The ‘works of the old men’ in Arabia

Saturday 21st April 2018 BAS Lecture: 

The ‘works of the old men’ in Arabia

by Professor David Kennedy

Professor Kennedy talked about his work in Jordan and Saudi Arabia using aerial reconnaissance and high resolution satellite imagery. This has revealed a huge number of sites in the volcanic lava fields – one of the world’s most inhospitable landscapes.

The “old men” are what the local Bedouin call the ancient inhabitants of the area. When the famous Gertrude Bell travelled across Jordan she made no mention of any archaeological sites among the lava fields but, when viewed from the air, it is now apparent that the area is covered in low structures – possibly as old as the Neolithic. They come in various shapes which have been categorised as resembling “keyholes”, “gates”, “kites” and so on. The latter appear to be shaped to control and capture animals – probably the herds of gazelle that still roam over this barren landscape.

Professor Kennedy began his investigations from satellite images but was then able to enlist the help of the Jordanian Air Force to acquire higher resolution photographs. Another personal contact then lead him to western Saudi Arabia where an influential patron provided a helicopter and launched a research programme that is still own progress. The structures here appear to be more sophisticated those in Jordan but the basic shapes are repeated, with local variations.

The project has had international publicity but the details remain confidential for now. The links below are to articles in the following publications:

Arab Times

New York Times

Image courtesy of the NY Times

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