Qatar’s desert Oases Now Home to Mysterious Geometric Markings

By Richard Simon

The Miami Herald

Qatar’s desert oases now offer travelers a new and far less tranquil way to enjoy the Arabian Peninsula. At least three of them, including one in northwestern Doha, now have mysterious geometric symbols carved into the sandstone.

The symbols have been discovered in recently uncovered archaeological sites, one of them visible from roads, all about 45 minutes outside the bustling capital. The capital is home to more than 1 million people, the vast majority of them laborers whose daily grind is fueled by a $59 billion infrastructure project to bring the nation’s capital from the Persian Gulf to the warm desert of its desert neighbors.

What has all the locals talking is not the latest addition to Qatar’s national art collection, but a mystery: The people carving the symbols are hidden.

The symbols have been found in three locations:

— One of the most recent finds was at the Deep Bedouin Rest house on the northwest part of Doha, about 30 miles north of Al Thani Gate.

— Another was in the Qiyad Bisha area on the outskirts of Doha.

— One of the more-recent discoveries was in the Dhow Bedouin village about 13 miles from Doha, known for its colorful buildings of dhows, called tikiqas, which are now owned by foreign crews. The wooden tikiqas resemble gothic statuary and mark the entrances to Bedouin dwellings.

Pictures of the symbols are seen above.

Timothy Heffernan, a lecturer in archaeology at Florida International University, who leads dig projects in the Doha area, said the discovery of the symbols at the Unmanned Earth Museum, a former burial ground, confirmed his worst fears: that the small and remote desert are full of civilization hidden inside the desert.

“People have traveled through here forever and everything was always hidden,” he said. “You had to be an alchemist to figure out the secret society. Now you can figure it out using cameras, radiometers and GPS devices.”

“This is a new frontier for what a dig can find,” he said. “We still have a long way to go before we fully understand how much culture is there.”

T.E. Lawrence was known to rely on the Fardhoul Beit (the Horned Cyclops) to feed a bedouin encampment and provide clothing and other supplies in the field, where the corpses of animals known as letz would form a memorial site on the floor of the settlement in death.

But until now, researchers had zeroed in on dunes instead of land-based graves.

Hugh Smith, the high commissioner of Jamaica, a British post-Hurricane Irma recovery mission who has led several excavations in Doha, said not everyone is certain about the symbols. The former foreign secretary of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, told the Emirat Alyoum newspaper that he believes the symbols may be messages from ancient Sufi spiritual leaders.

But an expert who has studied more than 200 of the symbols noted that many of the motifs from time to time have changed and said it was likely because researchers are now more able to identify them.

The new discoveries have unleashed conspiracy theories and some controversy over the protection of the symbols.

“This is a great mystery of our time,” said Lawrence Calvert, a professor emeritus at Chatham University in London. “There is a film called ‘Witness from the Desert’ and it started with similar characteristics.”

Heffernan said the researchers will leave the symbols exactly as they are if they are found to be at least 130 years old. He called for state protection because if the drawings cannot be found within the country, they could be found in other places across the globe.

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