An archaeologist using Google Earth imagery to investigate areas of the Saudi Arabian desert revealed evidence of structures not visible from ground level that some believe are signs the Children of Israel strayed far from the Sinai after leaving Egypt.
Dr. David Kennedy, an archaeologist at the University of Western Australia, has been flying over the lava fields in the Jordan desert for the last 40 years, studying remains of structures visible only from the air. He long suspected many more of these existed in the Saudi Arabian desert but government restrictions prevented him from conducting aerial searches.
“We tend to think of Saudi Arabia as desert, but in practice there’s a huge archaeological treasure trove out there and it needs to be identified and mapped,” Dr. Kennedy said. “You can’t see them very well from the ground level, but once you get up a few hundred feet, or with a satellite even higher, they stand out beautifully.”
Dr. Kennedy believes these 400 or so structures he refers to as “gates” may have been built by nomadic tribes at least 2,000 years ago and maybe as far back as 9,000 years ago.
Patterns of Evidence, a website that investigates archaeology in a Biblical context, considered whether this new find could be brought as proof for the theory that the Children of Israel spent some time in the Saudi Arabian desert after leaving Egypt. This theory also maintains that Mount Sinai is located in located in northwest Saudi Arabia, which was the ancient land of Midian where Moses lived after fleeing Egypt.
Though neither Dr. Kennedy nor Dr. Al-Saeed suggested any possible connection between the discovery and the Biblical Exodus, Patterns of Evidence noted that there has been conjecture from other sources that these structures were made by the Children of Israel in their 40-year desert sojourn. In fact, the exact route of the Exodus and the location of Mount Sinai is the focus of an ongoing debate among scholars.
One theory is that the 40-year wandering did pass through Saudi Arabia and Mount Sinai is there, possibly a mountain called Jebel al-Lawz (mountain of almonds) or Jabal Maqla (burnt mountain), one of the tallest mountains in the Arabian peninsula and notable for its blackened peak, both located in northwestern Saudi Arabia on the border with Jordan. Access to these mountains is restricted by the government and it is forbidden to photograph them.
The theory is based on the premise that Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are synonymous, and Moses’ first encounter with the God of Israel was at the same location where the Children of Israel later received the Torah.
There is a dispute among Biblical scholars as to whether the two mountains are indeed one and the same. This would place Mount Sinai in Midian, i.e. the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, a premise which seems to be supported later in the Bible.
Hashem our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying: You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Deuteronomy 1:6
Flavius Josephus, a first-century Roman-Jewish scholar, wrote that Sinai “was the highest of mountains in the city of Midian”, which is just outside the town of Al Bad in northwestern Saudi Arabia, seeming to support the Saudi Arabian Sinai theory.
David Rohl, an Egyptologist who worked with Patterns of Evidence to prove an earlier timeline for the Exodus, discounted the possibility that the sites in Saudi Arabia were connected to the Israelites’ desert journey.
“The walls discovered by the archaeologist belong to the late Neolithic when the Arabian peninsula had a much wetter climate, the Neolithic Wet Phase,” Rohl told Breaking Israel News.”These are agricultural or cattle enclosures from much earlier than the time of Moses.”
As an Egyptologist, Rohl prefers a version of the Exodus that more closely resembles the Biblical narrative.
“This is absolutely not connected to the Children of Israel in the Desert,” Jacobovici said unequivocally to Breaking Israel News. “I think the exit from Egypt happened precisely where the Bible says it happened, and the path did not lead to Saudi Arabia. It simply makes no sense.”
When confronted by the theory that the Exodus passed through Saudi Arabia, making the location of Mount Sinai in closer proximity to Mecca than Israel, Jacobovici responded simply, “By definition, Mount Sinai has to be in the Sinai, or it’s not Mount Sinai.”
The story behind the discovery is as compelling as the discovery itself. In 2004, Dr. Abdullah Al-Saeed, a neurologist and amateur archaeologist in Saudi Arabia, explored a lava field known as Harrat Khaybar. He noted the loose stones stacked three feet high in long straight lines but without the essential aerial views, he couldn’t understand their significance and his investigation stalled.
In 2008, Dr. Al-Saeed was viewing the same sites on updated Google Earth Images and was shocked by what he saw: clearly defined rectangular enclosures. He launched an expedition and studied the site extensively, then sent his data to Dr. Kennedy for consideration.
“The question we always discuss while investigating them is, why here? Why in this stony, frightful, rugged land?” Dr. Al-Saeed wrote in his letter to Dr. Kennedy. While Dr. Kennedy was intrigued, he could not offer an answer to his colleague’s questions.
“We would have loved to fly across into Saudi Arabia to take images. But you never get the permission,” Dr. Kennedy said in an interview with the New York Times. “And then along comes Google Earth.”
Using this readily available technology, Dr. Kennedy was able to identify 400 previously undocumented stone structures in the Saudi Arabian desert. Though the investigation into the mystery of these structures is just beginning and is hampered by political realities, the existence and quantity of these structures paints a very different picture of the region in ancient times, indicating a substantial population in a region that is now uninhabitable desert.