News ID: 319488
Published: 0210 GMT January 18, 2022

Vast 4,500-year-old network of 'funerary avenues' discovered in Saudi Arabia

Vast 4,500-year-old network of 'funerary avenues' discovered in Saudi Arabia

Archaeologists in northwest Saudi Arabia discovered 4,500-year-old "funerary avenues" — the longest running for 170km (105 miles) — alongside thousands of pendant-shaped stone tombs.

They are called funerary avenues because tombs are located beside them. While funeral processions could have taken place on them this is uncertain. They would have linked oases together and formed an ancient highway network of sorts, the researchers said.

Some of the avenues are delineated with red rock, but most "were simply formed as the ground was worn smooth by the footfall of ancient people — and especially by the hooves of their domestic animals," Mat Dalton, a research associate at the University of Western Australia and lead author of a recent paper on the avenues published in the journal The Holocene, told Live Science in an email.

The network of avenues would have facilitated long-distance travel. "By following these networks, people could have traversed a distance of at least 530km (330 miles) from north to south. There are also hints of such avenues in southern Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. These require further research but could suggest even longer-distance movements by ancient populations," Dalton wrote in the email.

Archaeologists don't know much about the rituals that were conducted on the funerary avenues or even in the tombs that lined the pathways, Dalton said. Human remains inside the tombs are in poor shape, and some of the tombs have been robbed, leaving them bereft of artifacts. Despite the lack of information, "it's not difficult to imagine that the tombs were used to remember or commemorate the dead, especially as the descendants or relations of those buried within them would have probably walked past them frequently during the course of their everyday lives," Dalton said.

"We might even envision funerary processions along avenues from settled oases towards the tombs, but this is purely hypothetical until we find more evidence," Dalton said.


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