Al-Rajajil, the Stonehenge of Saudi Arabia

Guest post by Alberto Di Gennaro – SANDS

Saudi Arabia encloses heritage, history, culture, and ancient archaeological sites.

Placed near the ancient oasis town of Sakakah in al-Jawf province in northwestern Saudi Arabia, mysterious finds have been discovered, a collection of some 50 groups of stone columns erected called al-Rajajil standing stones that represent a very enigma that very few have heard of.

The name al-Rajajil translates to “the men”. The Al-Rajajil are tall thin stones, up to 3 meters high and about 60 cm thick having Thamudic inscriptions. The name Thamudic refers to ancient Arabic Thamudic tribe language and texts found in large numbers of inscriptions in Ancient North Arabia. This alphabet has not yet been properly studied. These texts are found over a huge area from southern Syria to Yemen.

Named “the Stonehenge of Saudi Arabia”, the al-Rajajil stones are believed to have been erected more than 6,000 years ago. The stones are arranged in groups of four or more, joined at the base and leaning outwards at random angles.  

Some theories exist about this site: a first dominant hypothesis is that it was used as a burial site, but this theory is not confirmed because the stones do not seem to fulfill any religious purpose as no human remains or religious artifacts and offerings were discovered near the stone pillars. According to others, the stones originally served an astronomical purpose due to the angles in which they stand in relation to the stars above, and their supposed alignment with sunrise and sunset.

There is still no idea why people actually erected these pillars.

Close to the pillars,  many stone tools, such as arrows, drills, and scrapers have been discovered, over the years, at the site. These tools have been traced to the end of the Neolithic area, providing researchers with some clues about their origin.

It is considered possible that the pillars were landmarks for trade routes: al-Jawf was a significant stopover point on several ancient trade routes connecting the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Syria.

One of the oldest land routes in recorded history ran from Yemen, parallel to the Red Sea coast, through Madinah, Al-‘Ula, and Mada’in Salih. It turned northeast to al-Jawf and then north toward Damascus and Turkey.

By traveling north and northeast to al-Jawf, then east, the road avoided the harsh sands of the Great Nafud to the south and the less passable terrain of Wadi al-Sirhan to the north.

The stones may have been a sign of the crossroad, indicating the safest route to take. T.E. Lawrence, the legendary Lawrence of Arabia, referred to the Wadi, during the Arab Revolt, “We found the Sirhan not a valley, but a long fault draining the country on each side of it and collecting the waters into the successive depressions of its bed”.

The monument has attracted significant attention and visitors from around the Kingdom, according to the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities.

SANDS is a weekly newsletter written and curated by Alberto Di Gennaro, hosted by SquareKufic. You can subscribe to the newsletter via LinkedIn, or read the articles here, at SquareKufic.

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