A 7,000-year-old stone structure excavated in AIUIa in Saudi Arabia is shedding light on connections between the rituals and culture of Neolithic-era civilizations in the region.
The prehistoric structure is a mustatil monument made of rectangular sandstone walls—one of 1,600 of its kind identified thus far across northern Arabia. Researchers are studying this one mustatil as part of a joint five-year project by the University of Western Australia and the Royal Commission for AlUla.
The 460-foot-long complex is comprised of large slabs of sandstone encircling a long inner courtyard. There, the team found 260 fragments of animal remains, including the skulls, horns, and teeth of domestic cattle such as goats and gazelles, around a central upright stone. The stone, known as a betyl or house of god, is believed to have been used for ritual purposes as a mediator between the living and the divine.
These offerings are among some of the earliest known evidence of animal domestication and animal sacrifice in the region, according to a recent study published by the researchers in the peer-reviewed journal Plos One.
A ground survey of 80 other mustatils has revealed contemporaneous animal remains and the inclusion of betyls, which are not always present. Based on these finds, researchers believe that similar ritual sacrifices and belief systems maybe have been shared among Neolithic peoples in northern, pre-Islamic Arabia. This also suggests greater movement and interaction between Neolithic communities than was previously understood.