“We think of them as a monumental landscape,” said Melissa Kennedy, an archaeologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth and an author of the study. “We are talking about over 1,000 mustatils. These things are found over 200,000 square kilometers [77,000 square miles], and they’re all very similar in shape … so perhaps it’s the same ritual belief or understanding.”
The “head” of a mustatil consists of a larger wall of stones and contains a small niche or chamber; researchers have found animal bones in at least one of the chambers, which suggests it was used to make sacrificial animal offerings.AAKSA and Royal Commission for AlUla/Antiquity
“There must have been a great level of communication over a very big area, because how they were constructed was communicated to people,” lead author Hugh Thomas, an archaeologist at the same university, said.
The research is funded by the Royal Commission for AlUla, which has been established by the government of Saudi Arabia to preserve the heritage of the AlUla region in the northwest of the country, where many mustatils are found.
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Some of the ancient structures are more than 1,500 feet long, but comparatively narrow, and they’re often clustered together. They’re usually built on bedrock, often on rocky outcrops above the desert, but also in mountains and in relatively low-lying areas.
The simplest mustatils were made by piling up rocks into low walls a few feet high to form long rectangles, with a thicker “head” wall at the highest end and a narrow entranceway on the opposite side. The researchers think they may have been built to guide a procession from one end to the other. But they also found many mustatils that were much more complex than they first thought, containing pillars, standing stones and smaller “cells” of rock walls. Kennedy and Thomas estimate one mustatil they surveyed was built by moving more than 12,000 tons of basalt stone – an arduous task that must have taken dozens of people months to complete.
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Researchers are documenting the muscatils and other ancient rock constructions – such as this “kite,” which is thought to be an ancient animal trap for hunters – with satellite photographs and by helicopter.
Researchers are documenting the muscatils and other ancient rock constructions – such as this “kite,” which is thought to be an ancient animal trap for hunters – with satellite photographs and by helicopter.Royal Commission for AlUla
It’s not known just why the ancient peoples who built the mustatils made so many. Kennedy speculates that some may have been used only once, or that different mustatils near each other were made and used by different groups of people.
As the Covid-19 crisis spiraled out of control across India, the government announced that vaccination centers in Mumbai, India’s largest city, were to close for three days from Friday.
The closure of the 94 centers was due to “non-availability of vaccine stock,” the municipal government said in a tweet on Thursday evening.
“All efforts are being made to make more stock available and resume the drive.”
India’s Supreme Court, meanwhile, said the country’s healthcare system had reached a “breaking point” and that retired healthcare workers could be asked to go back to work, according to local newswire the Press Trust of India.
India recorded 386,452 cases of Covid-19 on Friday, setting yet another world record for daily cases. On Thursday, the country’s official death toll passed 200,000, but experts believe the actual number could be 5 to 10 times higher, Reuters reported.
India has administered just over 15 million vaccinations, according to the Health Ministry, a tiny proportion of its population of just under 1.4 billion people. As well as Mumbai, several other Indian states have also run out of vaccines, Reuters reported.
The crisis has overwhelmed the country’s hospitals and moratoriums, forcing cities to adopt mass cremations in public spaces.
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The international response to India’s escalating crisis picked up pace on Thursday, with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla announcing that the country was due to receive over 10,000 oxygen cylinders, 4,000 oxygen concentrators and 500 oxygen generating plants from over 40 countries around the world, including the United States.