The View from a Drawbridge

The random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.

Mustatils

The View from a Drawbridge

I am fascinated by archeology. I should have been an archeologist. I just couldn’t get past the idea of dealing with heat, and digging in the dirt, in places far from home. Minor details. But hey, I still love reading about the blood, sweat and tears other people have put into making sense of our history. I can read articles for days, and you don’t have to apply for grants to do that.

And there I was, perusing the latest archeological papers, when I came across this one on mustatils. This is the Arabic word for rectangle, and that is a perfect description of these 7000-year-old structures. Scattered over 77,000 square miles of northwestern Saudi Arabia, there are more than 1,000 of these mustatils, and they’re older than the Egyptian pyramids or Stonehenge.

They are, of course, rectangular in shape. The long walls are relatively low, usually less than 3 feet high, and can be anywhere from 60 to 1500 feet in length. The narrow end walls are more substantial, the lower end containing the narrow doorway, and the higher end containing what appears to be a chamber with a slab for animal sacrifice. Some mustatils show evidence of pillars and niches, and many have interlocking circular cells near the sacrifice chamber. There is no evidence that these structures had roofs, and the side walls are too low in many cases for these to be animal pens.

The fact that there are so many of these structures over such a wide area implies that there was a widespread common cultural belief at the time. Back then, what is now desert was wet and green, and it seems that the people relied on cattle. One mustatil still had the bones of cattle within it, and one can find drawings of cattle on local rocks. These people were definitely part of a cattle cult, and celebrated these creatures.

The number of mustatils indicate that this area of Saudi Arabia was densely populated and fairly unified 7000 years ago. This is in great contrast to the current sand-blasted, mostly deserted landscape of today. It will be fascinating to learn more about this culture as further studies commence.

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