These mysterious rectangular buildings can be found all over northwestern Arabia and date back over 7,000 years, centuries before temples like Stonehenge. They may have been members of a prehistoric cattle cult, according to historians.
In Saudi Arabia, more than 1,000 of these systems, known as mustatils (Arabic for “rectangle”), have been registered. They are usually rectangular in shape and mostly consist of two platforms joined by two walls, though their appearance varies. Archaeological evidence suggests that some Mustatils had a central chamber with stone walls enclosing an open space with a monolith in the middle.
The new evidence supports a hypothesis suggested by other scholars on why they were built: they had a ritualistic function and were part of a cattle cult, according to the new evidence.
In a tweet, Melissa Kennedy, assistant director of the Air Archeology project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ( AAKSA), said, “The mustatils of northwestern Arabia constitute the first large-scale ceremonial ceremonial landscape anywhere in the world, predating Stonehenge by over 2,500 years.”
“With recent excavations finding the first evidence of a cattle cult in the Arabian Peninsula, these buildings can now be viewed as ceremonial facilities dating back to the late 6th millennium BC,” the team of researchers wrote in an article published today. Antiquity magazine published an article on April 30.
These monuments are more architecturally complex than commonly thought, with chambers, exits, and orthostats, according to the team’s report (vertical stone slabs).
Some of the mustatils have been stolen or destroyed, but the team was able to unearth one that had not been tampered with in 2019. They discovered a considerable number of cattle bones and horns, as well as sheep, horse, and gazelle remains. These remains were discovered in the middle of a stone-walled chamber, next to a huge vertical stone, leading the team to conclude that they were “offerings” of people who took part in ceremonial rituals related to a livestock cult; this cult may have been devoted to deities or spiritual powers affiliated with animals.
The writers are unaware of the views of the cattle cult members because writing has not yet been invented.
It’s possible that a procession led people to the chamber. ‘The construction of these Mustatils indicates that they were used in a procession.’ According to the squad, the buildings were entered in a single row because of their narrow entrances.
Archaeologists have discovered rock art from the same time period in the region, which reinforces the theory that mustatils were used as part of a cattle cult. They noted that the rock art depicts “scenes of both herding and hunting.”
The buildings are so large and conspicuous in the landscape that they seem to have a ceremonial purpose. Furthermore, the buildings’ long walls are no more than 1.6 feet (0.5 meters), indicating that they may not have used as livestock pens.
The finding of cow bones and horns in the Mustatils leads to evidence that the region’s climate was wetter 7,000 years ago than it is now.
“We know from paleoclimatological data gathered in the Arabian Peninsula that the climate was much more humid during this time,” Kennedy said. “Because cattle need a lot of water to survive, we’re learning more about the late Neolithic in this part of the peninsula by discovering these remarkably well preserved cattle horns on the mustatil.
There are also a lot of unanswered questions about Mustatils. Why, for example, were any mustatils constructed on volcanoes’ slopes?
“We’re not sure why they were constructed on volcanoes,” project manager Hugh Thomas admitted. “Perhaps some of these structures were used as landscape markers or perhaps tribal markers denoting grazing areas for particular communities by being placed on prominent landscape features such as volcanoes.”
“What’s fascinating is that some Mustatils are very visible, while others are almost invisible. He went on to say, “There seems to be absolutely no continuity in the venue, which is quite strange.”
The team intends to continue excavating and studying the sites of Geographic Information Systems in the future (GIS).