After Dr. David Kennedy’s research into the ancient “gates” at the Harrat Khaybar volcanic field made headlines around the world, Saudi Arabia granted him permission to fly over the area to further his research.
Archeologists have been forbidden from working up close with the structures, but the view from the air might be their most baffling aspect. Some of the structures take on geometric shapes, like kites, pendants, and keyholes.
Late last month, Kennedy was able to spend about 15 hours over three days in a helicopter, taking more than 6,000 photos high-resolution photographs to document more than 200 sites. For the LiveScience blog, Kennedy wrote:
There are immense numbers of them (at least hundreds of thousands), and each one can be huge (hundreds of meters across). Often, they are enigmatic, as there is no consensus on the purpose of several types of these structures. And they are almost entirely unrecorded and barely acknowledged; the extensive archaeological landscapes were first reported in the 1920s (for Jordan and Syria), but only now are they coming into sharp focus in terms of scale and significance.
Although these stone structures are found extensively in the northernmost harrat—the Harrat al-Shaam, stretching from southern Syria across the Jordanian Panhandle and into Saudi Arabia—they appear in equally large numbers in most of the harrat stretching down the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It is those harrat in Saudi Arabia that have attracted much recent attention, in part because of their unfamiliarity and the astonishing numbers and types of sites that have emerged, some quite different from those long known in Jordan.
Kennedy said his ultimate goal is to gain permission from the Saudi government to conduct on-the-ground archeological examination of the structures, but it may yet be several years before that will happen.