The stones of Rajajil form a striking pattern against the clear desert sky, the fallen and tilting sand-colored slabs conjuring up visions of England’s Stonehenge. Nobody really knows why the 50 groups of about five pillars each are clustered on the edge of the Nafud desert in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Local legend says they are a lost tribe punished by God. Whatever their origin, local authorities hope the standing stones and the history-rich al-Jouf region will form the centerpiece of a new tourism drive. "Because of the political situation, tourism has been low but the strategy is to revive it and we are hoping to make al-Jouf atourist attraction," said Hussein al-Mubarak, a former museum director who now heads a committee to encourage tourism.
Archaeologists believe the Rajajil stones date from before 3,000 BC—when human civilisation first began to thrive in ancient Egypt and Iraq.
also have graffiti linking them to pre-Islamic deities such as the
female goddess Widd. As with Stonehenge, there is no consensus on
whether the site was a temple, a burial ground, a place used for
astronomy or something else. Scholars believe Stonehenge was built
between 3,000 and 1,600 BC.
Mubarak says the stones were placed on the desert’s edge deliberately, probably to worship the sun.
”The sun was worshipped in
the north of the Arabian Peninsula and the moon was worshipped in the
south. High ground wasnormally chosen for worship,” he said, surveying
the site near the Skaka oasis, 1,200 km (750 miles) from Riyadh.
”Some people say it was a
tribe turned to stone for doing unclean things, like using bread to
clean with or washing with milk,” Mubarak said. “But these are just
myths. We don’t want to connect the site now with religious things
since we want to encourage tourism.”
Rajajil could be related to “rijal”, modern Arabic for men.
”We have several mysterious
sites all over the Arabian Peninsula...but we have failed to know the
reason why they were made and who made them,” said Majeed Khan, a
Semitic script expert who has spent 30 years studying Arabian sites.
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