The Stonehenge of Saudi Arabia
A mysterious site
Often called the Stonehenge of Arabia, Rajajil is a mysterious ancient site located on a sandstone terrace some 20 kilometers south of the center of Sakakah, the capital of Al-Jawf Province, and a few kilometers south of Qarah village.
The ‘enigma’ of the standing stones of the site attracted popular explanations, including stories of fear and superstition, or the understanding that the site had astronomical functions, was an open-air sanctuary, etc...
Archeological excavations have revealed that Rajajil is indeed a burial site but its true importance is probably its role in the transition of lifestyles from nomadism towards sedentarism induced by the changes of climate in the Arabian Peninsula.
Transitions of climate and lifestyle
Although it is generally admitted that after at least three millennia of wet weather the climate of the Arabian Peninsula started to turn dryer during the 6th millennium BCE to become as arid as we know it today around the 1st millennium BCE. But that transition was progressive with moisture episodes that provided extensive grazing lands, lakes and high underground waters to hitherto unknown complex shepherd cultures, occupying many parts of the Arabian Peninsula. These people were groups of mobile, probably tribally organized pastoralists who dug wells into wadi floors and near lakes shores, collected run-off water in temporary rivers, fed their flocks at manually built watering places operated by wells, constructed agglomerates of domestic structures, and gathered at burial grounds with rituals structure to perform their funeral practices.
Linked to the drainage systems of the Wadi Sihran that runs along today’s Jordan eastern border, the Province of Al-Jawf beneficiated from the water it drained until the fringe of the Nafud Al-Kebir. That area may even be the craddle of oasis life as some kinds of sedentarism may have existed as early as the 5th millennium BCE, and the site’s favourable location close to the Wadi Sirhan Basin made it a potential ‘toehold’ for the spread of oasis economies when precipitation decreased after 4200 BCE.
The burial site
This funerary complex, extended along an east-west axis, and featured a number of burials identified by monolithic blocks more than 3 meters long, set into the ground one next to another. The complex is known to have been in use over a long period, since many monoliths were broken up into fragments to make burial chambers. Over 50 burials can be identified, ranging from single trench tombs to structures containing more than 10 funerary chambers.
Excavations have unearthed tools like fan scraper, pen camp sites, insulation material (coating of troughs) of the well/watering complex, which have all confirmed the dating of Rajajil at least as early as the 5th millennium BCE and possibly the 6th millennium BCE.
How to visit Rajajil?
The location of Rajajil, in the middle of cultivations that have unfortunately already led a partial destruction of the archeological site, is available on Google Maps under the name "Rajajil Columns".
But the site is fenced and a prior permission of the Tourism authorities is required for entering the site.
The Stonehenge of Saudi Arabia (author: Florent Egal with extracts from “The Socio-Hydrolic Foundations of Oasis Life in NW Arabia: The 5th Millennium BCE Shepherd Environs of Rajajil, Rasif, and Qulban Beni Murra”, Hans Georg K. Gebel, and “Dûmat Al-Jandal, l’antique Adummatu”, Guillaume Charloux (CNRS), Romolo Loreto (University of Naples), EADS publication)