Desert towns in the middle of the Persian Gulf have been struck by mysterious spiritual symbols carved into the rocky hillsides by nature – and archeologists now fear that foreign militants are behind the strangely esoteric artwork.
Qatar is famous for the wilderness around its capital Doha, but says little of the remarkable heritage of its landscape, which contains more than 60 craters, 300 vast swamps and 144 thousand tombs.
Now, a team of archeologists has unearthed the ruins of a 17th-century fort, its long wooden ramparts now scattered across the sands, after extensive surveying began last year. Further evidence of the culture that once lived within them have been found, including a deep burial shrine, planks and tarps from a mosque.
Dr Mike Lesh, the director of the village study initiative in Qatar, said the archaeological discoveries could not be explained until a hand-drawn map was made of the size and shape of the mountains around Doha, calculated according to navigational signs, postcards and files of drawings discovered in abandoned houses.
“Finding this stuff is like finding a sacred map,” he said. “Our job is to work out what’s just been found.”
Despite the arid climate and limited infrastructure, he said, there were significant traces of Qatari history. “You can see the shape of a village and even pathways inside. You can work out what you could have been like if you were there, if you were there when something happened.”
Among the finds are hieroglyphics of four abstracts attributed to the late 13th century, the year that Alexander the Great came to the Middle East and stretched his empire eastwards.
The giant waves that look to have been inscribed on sandstone is thought to have been made using the same technique that was used in drawing mythical sea creatures.
In nearby villages, Lesh has uncovered bones that he believes show a series of royal executions. In the mosque in one remote village, he has found carved marks in wooden sapphires, a tradition that dates back 2,000 years.
He hopes he will soon begin mapping the patterns of palm trees to try to find out when nature will transform the landscape again. “Everything will stop for a while, and a clear scene will emerge.”