In Saudi Arabia, an extraordinary group of bones with human bodies stored inside a lava tube for thousands of years has been discovered. The deserts of the Arabian Peninsula are notoriously reluctant to reveal their ancient mysteries and provide an extraordinary fossil record that continues to frustrate paleontologists. This discovery eventually sheds light on the prehistory of this mysterious region.
Described in the Journal of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, the gruesome collection includes bones of horses, donkeys, gazelles, camels, and cattle, as well as fragments of multiple human skulls. In hundreds of thousands, the bones seem to have been assembled for 7,000 years. They were discovered inside the Umm Jirsan Cave in the Harrat Khaybar Lava Field in Saudi Arabia. “The Harrat Khaybar lava tube represents an unused resource in an area where bone and fossil conservation is otherwise extremely weak,” the study authors wrote. “Such sites have the potential to provide information on the paleontology and prehistory of this studied area.”
Previously, researchers studied rock art records in an attempt to learn about the ancient animals of this mysterious desert. Despite the complete absence of these animals from the fossil record, this method revealed the presence of species such as aurochs and donkeys in the area in Neolithic times. This recent finding paints a more precise picture of local prehistoric ecology, revealing that donkeys and cattle have been prevalent in the area for thousands of years.
Announcing the discovery on Twitter, research author Matthew Stewart wrote that “the 1.5-kilometer [0.9-mile] long lava tube is a chalk-in-block containing the remains of thousands of beautifully preserved animals. Researchers have devoted most of the paper to answering this question, examining whether bone collections have been collected by several potential criminals, including wolves, foxes, leopards, panthers, and even lions.
However, after noticing that all the bones appear to have been extensively “processed” – either crunchy or partially digested – the authors decided to discard all large cat species, as these animals “do not have intensively skeletal and muscular apparatus” remaining skeletal remains.” Meanwhile, wolves do not know how to carry their prey large distances from slaughterhouses, and foxes are not large enough to carry the remains of horses, camels, and other large animals. Striped hyenas, of course, are quite capable of doing this, and have even been seen to carry the entire wildebeest foot at a distance of a few kilometers.