A more enigmatic kind are the circular ‘wheel enclosures’ (also known as ‘rose’ or ‘jellyfish’ structures) common around Azraq Oasis. In their classic form they resemble old-fashioned cartwheels 50m-60m across, complete with hub, spokes, and rim. Outline shapes of ‘pendants’, ‘gates’, ‘cairns’, and ‘walls’ wandering for miles also abound in this region. Most have walls lower than 1m, making them largely invisible or at least unintelligible at ground level, but they can be clearly seen from above. As of September, some 2,609 new ‘kites’ alone have been identified between Mesopotamia and Yemen, and many more will doubtless be added in the future.
Sites like these have been known since the 1920s, reported by RAF pilots flying over rural towns and villages, forts and farmsteads in Jordan. Others were identified during the Comprehensive Archaeological Survey Project in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s and 1980s. This new technology, however, has revealed that the structures are far more numerous, and can be found across a much wider area, than was previously thought. After examining some 2.15 million km2, the Comprehensive Archaeological Survey Project revealed about 1,800 new sites. But interpreting a single satellite ‘window’ near Jeddah revealed 2,000 in an area of just 1,240km2. An unfair comparison, perhaps, but these startling results have important implications for the potential survival of archaeological sites in one of the least explored parts of the world. And, judging by the number of structures already recorded in just this small area, the total number of such sites must run into the hundreds of thousands.
This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 50. Click here to subscribe