Saudi Arabia Gates of Hell: New Images Reveal Secrets of Ancient Mystery Structures

A keyhole pendant, the largest of the group. The detailed aerial view also shows that the walls of the triangular section consist of coursed blocks in straight lines, rather than heaped boulders. Saudi Center for International Communication

Images taken from a helicopter flying at low altitude have shown in never-before-seen detail the mysterious neolithic structures dubbed the Saudi Arabian "Gates of Hell" and may shed more light on archaeological treasures yet to be uncovered in the Gulf kingdom.

The hundreds of 9,000-year-old structures initially baffled experts when they were seen in satellite imagery. The Stone Age walls, found built in volcanic fields in Saudi Arabia's remote Harrat Khaybar region, were named the Gates Of Hell because their short, thick connecting piles of brick resembled barred gates when viewed from above.

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As well as the gate-like structures, archaeologists also identified a series of ancient walls that resembled kite shapes and round constructions that have been referred to as both wheels and bullseyes.

While the stone creations were known for generations by local bedouin tribes as "works of the old men," they were first documented in the Western archaeological community by David Kennedy from the University of Western Australia who has identified around 400 stone walls.

Kennedy's interest in the potential for archaeological discovery in the region began in the late 1960s, when he traveled through the area. A decade later, he set up the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East—an initiative to map the area that now has more than 140,000 aerial images.

With the development of Google Earth and Bing Maps, Kennedy has been able to expand this database, but these most recent aerial photographs have revealed stunning details of the ancient work never seen before. For instance, the up-close images have shown without a doubt that the structures were created before volcanic eruptions in the area.

Other images taken from the helicopter have shown that some of the walls are not formed by heaped boulders but rather by blocks in straight lines.

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One of the gates, the fifth largest, is among hundreds documented so far. No such gates have been discovered outside of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Center For International Communication

"My impression is that—like every other country in the region, Saudi Arabia has a vast range and number of archaeological site types," Kennedy said in a statement from Saudi Arabia's Center for International Communication.

"Aerial reconnaissance in western countries has been regarded for 100 years as the most cost-effective way of finding, recording and monitoring sites," he explained. "Now, together with Google Earth and other satellite-imaging systems, and subsequent selective ground survey, there is possibility to make rapid and very significant advances," Kennedy added.

It is now believed that some of the structures around the lava domes were used for hunting. "The Works known as Kites—which are certainly animal traps, may be as old as 9,000 years before present in some cases and there is one example of a Kite overlying a Gate—i.e. the Gate is older. So Gates may be up to or more than 9,000 years old, which takes one back to the Neolithic (Age)," he told Newsweek via email in October.