called Lesa who has good and evil passions; but here (Plateau of Lake Tanganyika), as everywhere else, the Musimo, or spirits of the ancestors, are a leading feature in the beliefs. They are propitiated, as elsewhere, by placing little heaps of stones about their favorite haunts.”5[Nassau’s “African Fetichism,” p. 91.] The stoning of “The Three Devils” at Mecca may be some form of ancestor worship if it is not in memory of the old idols.”
(The article also makes mention of ‘Three Stones’ on several occasions which could relate to the three stones recorded at Site Two.)
Hikers often come across cairns whether intended to mark a critical point along the track, indicate a change in direction, or mark the summit of a hill or mountain. It is not uncommon for hikers to add a stone to such cairns, perhaps out of superstition, perhaps a sense of participation, or other reason.
The practice of piling stones for religious or superstitious reasons is also discussed in E.J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 4. Brill concludes from his research that the piling of stones is ancient with each pile, or the act of piling stones, known as kerkur.
KERKUR, a heap of stones, especially a sacred heap of stones. The cult of heaps of stones is extremely ancient and distributed all over the world. It seems to come not from an act of litholatry in the strict sense but from a rite of transference or expulsion of evil; the individual, picking up a stone, causes the evil of whatever kind that afflicts him to pass into it — as the case may be, fatigue, physical or moral suffering, sin, the dangerous power that attaches itself to a man in certain sacred neighbourhoods, or all these things together – and gets rid of it by throwing it or depositing it with the stone on a place suitable for absorbing it; the accumulation of these expiatory pebbles forms the sacred piles of stones which rise all along the roads, at different passes and at the entrances to sanctuaries. Alongside of these, the throwing or placing of a pebble or the building of a little pyramid of stone often becomes one of the obligatory rites of the pilgrimage and the rite losing its primitive character has been sometimes taken for a true offering-rite (cf. R. Dussaud’s view, La Materialisation de la priere eu Orient, in the Bull. et mem. de la Soc. d’Anthr. de Paris, 1906, p. 213-220). The kerkur are often built at the place where a man has been killed and buried; this has been explained from the desire to bury more deeply a dead man whose spirit might be tempted to come out and avenge itself or, less plausibly, as a kind of homage to the dead; but this casting of stones can also be explained rather as a rite for the expulsion of evil (a dangerous place, the infection of death, proximity of disturbing magical forces). It appears therefore that we always find rites of purification in the origin of the kerkur.
Pre-Islamic Arabic knew the rite of casting stones and sacred heaps of stones. The rites of the hadjdj have preserved evidence of this. It may be asked if there is not a rite of this kind in the origin of the lapidations at Mina (for other explanations see the art. HADJDJ, ii. 201), and in any case, as G. Demombynes (Le Pelerinage a la Mekke, Ch. 1) has recently shown, the raised stones or radjam which stand at the mawakit marking the haram of Mekka are exactly comparable to the kerkur which are found from Central Asia to North America along the roads at points where one begins to approach the great sanctuaries; there are also examples of this practice to be found equally in Christian countries.
Islam found the cult of piles of stones in all or almost all the lands that it conquered and although orthodoxy looked askance at it, it had to accommodate itself, as to so many other popular practices, which owed their origin to paganism in the remote past. The kerkur are especially numerous in certain regions, Syria for example, but nowhere has their cult been so developed and is so vigorous as in North Africa, especially in the south of Morocco, where it has been especially studied by E. Doutte. There, one may say, there is not a pass, or ravine or cross-roads which has not its little pyramids of stones or its great kerkur to which every passer-by adds his pebble, not a rustic sanctuary but has its sacred piles of stones.
Sometimes the kerkur itself, as in other cases a spring, a tree or a rock, has given rise to a sanctuary which has become Islamised in a marabout fashion. It is also very common to find under the aegis of a saint several of these cults combined, — strange sanctuaries which perpetuate the ancient rites of paganism, still vigorous after twelve centuries of Islam.
Bibliography: The bibliography of the subject is very extensive. What is essential from the general point of view is given in Frazer, Golden Bough, third ed., part vi., The Scapegoat, p. 8-30, where also are given certain number of references to Muslim countries; from the Muslim standpoint in Doutte, Merrakech, Paris 1905, p. 58-108; do., Magie et religion dans l’Afrique du Nord, Algiers 1908, ch. x. Since the publication of this last work, E. Westermarck, The Moorish Conception of Holiness (Baraka), Helsingfors 1916, p. 26 sqq. (on Morocco). (Henri Basset) (pp 857-858 http://books.google.ca/books?id=7CP7fYghBFQC) (pages http://books.google.ca/books?id=7CP7fYghBFQC&pg=PA858&lpg=PA858#v=onepage&q&f=false)
These and other references suggest a connection between stone piles and pagan (and later) beliefs that the act of piling stones may have some influence over unseen forces.
There may be some connection between the act of piling stones and some belief system. One argument considered is that only the influence of such a belief could motivate individuals to invest the time and energy to construct so many piles of stones over such large areas.
The other possible argument to support a connection between the piles of stones and belief systems involving jinn or other unseen forces is the possible connection of the act of piling stones with ancient graves/tombs. At Jebel Hafit, dozens of tombs were recorded by the Danish and French archaeological teams, most within meters of the arrangements of stones. At Showkah/Khadrah, only three Hafit-style tombs were noted in the immediate vicinity of Area One and Area Two. However, in the general region – within a few kilometers – there are several Hafit-style tombs atop ridges.
The fact that some reference material suggests the act of piling stones for belief or superstitious reasons predates Islam does not help in answering the question of when the piles of stones may have been constructed.
Any discussion of why individuals may have constructed so many piles of stones should also include a quick summary of (Abraham) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (discussed and summarized at numerous sites and in numerous books including http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs).
As noted in the articles cited, Maslow’s conclusions have been debated and, while not debunked, have been found perhaps incomplete. As noted in the article at http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html , the sequence has been expanded to a total of eight levels or topics (Maslow never presented his hierarchy in the form of a pyramid, many insist). The summary of hierarchal needs could be (from most basic to most sophisticated):
Level One: Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc
Level Two: Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
Level Three: Belonging and Love needs – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.
Level Four: Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
Level Five: Cognitive needs – knowledge, meaning, etc.
Level Six: Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.
Level Seven: Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
Level Eight: Transcendence needs – helping others to achieve self-actualization.
It is difficult to see how the act of piling stones into individual piles or, as is the case at Jebel Hafit, elaborate shapes, meets any of the needs in Level One or Two. If the construction of the piles and shapes was a community activity in which all members of the community participated, then perhaps the act could meet some societal and individual Level Three needs (belonging). Level Four needs do not seem to apply. If the stone piles convey or store some information or instructions, then perhaps Level Five needs are met. Level Six needs (aesthetic) may be relevant when considering the elaborate designs at Jebel Hafit; the act of decorating the gravel plains using the materials at hand could be considered an aesthetic activity though the motivation – art for art’s sake – seems extravagant given the challenging living conditions of the past. Level Seven needs may be involved and certainly Level Eight needs would be addressed if the act of piling stones was related in some way to a belief system, including superstitions.
As noted in some discussions of Maslow’s theory (hypothesis), it is not necessary for individuals to meet all of the needs of any one level before moving on to the next. In this sense, ancient members of communities at Jebel Hafit and the Showkah/Khadrah area could have been dealing with the constant search for food, water, and security and still have had the time and inclination to construct piles of stones to meet some perceived higher need.
How were the stone piles constructed?
How the stone piles were constructed assumes each pile was constructed of materials within the reach of the individual constructing each pile. There are very few uncollected stones between the piles. The density of the piles varies from area to area and, given that the size of the stone piles appears very consistent, it seems that the number of piles is a function of the number of surface stones there originally. The density of stone piles (pile per square meter) is a function of the number of surface stones rather than an intention to have a certain density, it seems. That is, the fields of stone piles at Jebel Hafit and at Showkah/Khadrah consist of stone piles that are remarkably similar in size. The exception may be the few piles of very small stones observed at Area One. Even in areas where the piles have sunk into the landscape, the size and distribution appears constant with that observed elsewhere.
There is no evidence of a specific method of constructing each pile; the stones appear to be stacked randomly with no evidence of constructing a specific shape. (Wall building, for example, required the builders to select stones carefully and arrange the stones in a specific pattern for strength and solidity.) As noted, the spacing appears to be a function of the density of the surface stones when activity began.
As noted, one stone pile was carefully excavated and observations suggested that the site was not prepared in any way; that is, it appears the stones were simply piled on a random spot. The silt/soil surface was undisturbed; there was no evidence of any excavation in the area of the pile. The only stone placement of any note was the location of a large flat stone on the apex of the pile.
The art or custom of construction stone piles appears to have been – and may continue to be – a practice carried out by individuals for some unknown reason or purpose. The fact that individuals contacted by this observer have reported – and shared photographs – of small piles of stones that, from all appearances, were constructed very recently (a matter of months, as opposed to years) suggests the practice is ongoing.
However, the overwhelming number of stone piles observed at Jebel Hafit and in the Showkah/Khadrah area suggests this is a practice or custom that has been going on for a number of years, perhaps centuries.
There does not appear to be sufficient information at any of the sites mapped or observed to answer the basic questions who constructed the piles, why were the piles constructed, when were the piles constructed, nor why were they constructed in these locations.
Showkah Landing Strip
The observance of a ‘chevron’ just a few meters from the ‘Dots’ site of stone piles was initially assumed to be part of the practice of piling stones. However, further observation suggested the ‘chevron’ was actually one corner of landing strip.
While pilots and others with firsthand knowledge of aviation in the region during the 1950’s and 1960’s confirmed the landing strips observed at other locations, no one who had actually used a landing strip at Showkah was contacted; however, the existence of a landing strip near Showkah was known. It would be logical for the Trucial Oman Scouts and others to have established a landing strip in the area given the importance of Showkah (access to mountain route to the coast, fresh water).
Twenty-three (23) markers were observed and recorded along both lengths of the landing strip. The conclusion the ‘chevrons’ and markers were used to mark a landing strip was re-enforced by the observation of what appeared to be ‘whitewash’ on some of the stones in the ‘chevrons’ and the markers. Of the four corner markers – chevrons – three were in very good condition; the fourth had been degraded by a vehicle track.
The landing strip is approximately 27 meters (30 yards) wide and 370 meters (400 yards) long. The landing strip has a bearing of approximately 115 degrees true.
Dave Clark (Al Ain) was the first individual I encountered who had also noticed the stone piles at Jebel Hafit and helped point out different concentrations between the ‘truck road’ and the Oman border. Rachel Chapman (Sharjah) gave up many weekends – and injured a shin – to map and study the scatter at Showkah/Khadrah. Rachel unselfishly joined many visits to the sites to construct the grid including stringing line between posts and spreading flour. I especially appreciated the time Dave and Rachel invested sharing their thoughts of the stone piling, including occasions when we discussed and debated possible explanations for the piles of stones while enjoying chicken buryani at one of the restaurants in Showkah. Special thanks to Dr. Christian Welde (resident archaeologist, Ras al Khaimah) for agreeing to allow the mapping of some of the stone piles at Showkah/Khadrah. Also much appreciated is the support and encouragement of Peter Hellyer, editor, Tribulus, for his many years of support and encouragement, and for sharing news of the “molehills” he had recorded near Showkah. Thanks also to Gary Feulner, Chair, Dubai Natural History Group, for comments and discussion regarding interpretation of the stones. Dr. Mark Beech (formerly Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, now Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority) provided support and encouragement that was very much appreciated; I also appreciated Mark’s sharing of a photograph of stone piles on one of the islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi. What little I know of the history of aviation in the region is due the unselfish generosity of Dr. Laurence Garey who has provided encouragement for many years and has shared his extensive knowledge, experience and interest in aviation. Thanks to Cheryl Dance who forwarded a photograph of stone piling observed in Oman; Cheryl visited the sites and was one of the individuals who expressed an interest. Finally my thanks to Dr. Fredi Devas of the BBC Natural History Unit who took time from his very busy schedule during a too-brief visit to the UAE to visit the sites. The interest and enthusiasm of these individuals made the hours of constructing grids and spreading flour most enjoyable.
Appendices and Galleries
1. Hafit-style tombs near Area One and Area Two………………………………………. 83
2. Relative position of Features and Spacing…………………………………………….. 86
3. Geoglyphs, triliths, tumuli……………………………………………………………….. 88
4. Jordanian Kites……………………………………………………………………………… 89
5. Unknown structures in Saudi Arabia…………………………………………………… 92
6. Nasca lines…………………………………………………………………………………… 93
Hafit-style tombs near Area One and Area Two
Relative position of Features and Spacing
Table 10: Coordinates of key features
Feature North East
Islamic graves 25°10’36.97″ 56° 1’59.04″
Pipeline 25°11’1.68″ 56° 1’53.82″
Hafit tomb 1 25°11’8.62″ 56° 2’32.76″
Hafit tomb 2 25°11’6.31″ 56° 2’34.07″
Hafit tomb 3 25°11’4.98″ 56° 2’30.69″
Study Area A 25°11’19.89″ 56° 2’8.71″
Study Area B 25°11’15.13″ 56° 2’22.66″
Study Area ‘Dots’ 25° 8’7.00″ 55°59’33.83″
Copper smelters A 25°10’42.18″ 56° 1’58.94″
Copper smelters B 25°10’36.77″ 56° 2’1.45″
Copper smelters C 25°10’38.09″ 56° 2’1.52″E
‘Molehills’ 25°10’36.55″ 56° 1’56.57″
Hafit tombs (Al Ain, Abu Dhabi) 24° 2’42.43″ 55°48’0.19″
Table 11: Distances between key features
Separation of Features
Feature Estimated Distance (kilometers)
Study Area ‘Dots’ to Study Area B 7.44 km
Study Area ‘Dots’ to Study Area A 7.40 km
Study Area A to Hafit tomb 1 0.75 km
Study Area B to Hafit tomb 1 0.35 km
Study Area A to Hafit tomb 2 0.8 km
Study Area Showkah (general) to Hafit tombs (Al Ain, Abu Dhabi) 130 km
Study Area B to Hafit tomb 2 0.42 km
Study Area A to Hafit tomb 3 0.77 km
Study Area A to Hafit tomb 3 0.39 km
Figure 73: The approximate distance separating Study Area A from Study Area ‘Dots’.
Geoglyphs, triliths, tumuli
Recently constructed stone piles, Oman
Unknown structures in Saudi Arabia
Table of Contents
(numbers refer to the page numbers in the original MS Word document)
Table of Figures. 4
Piles of stones. 13
Stone piles and geoglyphs in the UAE. 18
Jebel Hafit concentration. 20
Showkah/Khadrah concentration. 28
Study Area One. 31
Study Area Two. 38
Study Area Two Grid. 38
Large stones. 42
The Three Stones. 43
The ‘Dots’ area. 47
Bone Fragments. 52
Other sites. 55
Not observed. 61
Mapping Procedure. 62
Discussion, Results of the Mapping. 64
When were the piles constructed?. 64
Who constructed the stone piles?. 66
Where are the stone piles constructed?. 66
Why construct hundreds (thousands) of piles of small stones?. 67
How were the stone piles constructed?. 75
Showkah Landing Strip. 77
Appendices and Galleries. 82
Hafit-style tombs near Area One and Area Two. 83
Relative position of Features and Spacing. 85
GPS Coordinates. 85
Separation of Features. 85
Geoglyphs, triliths, tumuli 87
Recently constructed stone piles, Oman. 89
Jordanian kites. 90
Unknown structures in Saudi Arabia. 92
Nasca lines. 93
Table of Figures
Figure 1: Quadrant D1 from Study Area One at Showkah/Khadrah. Three areas were mapped with a three-meter grid, the contents of each square recorded. In quadrant D1, there are two stone piles visible, the one in the center of the square degraded (scattered). The lines were created by depositing a fine line of wheat flour. (Brien Holmes). 1
Figure 2: Google Earth image showing Jebel Hafit and the communities of Showkah and Khadrah. 9
Figure 3: A section of one of the motifs at Nasca, Peru. (http://www.students.sbc.edu/sung08/senior%20seminar/Nazca/TheNazcaLines.html). 12
Figure 4: Former Chair of the Abu Dhabi chapter of the Emirates Natural History Group, Drew Gardner, beside a cairn constructed to mark the summit of Jebel Sumayni, a mountain on the western flank of the Hajar Mountains near the Abu Dhabi village of Schwaib. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/drewgardner/356093516/). 13
Figure 5: Cairns, such as these on a summit on a popular hiking trail in Oman, are often used to mark the summit while, en route, a cairn would affirm that the hiker is on the correct path. (http://billdan.blogspot.ca/2007/02/stone-cairns-wadi-sidr-hajar-mountains.html). 14
Figure 6: Beehive tombs such as these at Al Ayn, Oman, are common along the western slopes of the Hajar Mountains between Hatta (UAE) and Nizwa (Oman). Construction styles vary from site to site, reflecting the different building materials available and the period of construction. Adjacent to the city of Al Buraimi (Oman) and immediately across the border from the Hili Archaeology Park in Al Ain (UAE) is a ridge with an estimated 1000 Hafit-style tombs. (http://catbirdinoman.wordpress.com/category/oman/al-dhahirah-region/beehive-tombs-of-al-ayn/). 15
Figure 7: Beehive tombs at Bat, Oman. (http://atlasobscura.com/place/beehive-tombs-of-bat). 16
Figure 8: Hafit-style “beehive” tombs in Oman. The availability of a considerable supply of flat, large stones made the construction of the tombs easier than the tombs at Jebel Hafit (UAE), for example, where stones were odd-shaped. The fact most of these tumuli were constructed on ridge tops meant the tombs were visible from a considerable distance suggesting the purpose may have been twofold: burial in a significant location and visible to communicate some message to passers-by. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140196304002277). 16
Figure 9: Triliths, found in Oman including the island of Socotra, are usually arranged in a line more than a dozen meters in length. Three flat stone are “socketed” – placed on end with one end inserted into a pocket in the gravel plain – and occasionally with a fourth stone placed horizontally on top. Outside Arabia, a “trilith” usually refers to a stone construction consisting of three stones; triliths have been recorded at Stonehenge. At some sites, the three stones framing a doorway – two large vertical stones and a lintel slab – are sometimes referred to as a trilith. (http://antiquity.ac.uk/antiquityNew/projgall/mccorriston/index.html). 17
Figure 10: Stone piles inside an incomplete trapezoid geoglyph from Nasca, the image shared by an American archaeologist who spent more than five years studying the Nasca lines. The piles appear very similar in size and arrangement to those observed at Jebel Hafit and Showkah/Khadrah in the UAE. 19
Figure 11: One of the odd-shaped designs at the Jebel Hafit site. The fist-sized stones have been significantly in-filled and partially covered by wind-blown sand. The number of shaped piles of stones was very few compared to the simple small piles that measured about a half-meter in diameter. All stone piles were low-profile elevated less than 20 centimeters above the gravel plain. The curved shape (above) is approximately one meter wide and more than five meters long. (Brien Holmes). 20
Figure 12: Typical of many of the small piles of stones at Jebel Hafit, this pile is approximately a half a meter in diameter and consists of fist-sized stones uniform in size. 21
Figure 13: The curve of this shape suggests a question mark. Other rectangles and squares are also visible. 22
Figure 14: View looking north, dome mentioned in text on right. This area of individual piles changes to rectangles, parallel lines, and other curved shapes in the distance. At the base of the mountain, just left of center, are the reconstructed Jebel Hafit tombs. 23
Figure 15: A screen capture from Google Earth showing patterns and individual stone piles at Jebel Hafit. (Google Earth) 24
Figure 16: View from atop the small dome showing wadi (right) with Hafit tombs (reconstructed) at the base of the mountain, center of the image. Area of shaped piles is to the left. 25
Figure 17: A shell (in situ) observed among the stone piles at Jebel Hafit. Most of the small stones in the photograph appear to be echinoidea or other fossil commonly found on and near Jebel Hafit. If this is the case, the shell could be a fossil. 26
Figure 18: Image accompanying article from The National. Original caption: “Hasan al Naboodah, a history professor at UAE University, walks among the piles of stone near Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain. Photos by Stephen Lock / The National” 27
Figure 19: Estimated area of stone piling in the Showkah-Khadrah area using map from the 1960’s showing wells (tawi) and routes used by residents. The area is a few kilometers north of the point where many trails converge, at Showkah, where there was relatively easy access to the east coast via Wadi Qor and Wadi Hilo. 28
Figure 20: In the foreground, square X9 of the grid constructed in Study Area One at Showkah/Khadrah, the perimeter of the area running diagonally through the square. Individual piles are visible in the middle distance. Study Area One was chosen as a site for mapping as it was isolated from other concentrations and was relatively small in size. 29
Figure 21: Google Earth image showing original “molehills” (bottom left) noted by Hellyer/Welde, the copper mining and smelting sites, Islamic graves, the pipeline, three Hafit-style tombs, and Study Areas One and Two. 30
Figure 22: Study Area One at the Showkah/Khadrah site, the stone piles located in the apex of the bend in the wadi bed. The area had been disturbed by one vehicle track and two scrapes by a bulldozer. (Google Earth). 31
Figure 23: Working sheet of graph paper showing the grid and reference points with the centers of stone piles indicated in Study Area One. (The direction ‘north’ is at the bottom of the grid, ‘south’ at the top; ‘west’ direction is to the right and ‘east’ to the left.). 32
Figure 24: The “centers” of stone piles in Study Area One at Showkah/Khadrah. The symbols “S”, “N”, and “E” are assigned to three piles that were observed to be slightly apart from the general concentration of piles and coincidentally aligned with three of the four cardinal points of the compass. 35
Figure 25: Work sheet showing the plot of the vehicle track through Study Area One. The ‘x’ marks indicate stone piles along the track, many of which were degraded by the activity. To the left are two patches showing results of activity by a bulldozer, one area the cut made by the loader, the second the pile of debris created when the material scooped was dumped. 36
Figure 26: Photograph shows evidence of scoop by bulldozer (left, center) and the material subsequently dumped (top, right) in the area. 37
Figure 27: Photograph shows damage done to stone piles by vehicles driving over the site. The traffic was likely in relation to the construction of electrical pylons for high-voltage transmission lines nearby. 37
Figure 28: A screen capture from Google Earth of Study Area Two (red perimeter). Three other areas are also visible in the image. In the concentration immediately northeast of Study Area Two, the stone piles appear to be aligned in parallel lines. Some lines of stones were observed in the very large area of stone piles in the area adjacent to the paved road. 38
Figure 29: Area Two stone piles plotted. Density — piles per square meter — was lower compared to two other Showkah/Khadrah sites mapped. The ‘Three Stones’ are in quadrant B3. 42
Figure 30: The ‘three stones’ observed at Study Area Two. Small stones had been arranged on one side of two of the stones. There were no other large stones on the surface among the piles of stones in the study area. 43
Figure 31: Three stones plotted with distance (center to center) noted along with angles of lines connecting centers of the stones. 44
Figure 32: Graphic from http://www.starrynight.com showing relative positions of the three stars which make up the Summer Triangle. 45
Figure 33: The study area ‘Dots’ (red perimeter) was first noted when using Google Earth to look for other evidence of stone piling. The gravel plain west of the Showkah/Masafi road is extensively covered with piles of stones as can be seen from the Google Earth image in this Figure. 47
Figure 34: The ‘Dots’ area before grid was constructed. 48
Figure 35: Grid under construction at the ‘Dots’ site. Diagonally, in the foreground, are the nylon string and tape measure. 49
Figure 36: The ‘Dots’ area with the grid in place. The rebar posts, flour and nylon string are all visible. 49
Figure 37: The pattern of parallel lines continues in row 4 at the ‘Dots’ site. 50
Figure 38: Row 3 of the grid at the ‘Dots’ site had fewer piles but the pattern of parallel lines continued. 50
Figure 39: In the second row at the ‘Dots’ site, the stone piles appear to be arranged in parallel lines. 50
Figure 40: The stone piles at the ‘Dots’ site appeared to be in lines — roughly east-west — compared to other sites observed. 50
Figure 41: Graph paper representation of the grid constructed at the ‘Dots’ study area. The area covered a total of 21 squares (189 square meters). 51
Figure 42: Graph paper identifying locations of the piles recorded at the ‘Dots’ study area. (The corners of the grid squares are marked in yellow, the dark dots represent the approximate center of each pile of stones.) A total of 49 piles of stones were recorded. 51
Figure 43: Back side of the two bone fragments found a few meters from the Dots study area. 53
Figure 44: Front side of the two bone fragments found a few meters from the Dots study area. 53
Figure 45: Archaeological/cultural artifacts observed and recorded on Han Island, Abu Dhabi emirate. Much of the island is close to sea level and only a few sites are above the normal high-water mark. 53
Figure 46: Concentration of archaeological/cultural sites on the northern edge of the island. 53
Figure 47: Though channels have been dredged and land reclamation has changed the topography of the area, the current view (provided by Google Earth) shows how Han Island would have been a place of temporary shelter for any boats and crews in the open water of the Gulf. 53
Figure 48: A photograph of piles of stones on slopes of this hill on an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Photograph contributed by Dr. Mark Beech of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (formerly Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage [ADACH]). 53
Figure 49: One of the small piles of stones observed by the Abu Dhabi Island Archaeology Survey (ADIAS) teams on one of the islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi emirate. 53
Figure 50: A photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators. These stones piles appear to have been degraded, perhaps by weather and soil conditions, in a way similar to that of stone piles observed at Showkah/Khadrah. 53
Figure 51: Stone piles few in number in this photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators. 53
Figure 52: The stone piling illustrated in this photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators do not seem comparable in density to those observed at Jebel Hafit or at Showkah/Khadrah though the scarcity of fist-sized stones in the area could be a possible explanation. 53
Figure 53: Detail of one stone pile contributed by ADIAS investigators. The stone pile lacks a build-up of wind-blown sand and dust between and among the stones suggesting this and nearby piles of stones were constructed recently. 53
Figure 54: A general view of the area with stone piling on one of the islands off the coastline of Abu Dhabi emirate, the photograph contributed by ADIAS investigators. The site does not appear to have many aspects that are similar to those observed at Jebel Hafit, Showkah/Khadrah, or the island where stone piles were observed by Dr. Mark Beech (Figure 37). 53
Figure 55: The image shows the material immediately below the fine gravel and stone that provides the ‘desert armor’ in the Showkah-Khadrah area. When one stone pile was disassembled, the surface beneath the pile of stones did not appear to have been disturbed. 53
Figure 56: These cairns in Iceland (http://www.rock-on-rock-on.com/iceland.html) are constructed to commemorate a farm destroyed by the first eruption of the volcano Katla according to the legend cited on the website. 53
Figure 57: The author (“Veraflame” http://modernvespa.com/forum/topic49123) included this explanation: “According to folklore, you are supposed to make a small pile of rocks before you travel across the black sands below the glacier for the first time. One of those piles is mine. I forget which one…I made it 24 years ago.”. 53
Figure 58: Summary of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs 53
Figure 59: The landing strip appears on this map from the 1960’s and is labeled ‘Wadi Shawkah’ in red letters (center, right just below label ‘Bani Kitab’). The landing strip is represented by a rectangle outlined in red. The proportions and angle (deflection north-south) are consistent with those observed and recorded. 53
Figure 60: The ‘chevron’ located near the ‘Dots’ site of stone piles. A rebar post was added to measure distance from the ‘chevron’ to markers along the length of the landing strip and the width of the strip. 53
Figure 61: Not all landing strips were abandoned and forgotten; in Wadi Sumayni the corner chevrons (one above) and name of landing strip were white-washed and the strip and marking stones remain in good condition today. 53
Figure 62: One of the landing strip markers with flecks of what appear to be whitewash on some of the stones. (The piece of rebar was added by the author as part of the process of measuring distances between the markers.). 53
Figure 63: Landing strip image from MapSource software (Garmin GPS). The circles mark the corner ‘chevrons’ and the individual markers along the north and south sides of the strip. 53
Figure 64: The MapSource (Garmin GPS) data super-imposed on Google Earth. The ‘star’ icon marks the ‘Dots’ study area. 53
Figure 65: One of three Hafit-style tombs within sight of Area One and Area Two. 53
Figure 66: The highest of the three tombs with trucks (in the background) on the access road heading to the nearby quarry; Area Two is close to the access road. 53
Figure 67: Curiously this wadi stone (no sharp edges) was among the stones used to construct one of the Hafit-style tombs. 53
Figure 68: Detail of one section of the tomb showing the preponderance of angular stones used in the construction of the tomb. 53
Figure 69: The approximate distance separating Study Area A from Study Area ‘Dots’. 53
Figure 70: The approximate distance separating Study Area B from Study Area ‘Dots’. 53
Figure 71: Triliths in Oman (http://i173.photobucket.com/albums/w71/duffyden_bucket/Triliths.jpg). 53
Figure 72: Triliths in Oman. (http://thetugboat-oman2005.buzznet.com/user/photos/trilith-near-mudhai-oman/?id=2509466). 53
Figure 73: “Trilith in Wadi Sana later modified for runoff water diversion. The ring of stones around the hearth in foreground has been robbed to create a low wall incorporating in-situ standing stones of the trilith elements.” (http://antiquity.ac.uk/antiquityNew/projgall/mccorriston/images/figure11big.jpg). 53
Figure 74: Enhanced Google Earth image of kites and other structures in Jordan. (http://www.archaeogate.org/vicino_oriente/article/1445/1/stone-structures-in-the-syrian-desert-by-amelia-carolin.html). 53
Figure 75: Kite in Jordan showing walls directing wildlife to the collection (slaughter?) area. Often referred to as ‘star-shaped’ kites. (http://news.discovery.com/history/desert-lines-hunting-tool-kites.html). 53
Figure 76: Details of different kites in Jordan. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440311001907) 53
Figure 77: “Wheels” from the Azraq Oasis in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/09/16/visible-only-from-above-mystifying-nazca-lines-discovered-in-mideast/) 53
Figure 78: The ‘hummingbird’, one of the motifs at Nasca, Peru. The ‘hummingbird’ is an example of the negative geoglyph, the lines highlighted in this image. (http://explorebyyourself.com/en/peru/about_the_country/nasca_lines/) 53