Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

Gruesome horde of thousands of animal bones leftovers from hyenas, including those from humans, found in Saudi Arabia

The Umm Jirsan lava tube in Saudi Arabia. Credit: Richard Clark-Wilson.

Although hyenas look and hunt like canines, they’re members of the mongoose family and therefore more closely related to a cat. However, just like dogs, hyenas have an affinity for hiding bones — it’s just that they can tend to go a bit overboard. Case in point, archaeologists were left speechless after they stumbled across a lava tube cavern in northwestern Saudi Arabia that is packed with hundreds of thousands of bones gathered by striped hyenas over the course of 7,000 years.

The ultimate hoarders

The gruesome floor filled with ancient animal bones was found deep in a lava tube system — a network of caverns carved by lava flow. The site, known as Umm Jirsan, was discovered in 2007, but it was only recently that researchers ventured deep into the dark caverns.

Mathew Stewart, a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, led a team of researchers who cataloged nearly 2,000 bones and teeth belonging to at least 14 different species, including cattle, horses, camels, rodents, and even humans. Hundreds of thousands of other bones that are yet to be analyzed still lie on the cavernous floor.

Radiocarbon dating of the samples suggests the animal remains range from 439 to 6,839 years ago, which can only mean these lava tubes had been used as dens for at least 6,000 years.

Images of Saudi Arabia’s Umm Jirsan “hyena cave”: A: Entrance to the western passage and surrounding area. B: Entrance to the western passage. Note the team members on the right-hand wall for scale. C: The back chamber in which the excavation was carried out. D: Plotted sampling square before surface collection and excavation. Credit: Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

The striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) is a bit smaller than spotted and brown hyenas. They have a broad head with dark eyes, a thick muzzle, and large, pointed ears, with a mane of long hair growing along the back. Their most striking feature is the legs: the front legs are much longer than the hind legs. This gives hyenas their distinctive walk, making them seem like they’re always limping uphill.

Hyenas are nocturnal or crepuscular predators that stay out of sight during the day, preferably in a natural cave or a burrow dug into the hillside. Sometimes they may take over the dens of other creatures where they transport bones to be eaten, fed to the young, or cached for later use.

It’s a well-established fact that hyena dens aren’t tidy at all, being normal to find leftover bones scattered across the floor. However, the lava tube horde stunned even the researchers who were most familiar with the hyenas.

Hyenas will eat an entire human body — except for the skull cap

Although they didn’t find hyenas at the site, the researchers are certain this was one of their dens judging from the cuts, bites, and digestion marks left on the bones. The presence of human skull fragments was also telling of hyena presence since the animals are known to scavenge through burial grounds in search of food. They normally will consume everything except for the top of the skull.

“The size and composition of the bone accumulation, as well as the presence of hyena skeletal remains and coprolites, suggest that the assemblage was primarily accumulated by striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena),” the authors wrote in a study published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Molars and mandibles belonging to wild cows, rabbits, wild goats, camels, and wolves. Credit: Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

It’s highly unlikely that the six skullcaps with gnaw marks on them found at the site belong to humans who were killed by a hyena hunting party. The mammals are mostly scavengers but when they do hunt they prefer to target hares, birds, and antelopes. However, the possibility that some hunter-gatherers were killed by hyena packs cannot be entirely ruled out.

Today, striped hyenas are a threatened species in Saudia Arabia but thousands of years ago they were common across the Arabian Peninsula. The current investigation at Umm Jirsan was undertaken as part of the Paleodeserts Project, a large-scale research initiative aimed at tracking environmental and climate change in the Arabian Desert region over the past one million years.

Of particular interest is how human and animal migration in the region waxed and waned with the changing climate. This is a challenging goal since the unforgiving desert climate in the region tends to destroy any exposed organic matter. Luckily, the Umm Jirsan lava tubes create a perfect time capsule that will give scientists material to work with for years to come. 

Google Earth reveals hundreds of ancient structures in Saudi Arabia

While Saudi Arabia is often regarded as mostly a barren wasteland, the country holds some of the world’s most impressive archaeological sites. Now, aerial images from Google Earth have revealed almost 400 ancient structures, built between 2,000 and 9,000 years ago.

The mysterious gates are located in the western Harrat Khaybar region of the country. Image credits: David Kennedy / Google Earth.

In the good old days, archaeology was done exclusively in the field. You’d find an interesting place, you’d narrow it down, and then start digging. But in modern times, archaeology has changed significantly — much of it is done remotely. Sites are studied noninvasively first, conservation is more important than digging up things, and satellite images can be of great help, especially in inaccessible areas. With the aid of such images, a professor at the University of Western Australia discovered hundreds of bizarre structures. They’re unlike anything he’s ever seen before.

Professor David Kennedy, a researcher in Classics and Ancient History, calls the structures “gates,” for the lack of a better name.

“I refer to them as Gates because when you view them from above they look like a simple field gate lying flat, two upright posts on the sides, connected by one or more long bars,” he said in a press release. The gates don’t have an obvious use or purpose. Kennedy and other archaeologists are still trying to figure out why they were built in the first place.

“They don’t look like funerary, for disposing of dead bodies. They don’t look like structures where people lived, and they don’t look like animal traps,” Kennedy told the Times. “I don’t know what they are.”

The interesting thing is that these structures aren’t even visible at ground level. This is actually the case for surprisingly many large-scale archaeological features. You could be right beside them or even on top and not realize it without some aerial perspective is needed. Rather ironically, Kennedy hasn’t even visited Saudi Arabia once in his life, but he was able to locate almost 400 of these features. Shapes range from giant circles of stone that may be 400m across.

Image credits: David Kennedy / Google Earth.

“You can’t see them in any intelligible way at the ground level but once you get up a few hundred feet, or with a satellite even higher, they stand out beautifully,” Professor Kennedy said.

Although Professor Kennedy has flown in helicopters over Saudi Arabia’s neighbour Jordan since 1997, it was only the ascent of Google Earth that revealed these features. It was actually Dr. Abdullah Al-Saeed, an amateur Saudi Arabian archeologist, who first spotted the structures and brought them to Kennedy’s attention. The next step is to date these structures, but also keep an eye out for discovering even more of them. It’s very possible for additional structures to be lying around the abandoned areas, and Kennedy hopes to spark public interest

“There are many other features that have only recently been understood as forming classes of prehistoric ‘geoglyphs’ that were widespread in an area thought to be very barren and devoid of human impact,” Stephan Kempe, a former professor of physical geology at Germany’s Technische Universität Darmstadttold the Times.

To make things even more intriguing, not much is known about the people who built them. Some, 2,000 to 9,000 years ago, the area was inhabited by the ancestors of beduins, who describe them collectively as ‘The Works of Old Men’. Though the area is barren and deserted today, it was probably a flourishing area once, with a different type of climate.

Image credits: David Kennedy / Google Earth.

It’s not the first time remarkable features have been discovered with Google Earth. The open-access imagery database has revealed everything from crop circles to uncontacted tribes in the Amazon.

The findings are described in a research paper to be published next month in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.

Saudi Arabia accused of derailing Paris talks

With only three days left from the Paris Climate Summit, the time for populist talks has passed, and we’re expecting concrete solutions. But one of the largest oil producers in the world is getting in the way of a deal, making implausible objections.

Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi, minister of petroleum and mineral resources

More and more fingers are being pointed at Saudi Arabia, who stands accused of trying to wreck the climate deal. More and more groups from the conference are becoming vocal about what the kingdom is doing, and why they’re doing it:

“They are seeing the writing on the wall,” said Wael Hmaidan , director of Climate Action Network, the global campaign group. “The world is changing and it’s making them very nervous.”

Their concern is that their economy is based strictly on oil, and couldn’t adapt to a renewable future.

“Anything that would increase ambition or fast forward this energy transition that is already taking place is something that they try to block,” Hmaidan said.

Saudi Arabia at COP21

No one was available for comment regarding this issue, but the Saudis had a very nice (and large) pavilion, and many representatives were eager to tell us about their projects for a sustainable future. We had our doubts about this – how could the inhabitants of a country where water is more expensive than oil be expected to support a shift from fossil fuels? Was it all nation-wide greenwashing, or was it serious talk? Last month Saudi Arabia proposed a “significant deviation” in emissions, but was the last G20 country to submit its offer to the United Nations – and many have regarded their targets as opaque.

In many ways, they hold a very complicated position; on one hand, they hold very large oil reserves and would financially have much to lose if people stop buying oil from them, but on the other hand, they are geographically very vulnerable to the adverse effects of global warming and other climate change-induced extreme weather phenomena. In addition, as a fast-growing economy, Saudi Arabia is experiencing a rapid growth in demand for energy, as well as demands to diversity their energy sources.

So, on stage, at a discourse level, they’ve made efforts to be perceived as a country with vast resources that wants to change for a sustainable future, but behind closed doors, they’ve vehemently opposed any climate pact.

“It is unacceptable for developing countries, like my own, to be asked to participate in this so called ratchet mechanism,” the Saudis were reported to have told the session. “It was tough, we had to go to every ministry, every part of government. We developing countries don’t have the capacity to do this every five years. We are too poor, we have too many other priorities. It’s unacceptable,” a Saudi delegate said.


First of all, they’re not as “developing” as they’d want people to think. With a GDP per capita of over $24.000 / year, they’re doing better than European countries like Portugal or the Czech Republic, and way better than Brazil or Russia. Their GPD/capita is 5 times larger than that of Iran – heck, they’re the 15th largest economy in the world! They’re hardly in a position to complain about being poor and not affording to do something most countries in the world, especially those much poorer than them have already agreed to do.

Unreasonable objections

As if that wasn’t enough, they came up with another unreasonable claim: if Pacific islands are to be compensated for the damage they suffer due to climate change, Saudi Arabia also wants to be compensated for loss of future oil income! It doesn’t work like that, guys. The idea is to compensate the areas that suffering from climate change that is none of their fault – not to reward those who have been pushing the usage of fossil fuels for decades. Saudi Arabia even asked for financial support to develop renewable technologies – after they told the press that they are already developing these technologies.

Their objections are becoming so absurd that even other countries from the Arab bloc are distancing themselves. Egypt officially embraced the 1.5C goal at the start of the talks, something which the Saudis were opposed to.

“We feel Saudi Arabia is playing a bully role in undermining the position of other Arab countries,” Hmaidan said. “It is unfortunate that the Arab group is the only group opposing 1.5C.”


Illustration: Dubai Holding

Dubai plans to build an entire city under a glass dome


The Simpsons Movie’s plot starts off with Homer adopting a messy piglet he names “Spider Pig”.  The pig, helped a great deal by Homer, made enough waste to fill a silo in just two days, so how does Homer decide to solve this problem? Naturally, being Homer (doh!), he throws away the silo into the lake, causing an environmental disaster in the process. Left with no choice by the EPA,  Arnold Schwarzenegger decides the best course of action is to put a dome over Springfield. Like the Simpsons’ Schwarzenegger, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum thought it’s a good idea to close a whole city inside a glass dome. The only difference is that we’re dealing with reality, instead of fiction this time!

Illustration: Dubai Holding

Illustration: Dubai Holding

Appropriately called Mall of the World, the city will cover an area of 48 million square feet and will set new records for various large behemoth structures: the largest indoor theme park in the world (the one actually covered by the dome), the largest mall (8 million sq. ft.), along with 20,000 hotel rooms catering to all types of tourists, and a cultural district with theaters built around New York’s Broadway, Ramblas Street in Barcelona, and London’s Oxford Street. If you ever had any doubt that Dubai has a thing for the ‘big’, here you go…

Take that, Lord of the Rings! Illustration: Dubai Holding

Take that, Lord of the Rings! Illustration: Dubai Holding

The seven-kilometer-long promenades connecting the facilities will also be covered and air-conditioned during summer. The Mall of the World will also come complete with a dedicated 3 million sq. ft. wellness zone catering to medical tourists.

“It will offer a holistic experience to medical tourists and their families, ensuring access to quality healthcare, specialized surgical procedures and cosmetic treatments, wellness facilities, and high-end hospitality options”, according to a Dubai Holding statement.

What’s it all about?

Illustration: Dubai Holding

Illustration: Dubai Holding

It’s not only about satisfying a huge ego — don’t get me wrong, it’s about that too. Dubai natives, the upper class at least, have become filthy rich as a result of their deals with big oil corporations that paid them big cash in royalties in return for permission to drill the sands like there’s no tomorrow. The UAE isn’t stupid though. The government knows that the oil will run out eventually, so they’re massively shifting their eggs into more baskets since apart from oil the country doesn’t really have any commodity it can trade – unless you can count sound.

Illustration: Dubai Holding

Illustration: Dubai Holding

So, the Sheikh and cohort have been starting to invest their (big) money in alternative means of income. One is high technology (they’re planning on building the most well-equipped and leading university in the world), and the other is tourism. The latter is where the Mall of the World fits in, as its investors hope on garnering 180 million visitors annually, joining a synthetic oasis that already is filled with the tallest skyscrapers and biggest shopping malls in the world.

While the entire project is estimated to take a period of at least 10 years to complete, the 8 million square foot mall will be ready in approximately three years. Meanwhile, though, the World Bank is already breathing up the Sheikh’s neck, reminding him of the 2009 debt crisis, snowballed exactly by a situation like this – a real estate bubble.

Saudi Arabia wants to transition to 100% renewable energy

Saudi Arabia is by far the most oil-blessed country in the world – only Russia coming even close to it, but they want to transition to a more eco friendly, renewable energy-based system.

Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, a member of the Saudi Arabia royal family, spoke to journalists at the Global Economic Symposium in Brazil, explaining how he hopes the country will make the transition during his life time – he is now 67. Though Saudi Arabia is practically depending on the oil they produce, and his plan seems very ambitious (not even he is fully convinced it will succeed), the country is already massively investing in renewables, nuclear power – hoping to use the oil, non-energy related purposes.

“Oil is more precious for us underground than as a fuel source,” he said. “If we can get to the point where we can replace fossil fuels and use oil to produce other products that are useful, that would be very good for the world. I wish that may be in my lifetime, but I don’t think it will be.”

It’s a big talk, of course, and many expect the big walk. Signs are already on the horizon: Saudi Arabia is investing in a solar power facility which will provide 41 gigawatts – equivalent to 20% of their energy requirements. They’ve also partnered with China to create several nuclear plants across the country – so for such an ambitious plan – it’s definitely a good start.

Kingdom Tower Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower: the world’s soon to be tallest building [amazing photos]

UAE might harbor in its Dubai oasis the world’s current tallest building, its Burj tower, but neighboring Saudi Arabia isn’t keen on showing that it has a smaller ego and is planning on building the world’s tallest building in the world – the Kingdom Tower.

Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill Architecture

They don’t intend on adding a few more feet to the top either – the Kingdom Tower will extend one mile upwards; almost twice the height of Dubai’s tallest. Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, head of Kingdom Holding Company recently gave his approval for construction of the giraffe of skyscrapers in the Saudi Arabia’s city of Jeddah.

The building, designed by Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill  (the same architect that designed the Burj), will have its 12 million cubic feet of space structured in several tiers. Office and hotel tiers will each have a couple tens of floors, while most of the inhabiting space will be reserved for residential purpoces – the last tier almost, 100 floors in height, will be spaced for “alternative energy generation”, most likely housing a giant pendulum to keep the building from collapsing (see Taipei’s giant tuned mass damper for reference).

Kingdom Tower’s main attraction will likely be an observation deck on the 157th floor. In total the building is estimated to cost somewhere between 20 and 30 billion dollars.