Archaeologists in Saudi Arabia have discovered ancient human remains buried near hundreds of scattered animal bones inside a 7,000-year-old desert monument, located in a ritual site used by a prehistoric cult.
The remains, those of an adult male approximately in his 30s, were found inside a mustatil, a structure that takes its name from the Arabic word for the rectangle. The ruin is one of more than 1,600 mustatils discovered in Saudi Arabia since the 1970s. Mostly submerged beneath sand, the structures were built when the Arabian Desert was a lush grassland where elephants roamed and hippos bathed in lakes.
The mustatils’ builders were members of an unknown cult. As changes in the climate slowly transformed the land into a desert, cult members likely gathered to protect it by sacrificing their cattle to unknown gods, researchers say. Now, a new mustatil excavation, detailed in a study published March 15 in the journal PLOS One, has revealed more details about the mystifying structures and their worshippers lost to time.
Worshippers entered the mustatils from one end and walked anywhere from 66 to 1,970 feet (20 to 600 m) or more to the other, arriving at a rubble platform called the head. A chamber inside the head housed a beytl — a sacred stone, sometimes originating from a meteorite — that cult members used to commune with their gods.