Temple architecture

8,000-year-old Neolithic temple discovered in Saudi port city

The port city of Al-Faw had acquired infamy due to its strategic position at the entrance to the Shatt al-Arab, leaving it vulnerable to attack during the many wars fought in the Middle East. Largely destroyed in the Iraq-Iran war, it was rebuilt in 1989 and received special attention from the Saudi government in an effort to bolster its history. Many discoveries have recently been made at the site, including the remains of a stone temple and an altar, as well as the remains of 8,000-year-old Neolithic settlements.

Al-Faw: a Neolithic site explored with advanced technology

This once magnificent capital of the Kingdom of Kindah, Al-Faw has been the subject of a project by the Saudi Heritage Commission, led by an international scientific team led by Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom of Kindah was a confederation of nomadic northern and central Arab tribes in the 5th and 6th centuries. Historically, it is recognized as the first nomadic Arab monarchy.

The research team used state-of-the-art technology to record the above finds, adding 2,807 tombs from different time periods to the list of finds. These graves have been documented and classified into six distinct groups, according to a press release from the Saudi Press Agency.

Experts used photography, drone topographic surveys and geophysical surveys to uncover the findings. ( SPA)

The technology used included high quality aerial photography, imagery from guided drones that used ground control points, topographic surveying, remote sensing, ground penetrating radar, laser scanning and geophysical surveys. In addition, in-depth investigations were also used with the aim of not overlooking anything.

Inscriptions and Worship: Challenging the Idea of ​​Monotheism

Al-Faw is located on the edge of Al-Rub’ Al-Khali (the Empty Quarter), on the road that connects the contemporary towns of Wadi Al-Dawasir and Najran. The stone temple, carved into the rock, is perched on the edge of Mount Tuwaiq to the east of Al-Faw. It was a center where local people would have practiced rituals and ceremonies in ancient times.

Additionally, several devotional inscriptions have also been found – these challenge our understanding of the religion and belief systems of the community that inhabited the site. Among these inscriptions, one is the shrine of Jabal Lahaq which is addressed to the god Kahal, the local deity.

Head of a man from Qaryat al-Faw (1st century BC).  Department of Archaeological Museum, King Saud University, Riyadh.  (Wolfgang Sauber/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Head of a man from Qaryat al-Faw (1st century BC). Department of Archaeological Museum, King Saud University, Riyadh. (Wolfgang Sauber/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )

It was commissioned by Wahb Allat (understood by looking at the letters WHBLT), who was of the family of Malha (gleaned from the letters MLHT). They were self-proclaimed inhabitants of the city of Al-Jarha (signing Guerra on the inscription). Scholars believe that this inscription could indicate a possible trade and economic relationship between the cities of Al-Faw and Al-Jarha. Perhaps this could be an indicator of religious tolerance or worship of the deity Kahal by the people of Al-Jarha.

This could open up the possibility of a monotheistic practice in the Middle East or West Asia, which has traditionally been considered the birthplace of the monotheistic Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It also challenges the idea of ​​opposition to idol worship and iconoclasm that Islam has traditionally opposed. These are preliminary observations that require further analysis, according to the researchers.

Irrigation, agriculture and other complexities

The site also revealed the foundations of four massive buildings with their corner towers, which could potentially have served as resting places for weary travelers and their caravans. This reinforces the idea of ​​a business relationship, especially after evaluating the architecture, interior plans and open-air courtyards, reports Zaouya.

Further discoveries have opened up the possibility of the existence of a number of complexes. A complex irrigation system was found which had canals and water cisterns. Hundreds of pits were dug to direct rainwater to agricultural fields, which is how local residents countered the harsh and arid climate. Surveys and remote sensors revealed the presence of vast agricultural fields that grew a variety of crops, reports Asharq Al-Awsat .

Finally, a series of rock art and other inscriptions on Mount Tuwaiq were also found – they told the story of a man called Madhekar Bin Muneim. They also illustrated daily scenes of rituals like hunting, travel and battle. The results of these meticulous investigations, compiled over 50 years, have been published in a seven-volume book.

Rock drawings found etched on Tuwaiq Mountain that depict daily activities including hunting, travel, and combat.  (SPA)

Rock drawings found etched on Tuwaiq Mountain that depict daily activities including hunting, travel and combat. ( SPA)

There is clearly a reason why the Arabian Peninsula is often called the birthplace of the first settled societies. Here, human societies were among the first to realize complexities in agriculture, architecture, foraging, and other survival techniques that are now associated with relatively sedentary lifestyles.

Top picture: Aerial view of the Al-Faw archaeological site, home to a Neolithic settlement, in Saudi Arabia. Source: CC BY-SA 4.0

By Sahir Pandey