Sediment in Qatar’s desert surfaces ancient skull ciphers

While archaeologists uncover limestone strata in the desert, a clue to the origins of the mysterious symbols is that they have survived four millennia in Qatar

The walls of a cave in Qatar are covered in mysterious symbols, carving at an angle across an impenetrable sandstone wall. For the Qatari archaeologist and archaeologist Masoud Hojjati, the symbols are the end result of a valuable archaeological probe.

“They were carved out of the earth a couple of thousand years ago,” he told the Guardian.

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Hojjati and his team found the examples – also found in the Arabia and Arabian Hills regions – in the early 2000s.

The work has been mirrored by archaeologists investigating similar anomalies in deserts of Oman, the UAE and Egypt, whose stone traces hint that they may be ancient funeral customs.

In a quirk, the clues in Qatar’s sands have survived four millennia.

Hojjati’s team found a 5,000-year-old cemetery in the Arabia Desert at about the same time as the graffiti. “It was probably a form of funerary ritual,” he said.

The strata are in delicate calligraphy: in most cases it simply calls out to be filled in. In some places, there are barely any marks. Yet some of the graffitti – in places, as many as five different symbols.

Qatar is a hydrocarbon rich, north-east Arabian country where the emergence of qatari and urdu spoken languages in the late 17th century, led to exploration in the desert, where coral pipes were discovered, in the 19th century.

The hieroglyphics, which become easier to decipher the older they get, are symbols corresponding to the pillars of different shapes, the scientists believe. “The archaeology is very rare. It’s a map in nature,” Hojjati said.

In 2013, Hojjati offered a £225,000 reward for the source of the wall’s stone, mentioning in his media release that every Qatari was “welcome to cast their dollar for one of the monument clues”.

With reporting by Ibrahim Sabawi

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